According to the Chinese Zodiac, the year of the snake begins next year. We could do well to consider the qualities of that symbol, and carry our awareness mindfully into 2013.
Once again, the year’s end is fast approaching. And what a year it’s been! Uncommonly severe storms causing widespread damage; civil unrest, political turmoil, and war in many parts of the world; seemingly irrational acts of violence and mass shootings; and a continued worldwide economic slump. While for some this might still have been a banner year, for others it might seem that 2012 can’t end soon enough.
What might be in store for humankind in 2013? According to the Chinese calendar, the upcoming year (which, by the lunar calendar doesn’t begin until February 10, and runs through January 30, 2014), the coming year is the “Year of the Snake.” And according to traditions based on the Zodiac of animal signs, people born in such a year are supposed to inherit personality traits frequently attributed to snakes, such as cunning, elegance, intelligence, and charm. Such traits would certainly come in handy, because in the “Year of the Snake,” acts of trickery and deception, exploitation, and ruthlessness can also be expected.
While it’s probably not really possible to say in advance what kind of year 2013 will be, it’s my fervent hope that it will be a year of genuine renewal on a variety fronts. The world faces many problems in several different spheres: political, social and economic. And sometimes it can seem like the problems that plague us might simply be insurmountable. But there are few things as resilient as the human spirit. And as history has demonstrated time and time again, there’s little we humans can’t accomplish when we undertake a meaningful renewal of that spirit.
The world’s challenges are formidable: finding abundant, clean, renewable sources of energy; conserving the precious resources that sustain life; combating hunger and poverty; keeping ourselves healthy; and providing hope and the opportunity for a better life for all. But we have already set foot on the moon, eradicated some age-old diseases, and shrunk the vastness of the planet with instant global communication. So, despite the daunting tasks we still face, if we have the will, surely we will find the ways to address them.
What is your most fervent wish for the coming year? Some I know are praying for a holy year. Others are hoping for a more prosperous one. For myself, I’m hoping for (and have been trying to encourage through my writings) a mindful year. And, while I’m aware that even the term “mindfulness” has different meanings within different traditions and perspectives (e.g., Buddhism, Hindu spiritual practice, psychology), there is a common thread of contemplative awareness attached to the concept — a kind of awareness very often lost in the hectic day-to-day shuffle of modern life. But the more we really contemplate our existence and our circumstances, and especially, the more aware we are of ourselves, the more likely we are to find the answers that sometimes elude us. Time has proven that we can do just about anything we set our minds to do. But history has also taught us that just because we can do something doesn’t necessarily mean we should. That’s why it’s so important not only to be mindful, but to be rightly mindful. In my book Character Disturbance I make the point that because of some unique and unavoidable environmental and socio-cultural reasons, “unless we get really honest with ourselves about ourselves and with each other about each other,” there’s a good chance we simply won’t make it. That’s why I’ve always striven through my work to inspire others to move toward a deeper and more meaningful level of self-reflection and understanding. Mindful of ourselves, one another, and the environment that sustains us, we just might make it after all.
There are some who have predicted, according to the Mayan calendar, that the world would come to an end before the Year of the Snake arrived. But we are all still here and engaged in the daily struggle we call living, so I pray that the new year ushers in an era of unprecedented awareness — awareness of ourselves, of each other, of our world, of mutual needs, and of our shared destiny. And whether or not you believe in things such as a year with the characteristics of a snake, we will certainly need all the grace, cunning, wisdom, cleverness, determination, and mindfulness we can muster to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.
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