Happy New Year


I say those words with some trepidation. On the one hand, I join those who are thrilled to see the end of 2020. On the other, if the last year has taught me anything it is to be wary about what happens next.

Still, I have things to look forward to. For the Good of the Realm, the novel that I sold just before our lives got upended, will be coming out at the end of May from Aqueduct Press. And my sweetheart and I have begun to think about making some travel plans for later in the year.

It’s possible that with the vaccine and some decent leadership at the federal level in the United States the pandemic will wither away. Given what we have learned over the past few years, and especially the past ten months, about the frailties of our country, I hope we will build on this destructive period to create a better one.

I’m not holding my breath, though. The problems we must deal with are much deeper than I used to think.

The beginning of the year is traditionally the time when we approach things with hope. As a product of the school systems that were developed to work around agriculture, I still have a tendency to think of September as the beginning of the year.

And when I think like that, I remember that as the beginning of the school year approached, I was eager for it. I would get a new dress, careful to find something in fall colors that could still be worn in the heat of Texas September, buy school supplies, and set off with anticipation.

Within a week, I was disappointed. I remember coming home and crying one year, probably my first year in high school, because nothing was any different. New subjects and new teachers, but nothing had really changed.

As someone who would like to see major changes in 2021, I am trying hard not to hope for too much.

I have found during these last few months that the rituals associated with holidays no longer mean much to me. I do not believe in any kind of god, so while I have fond memories of church rituals and music associated with Christmas, those things are no longer important to me. Gatherings with family and friends are delightful, but I see no reason why they should be tied to holidays.

I would like more rituals in our lives. I suspect we humans will have to come up with some new ones. That’s always a little awkward at the beginning.

For many years I went to the Aikido dojo on New Year’s Eve. We’d have a class followed by a party. That was a good ritual for starting the year. But even if I was still part of a dojo right now, we couldn’t do that this year.

I do plan to eat black-eyed peas today, the traditional southern food for good luck. (Though I’m pretty sure I ate some last year, too, so I’m not sure they do as much good as I always thought,)

And I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions.

I have the usual list of things I want to do: write every day, get rid of the clutter, organize my life more efficiently, try something new. But I’m not going to write those down as resolutions.

Instead, I’m making just one resolution this year.

I resolve to get better at listening.

My use of the word listening incorporates the concept of paying attention on as deep a level as I can. I want to listen to the things that aren’t said, the noises that aren’t there, as much as I do to the sounds I hear.

And I want to do my best to hear the words that never get spoken, the ones that are implied among the ones that are said.

I want to hear the crows and the other animals. I want to hear the wind and the rain and the crash of surf on the beach. I want to go deep in the back country and hear the silence, in part because after awhile I’ll be able to hear all those noises that are buried under daily life.

This resolution has come about because I have delved deeper into my understanding of Aikido and the path of warriorship this year. Deep listening is part of the process of not just resolving, but of transforming, conflict, as well as of the process of knowing the world and yourself as well as you possibly can.

This is not a response to the election or to the people rioting in the halls of government for the privilege of gathering in groups to super-spread the virus. I don’t intend to spend much time listening to right-wing extremists and white supremacists.

It’s the people they’ve been drowning out I want to listen to.

I haven’t quite figured out what I need to do to implement this resolution, so if it sounds amorphous, it is. I’m just sure I haven’t done enough deep listening and I’m going to work on improving that.

It might develop into a practice over the year. After all, you don’t have to start new habits or practices on January 1.

I got back to meditation in a serious way on November 3, when I started an 18-day virtual meditation retreat. I’ve meditated every day since. If I don’t meditate when I first get up, I make sure to do it before I go to bed.

I started walking five miles a day in March of 2015 and have kept it up since. For the last month I’ve had some issues with one leg, so I’ve been doing less, but walking as part of my life is now so ingrained that I can stop for awhile for health or travel reasons without feeling like I’ll never do it again.

Look for those changes that really matter in your life and make them when they make sense.

Maybe that’s another resolution.

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