For any individual (and for any society), real change happens inside. Changes made outside, without an inner change, are superficial, skin-deep and are bound to fail in transforming life in the long-term. If, on the other hand, there is a real change inside, then a change outside is bound to happen and is only a matter of time.
Whether it be New Year resolutions or laws or any moral or ethical codes, unless these stem from changes inside the individual, they will fail. That’s why we see New Year resolutions being given up after a few days and we see laws that are promulgated by the legislatures but are not substantially complied with unless accompanied by severe punishments / fines. We also see rules of morality that remain confined to scriptures and discussions in churches, mosques and synagogues without any large-scale adoption by the society in general.
So, what, then, is the hope for us and how can we make 2020 better for ourselves?
A few thoughts:
Firstly, let us not exaggerate the importance of 2020 or any other new year. Time and calendars are human inventions. Different societies developed different versions of the year. Before Julius Caesar, the Roman calendar was lunar and used to begin in March. Julius Caesar introduced a calendar reform whereby from 45BC the year started beginning on 1st January. The Gregorian Calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, whereby the number of days was corrected from 365.25 (as assumed in the Julian Calendar) to 365.2422. The Chinese calendar was lunisolar, taking into account the lunar as well as the solar cycle. Modern-day China uses the Gregorian Calendar. Most of the Islamic world now uses the Gregorian Calendar for official purposes, however for religious purposes, they still use the Islamic calendar which is lunar and based on the date when Mohammad migrated from Mecca to Medina in year 622CE. The Japanese people also used to have a lunisolar calendar called the Tenpo Calendar uptill 1872. Now they too use the Gregorian calendar. For the Jews, Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the civil new year, which is traced back to the creation of Adam and Eve.
The point here is that the new year is a concept, a human invention, a perception and may not be taken too seriously in our own personal / private affairs unless legally, professionally or financially required to do so. And since I am not focusing on legal, professional or financial matters in this post, hence I will suggest not to get too fixated about December 31st and the 1st of January. The purpose of having these calendars was always convenience in governance and predicting and planning for the future. So, for our own legal / professional / financial reasons, of course we can go ahead and plan for it. But for other aspects of our life, i.e., spiritual, moral, emotional, existential, questions about our purpose in life, questions about our relationship with the world, for all these, we can just take this year as any other year, as part of a continuum.
Secondly, I suggest that there is a continuity to life which spans billions of years. All of the ‘known universe’ (which term excludes the 75% or so of the universe consisting of the so-called dark matter and dark energy about which we still have very little clue) has resulted from the event referred to as the ‘Big Bang’. All perceivable universe, including us and all the trees, plants, stones, mountains, oceans, stars, planets, galaxies, etc., all have their creation in that event. So, we are all at least 13 billion years old. Yes, 13 billion years! So, for me, these years that come and go are like a grain of sand on a beach. Every one of us can decide how much importance they want to give to a grain of sand while standing on the beach.
Thirdly, from the point of view of our psychological well-being, a New Year resolution seems to imply that we are trying to regulate something that we have been unable to in the past. It implies a past failure. Why did we fail in that particular aspect? Have we analyzed the failure? Was the reason due to some outer limitation? Or was it some inner failure that resulted in the outer failure? Have we overcome or corrected the reason for the failure or are we just trying to overpower or outsmart that reason by sheer willpower? Do we even need to be stuck in the same struggle or can we accept the failure and try to move on (even if for the time being)? Sometimes, it may be better not to fight at too many fronts and to focus our efforts on other, more pertinent or more urgent, matters.
Fourthly and lastly (and this is what I think is the crux of the whole matter), how important is the change? Does the change relate to the core aspect of life? Or, on the other hand, is it a change at a smaller level?
What, then, is the core aspect of life?
I believe that there are broadly four key aspects of life:
- spiritual – understanding of (and relationship with) the universe
- physical health – continuity of the physical self
- financial – contributing to the material well-being of the individual and the community
- emotional – fulfilment of the genetic requirement to reproduce and the communal requirement of peaceful co-existence and fulfilling relationships.
Of these four, there is one core aspect, i.e., the spiritual aspect. This one aspect can transform our life in all other aspects as well. Unfortunately, as I see it, this core aspect is the one which we, human beings, are currently ignoring the most. And that is why we see all the conflict, aggression, violence, hatred, negativity, psychological disorders, lack of love and the great disconnect which almost every individual in the world feels. What is this spiritual aspect? In one word, Oneness. It is the oneness of everyone and everything in the universe. Everything that we can see, including all so-called life-forms, come from the same source, like waves rising in the ocean, like leaves on a tree, like the fingers on a hand. There are perceptions of separateness. These perceptions of separateness arise because it is easier for the human brain to break down and analyze the information and to store in the brain for future use. The problem is that we, as a race, have learnt to stop at that point. We allow the brain to break down / disintegrate the information into different sets, but then we do not go to the next step, i.e., re-integrate the bits of information back into a continuous whole. We live with the broken down information. We learn to live with disintegration, division and separateness. We do not complete the loop. It can be a two-step process, i.e., disintegration and then re-integration, but we stop after the first step. This failure to re-integrate, for me, is the great failure of the current human civilization. And this is what the mystics and great wisdom teachers have been trying to tell us for many centuries.
A new me will arise only if I can understand this core aspect of life. It is the only thing that can heal the inner wounds caused by disintegration, division and separateness. All other changes are like bandages we put on the outside for wounds that is inside. They will not work. Inner healing requires inner work.
And this inner work can start anytime. It does not need the start of a new year or the making of a new year resolution. The moment we have understood the core aspect of life, a new life has begun. And that moment is incomparably bigger than the start of a new year. It is a new birth. And once this new birth happens, no new year resolutions are needed. A massive revolutionary inner change, an inner tsunami, begins on its own. It brings forth a new reality. The physical body remains, but the old person, the ego, is gone. A new being takes its place. This new being can be the seed for a new society and a new civilization.
In my own humble view, the next stage of human evolution will not arise merely from more and more technological advancement; it also requires a deeper understanding of the spiritual aspect. These two, science and spirituality, working together will be like two wings that will allow the human race to really take off and soar high in the sky.
So, to conclude, let’s go ahead and have our new year resolutions about things that we want to change in our life; and, then, if and when we find the time and the inclination to do so, let’s ponder over the question of whether and how we connect to the world around us and whether that needs a change too.