December 31 — at midnight — is a moment when many of us celebrate the ending of one year and the beginning of another.
This celebration is arbitrary. We could theoretically celebrate the new year on any day or moment of our orbit around the sun. Throughout human history, there have been many systems for tracking this path. Our pattern of days, months, and years is only one of them. In fact, it is one so precariously layered over our planetary course that it requires a full-day adjustment every four years in order to fit.
Realizing the arbitrary nature of this celebration’s timing doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It prompts me to remember why the celebration is important. How we measure time shapes our experience of reality. It structures our sense of rhythm, plots patterns of crescendo and decrescendo and so too, creates moments of heightened intensity – thresholds – where we tap and exercise this human power to make time itself. We look backward and reflect; we look forward and predict; we look around and resolve to do better.
New Year’s Eve is one of these moments – a point of passing through that gives us access, not to the new year, but to our own participation in the course of our lives. It is a time to pivot, past and future, inward and outward, left and right, and all around; a time to celebrate the Best of 2018 and What to See 2019. It is a time of making resolutions for when to begin, how to pay attention, and what to do with ourselves.
This crossing into a new year creates another opportunity as well – to open to surprise.
Every year, our family has a tradition that I have written about before. As part of this ritual, we write letters to ourselves that we intend to read on the final day of the following year. After having engaged in this exercise for several years, I realize that so often, the moments that gave a year its magic and meaning were happenings I could never have imagined when I had written my letter a year before.
Every year is full of surprises. People appear and events occur that change the course of your life – cracking you open to thoughts, feelings, and sensations you did not know were possible, propelling you head-long into new directions of inquiry, investment, and activity.
New Year’s Eve is a time to remember the wonder, the mystery, the deep creativity of a universe that is constantly tossing itself together in new patterns of possible movements.
It may provoke fear to think about the possibility of surprise. Some surprises are unwelcome — injury, illness, heartache, disappointment, and death. In the course of a year, no human can escape the hurt that comes with being a bodily self who lives in relationship with other bodily selves, sustained in every moment by an earth whose matrix of swirling forces we cannot control. In this sense, such unwelcome events are not surprises. They are inevitable.
What is not inevitable, however, are surprises that burst your heart open to love life more than you ever have or ever thought possible. What is not inevitable is whether you sense and respond.
New Year’s Eve is a time to remember to stay alert to the possibility of surprises that will astound you with their grace and goodness.
It is a time to empty your sensory self, breathe your feet down to the ground, lift your heart, and walk forward, attuned to what may appear around the next bend to nourish the best in you, and bring it forth in actions of genuine connection with yourself and others.
It is a time is to realize that your greatest accomplishments in the coming year may come not from what you resolve to do, but from what you welcome into your life, even when it seems unlikely, implausible or impractical.
These kinds of surprises come in all shapes and sizes – a new person or animal; a natural vista or adventure; a new job, idea, or skill; a theater performance, musical, movie, concert or book. These surprises come in moments so inspiring that they bend your thoughts, hold your heart, and trouble your peace for longer than you imagined they would. They come in moments when the sensation of living strikes deep enough that you find your course turning, your horizons shifting, as you welcome more of who you are into your life.
So this New Year’s Eve, as you chart a path, plot your projects, and resolve to move with fervor and intention, remember too to stay open to the mystery beyond the time you can measure and mark – beyond what you can see and imagine. Be surprised!