Alcohol still flows, credit cards mount up, pounds get added to the waistline. But the symbolism of a new beginning remains powerful. How can an empty gesture be turned back into something meaningful--a true change of direction?
In India's spiritual tradition room is given for something besides external change. The inner person, with all the deep-held wishes and aspirations we hold inside, comes first. Now that modern India has become Westernized with more than its share of alcohol, credit cards, and added pounds one might not remember how important the inner person remains. Why not revive it this New Year? I can think of no better resolution.
What, then, does it mean to revive the inner person? To revive literally means to bring back to life or to give new life to something that has become moribund. Let's start there, since many of the most successful people--people who know all about self-discipline, organization, and the efficient use of time--have quite chaotic or inert inner lives. They rely on their brains but not their intuition, they reject emotions that don't serve a useful purpose, they conform to patterns of behavior gained second-hand from business or social class.
This can change. We only have to ask what the inner person wants and where it is going. In India we have conventional answers to both questions. The inner person wants liberation, freedom from old conditioning, want, and suffering. Yet if your inner person is in reality just a copy of the outer person, you wake up thinking that what you want is a bigger paycheck and where you are heading (hopefully) is toward a comfortable retirement villa.
The inner person cannot be revived all at once through renunciation, contemplation, or meditation. Those are valuable, but they tend to get postponed. Tomorrow is always a better day to start going inward. Yet the point of Indian Vedanta is that the inner and outer are identical; only our attachment to surface appearances fools us into dividing the two.
How, then, can we take one step toward uniting inner and outer? I believe that the inner world will never match the outer world without proof. Nobody wants to believe that bad things (missing a train, losing a job, breaking a leg) are a reflection of their inner world. So let's turn things around and ask the inner world to benefit us by affecting the outer world positively. If there is only one reality, this should be easily achievable.
Now we arrive at an actual New Year's resolution. Pick one of the following actions and apply it every day:
Make sure that you appreciate someone or something that you ordinarily take for granted. It isn't necessary to express your feelings (although wanting to seems like a good idea--the action will follow naturally). Don't pick something commonplace like a pretty sunset or a bed of roses. Appreciate the true value of a person or situation that holds deep significance: a marriage, a holy ceremony, a person who is essential in your life.
Go inside and surrender. It's a simple phrase, but surrender and acceptance are subtle. They aren't about giving up or resigning yourself to a bad situation. Acceptance is a gesture of humility by which you acknowledge that there is more to a situation than your own small perspective. It involves asking to be part of the bigger plan. Dharma is a fancy word for the bigger plan, but words matter little here. You must perceive that such a plan exists, and that can only begin with a willingness to see more than you presently see. Acceptance marks that willingness.
This is the act of not pushing against an obstacle. The obstacle can be another person, another way of doing things, another plan for the future. In spiritual terms, when you meet resistance, a new element is needed. The way ahead is blocked for a reason, and until you find the key, the obstacle will remain in place or increase. The new element may be a new idea, a new feeling, a new piece of information. To open up a channel for the new element, stop resisting (I don't mean putting up passive resistance, which was politically effective for Gandhi but isn't the same thing as what we are discussing here).
As you can see, all these actions are entirely inward. You shift your allegiance from the outer person to the inner. In effect, you are giving the inner person a chance to prove that he (or she) can affect change. Not imaginary change but an actual shift in the outer world. Is it worth a year's time to try this experiment? According to every spiritual tradition, it most definitely is.