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A Joyous New Year


    Sanford Baran:  It is a pleasure to greet each other in this new year. I certainly look forward to our ongoing work together as we continue to bring the richness and quality of our individual living into a biweekly cadence of focused radiant expression.

    Today is the seventh day of January, the first Sunday that we gather in the year 2018. In our everyday usage of dates such as today's date, January seventh, we probably don't give it all that much thought. But if we did pause to consider some of its implications, it probably would occur to us that dates mainly work within the context of the humanly devised instrument known as a calendar.

    There is no question that calendars are useful, particularly when interacting and coordinating with other people. Last month I made an appointment to have my yearly physical. I'm quite glad that the receptionist told me that my appointment was on February 26th instead of telling me to come back to the office after sixty-nine sunrises—which obviously would be quite easy to flub. Also, without calendars our biweekly teleconferences would likely suffer, as there no doubt would be confusion as to when we should all show up and who would be the designated presenter for that day. Last month would have been particularly tricky as we deviated from our usual two-week schedule. So, calendars are indeed useful in helping us coordinate and plan our activities.

    Certainly, our primary focus is to express the current of spirit right now in this present moment—not to have regrets about the past or to fret about the challenges and uncertainties facing us in the future. And yet we obviously do have the capacity in consciousness to reflect on times past as well as plan for events in the days ahead. Such reflection and planning can be most important and is in fact necessary as we handle our various responsibilities, as long as it doesn't distract us from what we should be doing right now. So as the need for remembering the past or anticipating the future does arise, we routinely use calendars as a genuinely helpful tool.

    You might be surprised to learn that there are forty different versions of calendars in usage today. The calendar that most of us use is known as the "Gregorian" calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in October 1582. Probably the closest thing to an international standard, it performs reasonably well in closely synchronizing its representation of days, weeks, months, and years with the solar, lunar, and seasonal cycles observed here on the planet. So, while it's surely January seventh, 2018, for us and many others around the globe, in the Chinese Calendar it's the 21st day of the eleventh month in the year 4715, and in the Hebrew calendar it's the 20th of the month of Tevet in the year 5778. We can see that there are significant discrepancies across the various calendar systems, as you would expect because they each have their own distinct idiosyncrasies.

    If we were to review the way years are represented across the different calendars, the influence of culture and religion would clearly be evident. For instance, we know that in the Gregorian Calendar year one designates the birth of Christ. The Latin term "Anno Domini," otherwise abbreviated as "A.D." means "in the year of the Lord." So, the Gregorian year 2018 means two-thousand-and-eighteen years since the Master's presence on earth. Now in the Chinese calendar year one designates when that calendar was actually invented, some two thousand-six-hundred-and-thirty-seven years before the birth of Christ. As the story goes, it was invented by Huangdi, the "Yellow Emperor," the third in the line of ancient China's mythological emperors, who was a "culture hero", a deity in the Chinese religion, and patron saint of Daoism. Moving on to the Hebrew calendar, there is an attempt to have it work on a truly cosmic scale. Today's Hebrew year of 5778 is believed in some circles to be the number of years since the date of the creation of the universe. In each of these examples, biases and limitations are discernable but we can also sense that there is a vision of something larger.

    In one way or another, calendars try to make sense of the world and attempt to convey an understanding of the various natural cycles at work, like the earth's orbit around the sun, the four distinct seasons, the rotation of the earth on its axis, and the cycle of our moon orbiting the earth. Whether calendars are successful at painting the larger picture, the fact is we already know that we live in a world of tremendous order and beauty. Every day that the sun rises, affirming another earthly rotation on its axis, is cause for unspeakable joy—joy in the recognition of the perfection and precision of the divine design in all of its splendor. How tragic for those so jaded and overcome by the travails of the human condition that appreciation for such beauty and wonder has totally disappeared.

    What all this emphasizes is the critical significance of connection, connection to the source that animates not only the cycles represented in a calendar but the whole gamut of creative cycles descriptively portrayed by the phrase, "music of the spheres." If there is a problem with calendars, at least the humanly invented ones, it's that they only begin to scratch the surface. There is so much more richness and nuance present in the world, both visible and invisible.

    As there is a deep and substantial connection with spirit, we're in position to genuinely know how we fit in the cosmos and have front row seats to observe and actively participate in the full spectrum of earthly and heavenly cycles. I wonder if calendars at that point would still be necessary. My guess is that yes, calendars would still be quite useful, but would no longer be external to ourselves. Instead we would take advantage of the very sophisticated calendar functionality that is built-in.

