In Sweet Company

 “I do not let pain change the essence of gratitude that is in my soul. I acknowledge that I have pain — I say, ‘This is sad or this is difficult’ — but I do not let pain alter the beauty of life, the magnificence and mystery of life, and my gratitude for the mystery.” – Alma Flor Ada,  IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE

As the feasting and festivities of the holiday season draw to a close, we loosen our belts and stretch our minds and hearts to make room for the inevitable review of the year gone by. This retrospective comes in a variety of ways: We sing “Auld Lang Syne.” We blow horns to keep our passed mistakes at bay and toast the prospect of a clean slate. We steal a kiss to sweeten the year ahead.

An elderly Father Time — an archetype borrowed from the Celtic god of the dying year and Chronos, the Greek god of time — carries a scythe and hour glass to remind us that this year’s harvest is done. A baby — an homage to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine — extols a new beginning. The two-headed Roman god Janus looks forward and back in the month that bears his name as we think about how to make the days ahead better than those we leave behind.

The intrepid among us make New Year’s Resolutions, a tradition started by the early Babylonians to ensure borrowed farm equipment was returned. If you live in British Columbia, you might plunge into the icy cold waters at midnight for a polar bear swim. If you live in Spain, you might eat twelve grapes during the last twelve seconds of the outgoing year. If you are a Scot, you might don your Viking attire and carry a torch around the neighborhood to root out monsters. At their core, these customs are attempts to purge us of our imperfections, to excise thoughts within us that go bump in the night, and clear the path for a new day.

Whether or not you have farm equipment to return, compassionate self-reflection can help oust your demons — if you don’t take yourself and the process too seriously. True self-reflection is meant to help us become aware of the unconscious reactive, habitual behaviors that trip us up so we can set a more authentic, more effective course for your life. Focus not on your mistakes, but on the lessons learned — on what you can do to move closer to becoming the person you always wanted to be. Let Father Time use his scythe to hew thoughts of fear, denial, and blame, then reconfigure your inner patter, the tapes, the “should’s” that unconsciously drive ineffective actions. Make self-mastery the goal so you can handle whatever situation presents itself.

Circumstances may or may not change, but how YOU respond to circumstances will change how deeply things effect you — and for how long. Like the Infant 2011, move forward one day at a time. Like Janus, look forward AND back: befriend your past mistakes so that they  guide and refine your next steps. Take heed of poet Robert Burns beautiful lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne” (“times gone by”) and “Take a cup of kindness yet.” You can do it. I know you can!.

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