Happy New Year! New York is a symbol of freedom in the New World as tens of thousands of immigrants flock here every year. Further, for each new year, over one billion people worldwide prefer to witness a long-held tradition (since 1904- also the year of opening the city’s first subway line) from Times Square, often referred to as the crossroads of the world, in New York City.
A 6-ton ball, encrusted with nearly 2,700 Waterford triangular crystals and 32,000 LEDs, shines like a torch of the Statue of Liberty to usher in the newborn year. As the 12-foot sphere lowers at midnight, confetti and cheers fills the air for the world’s symbolic New Year’s Eve event. The concept of a time-ball dropping was initiated atop England’s Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1833. This allowed nearby captains of ships to precisely set their navigational instruments as the ball would lower at one o’clock every afternoon. Since then, over 150 time balls were set up and utilized worldwide, but few remain working today. The Times Square ball drop was closed to the public last year because of the pandemic, but now it serves as a symbol for returning to a somewhat normal life of stability.
In nature, things generally have rounded or uneven sides. The square can be seen as a symbol of civilization. Cities, like the largest metropolis in the United States, New York City, is built on squares and rectangles. These are the product of humankind taking action and building. They have right angles that represent order, mathematics, rationality, and formality. Further, the corner can be a representation of a crossroad. When something is ‘right around the corner,’ it suggests looking at something a different way.
Angular Buildings of New York City
Humankind has been looking “around the corner” to the new year for thousands of years. We make promises or resolutions to do something differently. Each year before the Springtime planting crops, the ancient Babylonians made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed in hopes of successful crops.
Later in ancient Rome, Julius Caesar established January 1 as beginning the new year circa 46 BCE. The word January was named after the two-faced god Janus, whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches. Therefore, the Romans believed that Janus looked both backwards into the previous year and forward into the future during this month as they made sacrifices to him and promises for good conduct.
On the first day of the new year, early Christians thought about their past mistakes and resolved to do better in the future. Today, people throughout much of the western world make resolutions to themselves and focus mostly on self-improvement.
The Yoga Sutras were written two thousand years ago by ancient yogi, Patanjali. These words of wisdom are a path of purification, refinement, and surrender. They teach us to take responsibility for our thoughts, words, and actions by living consciously. This is also called living through Right Action. The Sutras impart, “The fruit of wrong action is sorrow, the fruit of right action is joy.”
According to his Eight-Limbed Path to Enlightenment, one of the guidelines for personal observances is Tapas. It is derived from the Sanskrit meaning of fiery discipline which gets our heart pumping with passion and intensifies our desire for personal growth.
Tapas can lead us to practice deeper variations of postures or drive us to be still and observe the mind. Tapping into core strength can give us the courage for transformation and stepping outside of our comfort zone. Related to New Year’s resolutions, Tapas also refers to the discipline and decision to go to bed a little earlier, and choose healthy portions and types of food and drinks.
Yoga Sutras Photo by eSamskriti
Another sacred yoga text teaches that we should not be attached to the results of our actions, but instead do what we feel we need to do because it aligns with our purpose and dharma. According to the Bhagavada Gita 11:47-8 yoga means to perform actions without being attached to the outcome: “O Arjuna, remaining immersed in yoga, perform all actions, forsaking attachment to their fruits, being indifferent to success and failure. This mental evenness is termed yoga.”
New Year’s resolutions are a chance for us to make positive change through Right Action. Right Action is more about the process than the results. Forty-five percent of Americans today make New Year’s resolutions, but only eight percent actually follow through with their goal each year. This is not necessarily a failed outcome. According to the philosophy of dharma, our personal role in the evolution of the universe, our path of right action can change; that is why we should not be too attached to the goal or the outcome. It is more about doing what is right in the present moment.
When we are living in alignment with our dharma and in a state of consciousness, we know what our unique offering should be in each moment. For example, if I have a goal to practice vinyasa yoga every day to keep a strong, balanced, and flexible figure, but my newborn baby starts crying after five minutes into the sequence, my dharma in the moment would be to tend to my baby’s needs as she cannot help herself and I am uniquely responsible for her wellbeing. I can find time later to return to my sequence or let go of the attachment to a perfect body at this moment. This spontaneous right action is called Kriya which feels effortless when you flow with the laws of nature. The kriya path is a safe adventure, but one has to be willing to courageously embrace what is not inside your existing comfort zone. When we move out of kriya, we enter karma zone and we are bound by a cycle of corrective force, consequences.
In the Buddhist tradition, Right Action is the fourth aspect of the The Eightfold Path (to enlightenment) as taught by the Buddha. These include Respecting Life (Not Killing), Generosity (Not Steaing), Honoring Commitments (Not Misusing Sex), Loving Speech and Deep Listening (Not Lying), and Nourishing Ourselves (Not Abusing Intoxicants). Our "right" actions spring from compassion and from an understanding of the dharma.
Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said,
"The basis of Right Action
is to do everything in
If it feels like the Right Action for you, join us at Sunday Sunset Yoga on the Bay!