Do you feel the sparkling ‘newness’ of this year, the sense that it is a blank slate and a chance to start afresh and take bold new steps? Are you making a New Year’s resolution?
January is so named for the Roman god Janus. He was the god of time, of beginnings and endings, of gateways and transitions. The Romans believed he had two faces, one looking forward, into the future, and the other back, into the past.
At the start of each year, it was traditional for the Romans to make offerings to Janus, and also promises to be better in some way in the year ahead.
It is from this ancient rite that our modern tradition of New Year’s resolutions originates. Whether the Romans honoured the promises they made to Janus we do not know, but certainly today we are notoriously poor at sticking to our resolutions. A study conducted by researchers at Bristol University found that of 3,000 people who made a New Year’s resolution, only 360 actually stuck to it (source: Wall Street Journal).
The problem for most of us is that we choose unrealistic goals (I’ll give up chocolate) or we burden ourselves with too many goals (I’ll give up chocolate, and cake, and wine, and get fit, and lose ten pounds, and learn to speak Mandarin, and…).
A few years ago, I was researching my novel The Echoes of Love, which draws on Eastern philosophy, and I had been reading about the ancient Chinese thinker Lao Tzu. One of his teachings in the Tao Te Ching really spoke to me:
Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
That New Year, I decided to try a new approach and make a simple resolution, one that put no great pressure on me. It was this:
I will be compassionate.
I resolved to be compassionate with myself, and with others, knowing that this would be the foundation for peace, for joy and for growth.
Ever since, that has been my promise every year, because it is the one resolution that I know I will not give up on.
What is so powerful about this resolution is that it is not absolute. If you resolve to give up chocolate, then with one nibble of a cocoa-dusted truffle, you have ‘broken’ your resolution and you give up (and quite possibly finish the whole box of truffles). But if for a moment you waver and forget to be compassionate, you can simply guide yourself back to the resolution – because forgiving yourself for the lapse is compassionate.
With compassion as your core goal, other goals become possible. For example, you can compassionately guide yourself to become fitter, to learn a new skill or to finish writing your novel. Some goals may prove impossible after all, if it turns out they were unrealistic and unkind (was it really a kindness to try to quit chocolate altogether if you love it?). That is fine too; indeed, everything is fine when you keep guiding yourself back to compassion.
So, dear readers, I wish you a happy, calm, compassionate 2020.