There is something about the beginning of a new year. It is fresh and crisp like the cold winter morning air. Ahead lies the promise of spring, where the beauty of new life reminds us that there is the possibility for rebirth, for things once dormant to thrive once more.
And so, the new year always seems like a chance to start afresh.
The result of this feeling is to plan, to strive, to resolve — thus our New Year’s Resolutions. The things we didn’t accomplish last year are now to be forgotten. What lies ahead is all that matters.
New’s Years Resolutions are typically about doing rather than being. Because we are a performance based culture, we strive to set goals that can be measured. The result is that our inner life is often left wanting. The cultivation of a deep inner life is not necessarily something that can be judged and graded. It is a slow, secret, and mysterious work.
Cultivation of a deep inner life best occurs in solitude and in silence. This is the environment in which we discover ourself, because in solitude and silence there is nothing else to discover. It is here, alone with our self, apart from all the noise, that we must reconcile our actions with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
In solitude and silence we truly come to know ourself. It is in this knowing that we discover whether or not we are living our own life, the life of our true self, or living the life of someone else, our false self.
There is a great passage from Henry David Thoreau, that is quoted by Henri Nouwen in his book Reaching Out. Thoreau says:
When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters proud of his extensive correspondence has not heard from himself this long while.
Having lived over 150 years ago, today Thoreau may be a little off on where people gain their information and their life, but his evaluation is spot on. Let me change the wording a bit and see how it strikes you.
When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet someone who can tell us any news which they have not read online, or seen on Facebook; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and them is that they have seen the blog, or been on Twitter, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to social media. You may depend on it, that the poor person who walks away with the greatest number of Facebook friends proud of their extensive correspondence has not heard from his or her self this long while.
In our age of constant connectivity, how do we find time to hear ourselves. Most people check social media right before bed, right when they wake up, right after lunch, while on the toilet, as soon as the plane lands, and as soon as they see something in the news. In fact, the reason people check social media the minute something major occurs in the world is because they don’t know how to respond to it. They cannot hear their own voice and so they must listen to the voice of others in order to know how to respond.
I’d like to suggest that as we think about the New Year we think about our inner life and not just our outer life. Let’s think about being and not simply doing.
Yes, it would be great if you accomplished a lot this year. However, if those accomplishments come at the cost of losing yourself, then what have you really accomplished?
Jesus asked, “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36 NRSV)
If you made New Year’s Resolutions, how many of them are something you can check off a list once they are accomplished? How many of them can be measured?
If your News Year’s Resolution is to cultivate your inner life, you won’t be able to say when you’ve done it. You will, however, definitely know if you have not.
This post first appeared in Mark Moore’s personal blog on January 8, 2014.