It’s the End of the Year as We Know It

It’s that time of year again; time to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another.

Big whoop-de-doo.

I’m feeling a little ambivalent about the whole New Year’s thing this time around. It doesn’t have anything to do with me personally; I had a great 2023 and plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about what's in store for me in 2024.

My mixed feelings have everything to do with the fact that the world didn’t have a great 2023 and there are plenty of reasons to feel anxious about what 2024 will be like: conflicts around the world are getting hotter, the political noise here in America is getting louder, weather events are getting more extreme, and extremism everywhere is on the rise.

Maintaining a positive mindset when the news is so consistently bad can be a real challenge. One of my teachers speaks frequently about the effect that our environment has on our consciousness, about how our environment affects our consciousness beyond the ability of sheer willpower to overcome it. If the world around us is a chaotic mess, then it’s safe to assume that that chaos will affect our consciousness.

This makes it all the more important for us to create personal micro-environments that insulate us from the world’s insanity. Spiritual practices require a certain amount of tuning the world out in order for them to be effective.

But if our spiritual practices are truly effective, a curious thing will happen: we’ll hear a call to action coming from our hearts that compels us to tune back into the world. To the extent that our spiritual practices make an impact on our consciousness, to that extent we become more sensitive to the suffering of others, more convinced that no one should suffer for any reason, and more motivated to confront the causes of suffering we see in the world.

Spiritual progress is symptomized by an increase in our feelings of compassion for others. Spiritual consciousness compels us to act on those feelings. So at some point, the quality of our engagement with the world becomes just as important to our spiritual development as the quality of our disengagement.

Having confidence in our ability to make a positive difference in the world, whether it's a big difference or a small one, is essential for maintaining a positive outlook. One of the best ways I’ve found to sustain a positive attitude while simultaneously maintaining my inner peace is to find as many ways as possible to integrate my contemplative inner life with my active outer life. If I have anything that resembles a New Year’s resolution this year, it’s to do more to make my inner life and my outer life two sides of the same coin.

To get clear on how I’m going to do this, I came up with two sets of questions. The first set of questions are reflective questions that prompt a look back over the past year:

  • What was the most significant spiritual realization I had this past year?
  • What was the most joyful experience I had this past year?
  • Who really showed up for me this past year?
  • How have I changed over the last 365 days?

The second set of questions are projective questions that prompt a look forward to the new year:

  • What kind of personal spiritual growth do I want for myself this coming year?
  • Who do I really need to show up for this coming year?
  • What kind of goals am I best suited to help others achieve?
  • How can I apply my most significant spiritual realization from this past year to the ways in which I’ll engage with the world in the new year?

I’m still working with these questions but I’ve already surprised myself a few times with my answers. Try them for yourself and see where they take you.

I hope that 2023 is ending on a high note for you and that 2024 starts on an even higher one.

Wishing you all good fortune for the year to come,

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