A New Day | A New Year

Though I've ushered in many a New Year's Eve by preparing a lovely dinner for treasured friends, not last evening.  The New Year was heralded in by my snoozing through East of Eden.  We had a simple supper of some deer tenderloin and mashed potatoes. 

Today I have a traditional Southern dinner.  The centerpiece is county ham which soaked in a hot water bath last evening. Click here to find a foolproof, purrrfect way to prepare a country ham.  Country ham requires hydration and desalination.  This method does both perfectly.  Rather than wrap the ham pot in chair cushions as I've done in the past, I merely put the pot on my woodstove.  The stove has an airspace in it, so it is never but so hot.  The indirect heat was perfect for keeping the water hot, but not too hot.  I have collards and black eyed peas.  I'll make some spoonbread. Perhaps a lemon pound cake. Dessert is a chocolate cream pie.  Maybe no dessert at all.  (Does any of us need any?)  A complete Southern welcoming in of the New Year.

I was talking to my sister earlier today.   I said that I didn't make any resolutions.  I have more than enough retreads within easy grasp.  We reeled a few off (exercise, diet...all of the things that I routinely acknowledge as important but make half-hearted efforts to adhere to).  She also mentioned, "and be a better person."  (I'm assuming that was a general comment and not specifically aimed at me.)

I've pretty much accepted that I'm not going to be any better person than I am now.  And I don't say that for any self defeatest, or worse, hubristic, reasons other than I AM ALREADY a good person.  For any of the real or imagined failings that I can conjure up for myself, not being a good person is not one of them.  Surely, I can aspire to be more patient, more organized, more work/life balanced, and all of those other things, but those don't have anything to do with being a good person.  (And yes, I will try to do all of those).

With the import of New Year's on beginning anew, we forget that each moment subsequent to this one is a time to feel renewed.  Jose Ortega y Gasset tells (in Some Lessons in Metaphysics) us that our life is what we are doing now.  It is not what we did yesterday.  It is what we are doing now, and our life in the next moment will be based on decisions that we make now about our future.  He describes life as perplexing as there is an array of decisions that we make this moment that govern our next moments. 

This simple philosophy, when embraced, is one that each of us can use as a way to free ourselves from whatever past failings that we have had AND to remind us that past successes are no less fleeting. Cleansing ourselves from our past successes may be just as important as cleansing ourselves of our past failures.  Resting our laurels ought to be as uncomfortable for us as having our feet caught in the solidification of past trauma.

The present moment, then, offers the bounty of transitioning from the old into the new.  The present moment is much like the top and bottom suspension between inhaling and exhaling.  It is a sacred space in our lives where what we chose to do next really matters.  It creates a sense of both the urgency and weight of the next consequence of our doing (inhaling/exhaling). 

At least for breathing, what we do next is generally governed by our autonomic nervous system. In our emotional life, our past patterns of behavior or reactions to certain emotional stimulation may have created a toxic autonomy that might be worth giving some attention to for evaluation and modification of our typical responses to the stimuli that makes our viscera seize up.  At least that is MY contemplative notion about things.

As I think about these things for myself on this contemplative day, I go to my standby wisdom that provides a useful framework from which to operate.  I'd like to share these with you.

Yagyu Menenori wrote the following in his The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War (translated by Thomas Cleary):

When fighting with enemies, if you get to feeling snarled up and are making no progress, you toss your mood away and think in your heart that you are starting everything anew. As you get the rhythm, you discern how to win. This is "becoming new." (p.46)
And Miyamoto Musashi, in his The Book of Five Rings (translated by Thomas Cleary) also provides some straightforward guidance that serve any well in any circumstance:

  1. Think of what is right and true.
  2. Practice and cultivate the science.
  3. Become acquainted with the arts.
  4. Know the principles of the crafts.
  5. Understand the harm and benefit in everything.
  6. Learn to see everything accurately.
  7. Become aware of what is not obvious.
  8. Be careful even in small matters.
  9. Do not do anything useless.
I rather like this list which I've had on my "Wisdom" tab for many years.  It is always inspirational to me.  Treating each moment, not just a new day and not just the new day of the new year, as a time to begin anew is a worthwhile habit to employ.

I will close this post with another favorite. In this time of unrest (which is all times in all histories among all peoples), I offer this gem, which I also find uplifting:

In the time of war
Raise in yourself the Mind of Compassion
Help living beings
Abandon the will to fight
Wherever there is a furious battle
Use all you might
To keep both sides' strength equal
And then step into the conflict to reconcile.

Vimalakirti Nirdesa

My best to you in the New Year. 

To practice what I preach, I'll not rest on my laurels of being a good person in my past deeds, but find contemporary deeds to reflect my intent of continuing to explore my goodness and find new ways to share it.  In the intervening time, I'll eat better, swear less, exercise more, and not do anything useless.


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