Happy New Year 2012! I know this demarcation between one year and the next is quite arbitrary. But cultural conditioning or not, it feels natural at this time of year to think of the past year—or many years past—and make resolutions. Don’t the holidays bring a poignant sense of time passing, of little ones becoming big ones, of loved ones coming and going?
And let’s not forget that impermanence can mean liberation from illness or some other oppression. War end, Arab springs happen, graduations and other long-cherished hopes and dreams come true. I always find myself thinking of notable global and personal events. We’ll all be deluged with year-end wrap-ups whether we like it or not, so I want to offer a couple of private citizen year-end reflections. Since I was a child I’ve longed to travel the world. I think behind that wish there was a deeper wish to draw closer to the flame of life, to be at the center of life. Certainly, this was behind my longing to move to New York City after college. And here I am, many years after moving to New York, still with this longing. This longing to—oh, what to call it, embrace reality–is always with me. I’m very aware at year’s end if I’ve been anywhere that made an impression on me. This past year I saw the spires of Oxford, England, and the high desert in and around Joshua Tree, in California. I was thinking about this, and feeling that familiar yearning to see more, when a very different kind of realization dawned on me.
When I am more centered, more concentrated, whether I am chopping vegetables or meditating, in a sense I have traveled light years from my usual state. I am at the center of the universe. “The laws governing the universe are here and act in us,” wrote Jeanne de Salzmann. The great statesman, writer, and spiritual leader Vaclev Havel, who died this year wrote something similar: Just as the constant increase of entropy is the basic law of the universe, so it is the basic law of life to be ever more highly structured and to struggle against entropy. “
There is a movement towards entropy and a movement towards structure and unity, towards the center—not just “out there” in the cosmos but in us and in every moment. As I was chopping vegetables today, I realized that every moment—every flash—in which my body, heart, and thoughts are together, collected, I am at the center of the universe in a sense. I realized that the biggest trip I took this year—and the biggest trip I will ever take—are those flashes of centering, becoming collected, concentrated, open to what is. The attention that allows this to happen is no small thing that lets a person thread a needle. It is a means of cosmic transport.
The trick—and this may be the most important thing I’ve learned this year or any year—is that you can’t force your way onto this particular magic bus. The only way on is to quiet down, relax, let go. So my New Year’s resolutions have to do with changing my behavior on the smallest scale, on changing my attitudes and postures so I can be open.
“The attitude we take, our inner and outer posture, is at the same time our aim and our way,” wrote Jeanne de Salzmann At every single moment, we slip into some conditioned posture, and this outer posture triggers a corresponding inner attitude. We are enclosed in a subjective world of our own making. We just can’t help it. The organism is designed that way. Except there are flashes—sitting upright and at ease in meditation posture, perhaps, or relaxed and concentrated on a task, so that the thoughts, the feelings, and the body are one. In those moments there can be a burst of freedom from the self-enclosure of our attitudes, a movement of opening to what is. We all know those happy moments of coming together. We could be chopping at a board in Provence or India as well in New York.
And those moments come in challenging times also. There are moments when we are forced to see how limited we are trapped by our conditioning, when we can see how barren and repetitive our thought is, going round and round, coming up with no knowledge that can save us. At such moments we can feel that all we are is just rags and ashes. We can see how this mechanical conditioning, this grinding poverty of being, actually comes between us and the world as it is—and that moment can bring a new kind of hope.
How can we break out of our bubbles of conditioning and be open to that attention that travels to the center of the universe? This much I know: It cannot be forced. It comes sometimes when I let go, when I relax and become quiet and still. So this year, instead of pining to see India, I make a resolution to find more moments to be still, and allow the world to flow in.
P.S. Another small and happy development for my loyal readers: the email subscription bar is back!