A new year and a fresh start

Feb 25, 2020

Many cultures celebrate the coming of a new year. And for all of them it brings the promise, the optimism, of a new start.

Tibetans, for example, love their New Year celebrations. They start the night before the first day of the First Month, and go on for fifteen days! The first day of their First Month – they use a lunar calendar, calculated annually – usually falls around February; this year it’s February 24.

For the Buddhist Tibetans, their “Losar” celebrations have a big religious component. More than once I’ve enjoyed their day-long ceremonies, especially during the first three days.

One tradition all Tibetans share, families and monastics alike, is to do a huge clean-up in the days leading up to Losar, throwing out the old, airing the cupboards, making a fresh start.

Psychologically we all need this badly. We know how good it feels! The trouble is, we can’t help but get stuck in old ways, gathering rubbish around us, internal and external, and putting off dealing with it. Best would be to do a clean-out every day, not once a year!

So, why do we fall into old habits? Why is it so hard to deal with our dramas as and when they arise? Why do we often wait until things become unbearable before we start to confront them, deal with them, to air out the cupboards?

One way of explaining it is in terms of the Buddhist understanding of attachment and aversion, these two seemingly simple but primordially deep states of mind. Essentially, this attachment runs the show, moment by moment. It’s a junkie that only wants the nice things, and the second it doesn’t get what it wants, that’s the arising of aversion: frustration, annoyance, irritation, upset – all these polite words for the stronger manifestation called anger or, when it turns inward, depression.

According to Buddhist psychology they play a profound role in our lives, and are the basis of so much of our suffering. We’re going between this attachment and aversion a thousand times a day, but the trouble is we rarely notice them, and we allow them to build up until it becomes unbearable.

Just naturally what happens when the hard choices need to made, the difficulties are to be dealt with, the changes must be confronted, the cleaning up to be done, is that we shy away from it, we will do anything to put it off. Why? Because attachment can’t stand problems!

Another way of describing this tendency within us is “procrastination.” What is it that we put off doing? The thing that takes too much effort. And what takes too much effort? The thing that attachment doesn’t like.

In other words, we love our comfort zone and we’ll do anything to stay in it.

Part of the problem is when we do make decisions to get out our comfort zone, to keep our promises to ourselves, we succeed for a while and then sink back into the old ways. Eventually we become disillusioned.

But we mustn’t give up. Perseverance is an incredible quality. Without it, we can achieve nothing. This means whenever we fall down, we simply pick ourselves up again; renew our determination to not put things off. Again, we might fail; again, we pick ourselves up. We know practice makes perfect, but it’s not necessarily easy. Old habits really do die hard.

Every day is a new day, a fresh start. When we wake up, aspire to do our best, to deal with what arises, to not put things off, to not shy away. And at the end of every day, assess ourselves, regret the mistakes, rejoice in our efforts, in our good qualities, and go to bed with a happy mind.

Just keep moving, one step at a time, never giving up!

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