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109. How to Start a New Year

If you were going to cook a meal the chances are that you would clear away the remains of the last meal before you started. If you're out picking up bargains in the January sales, no doubt you will be clearing some old clothes out of your wardrobe at some point. Interestingly we don't tend to do the same thing when starting a new year, and yet, what better way to start the year afresh than to 'clear up' the year before! I have heard more than one person say that they will not be sorry to say goodbye to 2013. By that one assumes that all has not gone well. A new year is certainly a good psychological marker for moving on - it has a better ring than a new month or a new season - but just how is this 'moving on' done? Two Buddhist monks were travelling from one town to another. Around midday they came to a river and, at the river's edge, there was an old woman with a large pack on her back. She was trying to get to the other side, but every time she stepped out into the river, the strong flow unsteadied her and she had to clamber back onto the bank. Now monks were strictly forbidden from touching a member of the opposite sex, but one of the monks went to help the woman. He lifted her and her pack onto his back and waded through the river to the other side and set her down. The other monk was horrified. He rushed across the river and, once the woman had set off, berated the other monk for what he had done. 'How could you?' he said, 'you have broken your vows!' The other monk shrugged and they walked on in silence. That evening, resting at a lodge after a long day's walk, the other monk raised the subject again. 'I just can't believe you carried that woman,' he said, 'you should never have done it.' The first monk looked at him. 'I put her down several hours ago,' he said, 'it is you who are still carrying her.' (adapted from a story in 'The Magic of Metaphor' by Nick Owen) It is curious how difficult it is to put down our negative experiences. Good experiences we often forget instantly, sometimes not even noticing them, but bad experiences, don't they hang around? The interesting question is, what is it that keeps them going? If we take the monk in the story, for him what his travelling companion did was a major assault on his values. His beliefs about how things should be were too strong to be able to adapt to the situation and, once the sin had been committed, it was a like an open wound on his soul. He didn't just experience this wound once, he experienced it again and again in his mind, and each time the pain was worse than the time before. The running commentary in his head was that this should not have happened, his friend should not have done this, it was bad bad bad. And what did it mean if these rules could so easily be dismissed, where did that leave his friend and, more importantly, where did it leave him? This was not just a small rule being broken, this was his whole belief system being undermined. What this man not good at was disappointment. He was fighting against what had happened, which is always painful in itself, because at an unconscious level he believed that disappointment was worse. If he accepted disappointment he would have to face the loss of his world where people kept the rules. If he didn't he could rail against it in the hope that he could restore his world to its former perfection. The fact is, though, that nothing he did or said could change what had happened. We only experience events as 'bad' because we have a belief that reality should be better. Sometimes we have to accept that reality can serve up some pretty unpalatable dishes. In that acceptance we can find peace, and an ability to move on. Try this:

  1. What negativity are you carrying from 2013? A job not gained, a goal not achieved, a friend lost, a holiday spoilt, a slight, a bad decision, an accident, a betrayal. What grudges are you carrying towards other people, yourself, your life?

  2. Take one of these and check your feelings about it. Are there any feelings that say 'this shouldn't have happened', 'this person shouldn't have done that', 'I should have done this'? These are your resistances to what happened.

  3. What should have happened? What should you have done or not done? What should someone else have done or not done? What should the universe have done or not done? These are the hopes that you are still holding on to.

  4. Allow yourself to feel disappointed that your hopes did not come true. Give yourself the kindness that you would give to a child who has dropped their beautiful ice-cream before they even tasted it. Give yourself as much time as you need for this stage.

  5. Looking forward to 2014, how will it be different if you can let this thing go? What will it free you to be and do?

Wishing you all a free and exciting 2014. With love Anita

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