    So here we are at the beginning of 2018 "in the year of the Lord." As is wont at the beginning of a new year, a feeling of newness is decidedly in the air. How does the saying go, "Out with the old and in with the new"? As expected, the custom of trotting out New Year's resolutions is in high gear. And no doubt many sincere people are trying their best to commit themselves to making constructive changes in their lives. But it occurred to me that before any kind of change is taken on, consideration should probably be given as to what would constitute constructive change in the first place. Shouldn't we also be asking, "What is the purpose for such change?" and "To whose benefit?" Answering these can be quite revealing. It's critical to understand the real motivations back of any action taken, because ultimately, it's the quality of spirit behind such actions that carries the real weight both positively or negatively. Unfortunately, so much of what motivates human behavior is self-serving. "How can I improve my health in 2018?" "What steps can I take to be better off financially this year?" "How can I become better liked and more popular?" "What should I do to make my life feel more meaningful?" Are these not the type of questions that drive so much of what we think of as New Year's resolutions? It's really just more of the same old stuff—attempts to rationalize human nature attitudes and rebrand them as if they were something beneficial and worthwhile.

    Mind you there is nothing wrong with being healthy, well off, or feeling that we have meaning. But if this is all that we're paying attention to, without any consideration for the larger cycles and factors at work, then we can be sure that the spirit behind such action will not be a true reflection of divine character.

    But there is a right way to approach constructive change. It begins by cultivating what I would call accuracy of purpose which establishes in us a heavenly frame of reference. Accuracy of purpose quite naturally springs forth from our awareness and appreciation for the beauty and precision of what is "higher." Look no farther than the magnificence of a sunrise heralding a new day. Our attraction to such things touches the heart and brings us personally into alignment with those higher vibrational elements. We in fact become one with them. At that point, we're in position to do the job, to be a consistent and reliable expression of the divine ourselves. Along the way we develop a sense of purpose which is consonant with the larger field of purpose. And it's from this frame of reference that we're able to see the larger picture and make well-informed decisions. Indeed, as we each are interested in allowing our own capacities to be refined and purified, accuracy of purpose becomes our guide in the process of constructive change.

    In last weekend's New York Times, I read an interesting article written by David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University entitled, "The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions." Actually, it was the subheading of this article that really caught my attention, "Willpower is for chumps. Here's what actually works." The author begins by informing us that as far as resolutions go, by January eighth some twenty-five percent of resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. And by the end of the year, fewer than ten percent have been fully kept. So why is this?

    The canonical view over the last sixty years has been that sheer willpower is the key to successfully following through in the fulfillment of life goals. "Surely by now you've heard of the psychologist Walter Mischel's famous marshmallow experiments, in which children who could resist the temptation to immediately eat one sweet would be rewarded with a second sweet about 15 minutes later. Professor Mischel found that those who could wait—those who had self-control—were also the ones who had better academic and professional success years later. Since then, study after study has linked self-control to achievement in a wide range of areas, including personal finance, healthful eating and exercise, and job performance. Put simply, those who can persevere toward their long-term goals in the face of temptation to do otherwise—those who have "grit"—are best positioned for success."

    But it turns out that current research "...shows that willpower, for all its benefits, wanes over time. As we try to make ourselves study, work, exercise or save money, the mental effort to keep focused and motivated increases until it seems too difficult to bear." It's no wonder that so many people fail in trying to follow through with their New Year's resolutions, let alone long-term life goals.

    The author then goes on to describe some key factors that really did seem to make a difference. To his surprise he found that the expression of such qualities as patience and compassion were unusually effective—far more so than brute-force willpower. He noticed that those subjects who did express these qualities of character were the ones who had the greatest success in following through with whatever challenges were presented to them as part of the study. I won't go into the details of why DeSteno thought this made sense, but it certainly makes sense to me. Those who express patience and compassion, indeed qualities of heavenly expression, are connected in one way or another to that which is divine. That connection is what establishes accuracy of purpose, the lens of true understanding—enabling anyone who is so empowered to follow through with whatever Life would have us handle. By the way, there's a little bit of subtlety here. The starting point is not to try to express patience or compassion. "Okay today I'm going to be patient, whatever it takes!" Isn't that the same thing as trying to follow through on resolutions? No, patience and compassion naturally spring forth once there is alignment with what is genuinely true in us.

    The first order of business is always our love and appreciation for the things of heaven. Our deep and wholehearted attraction brings us personally into alignment with those higher vibrational elements and we in fact become one with them. At that point, we are in position do the job, to be a consistent and reliable expression of the divine ourselves. We then notice that qualities like patience and compassion quite naturally become part of our everyday living.

    Willpower really is for chumps. The only way the job gets done is through the expression of Spirit. So, if it turns out that it is purposeful within the context of the larger whole to shed those few extra pounds, we absolutely are delighted to get it done, as we allow Spirit to have its way.

    I wish you all a most joyous and wonderful 2018.

January 7, 2018

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