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New Year’s Resolutions

September 20, 2009

Eid Mubarak, and L’Shanah Tovah, for my Muslim and Jewish friends celebrating holidays. I’ve been quite busy preparing for the Yom Tov at work, and in my pagan community I’m also preparing for one of our High Holy Days, Samhain, coming up at the end of October. Like the Jewish High Holy Days it’s a time to reflect on the past year, honor our Beloved Dead, and make reparations for past wrongs and resolve to do better in the future. It’s one of the days when pagans of the past have marked the turning of the wheel of the year from the old year to the new—although in times past people of all faiths have been less concerned with separating one year from another at an arbitrary date. Both pagans and Jews recognize a “new year” in the fall and a “new year” in early spring, when the sap starts running in the trees and the first little shoots come up. For pagans, the spring “new year” is at Imbolc, falling on or around February 1, and Reclaiming-style modern pagans dedicate new year’s resolutions then, symbolized by the planting of new seeds in the still-cold earth. Come Samhain, we’re said to have “harvested” the benefits of our work through the spring and summer, and Samhain is the time to take stock of what we’ve reaped and begin to learn the lessons we’ll put into practice next spring. Thinking ahead to Samhain compliments celebrating the Jewish High Holy Days, when we recognize the New Year (which started Friday evening) and also have ten days between the New Year and Yom Kippur to make atonement for our mistakes of the past year and to resolve to do better. I’m grateful to be a part of a Jewish spiritual community where the emphasis is not on guilt and recriminations, but on celebrating the process of learning to be better friends to ourselves, the Holy, and one another. And I’m grateful to have seen some Muslim friends in services with us yesterday and had the chance to wish them greetings for Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Ramadan fast and a time to gather and celebrate with friends and family, enjoy good food, and, often, to give to charity. Charitable giving is also practiced at Yom Kippur by Jews, and it’s a tradition I wish I saw emphasized more in my pagan community. I don’t think I know any pagans who don’t give to charity, but we don’t do it communally or visibly the same way, and I worry we won’t instill the values of generosity and mutual support in younger pagans if we don’t make it a part of pagan identity the way it’s a part of Jewish and Muslim identity.

There have been a few things I’ve felt badly about this summer. For one thing, I’ve been growing away from my Jewish community as I’ve felt less joyful about my work for my synagogue. I’ve come to see the diminishing of joy in my work there as related to a shift in priorities and a desire to pursue work that feeds values that I hold more deeply than I value organized religion. So I can’t regret those feelings. But I do regret that I’ve allowed them to harm the quality of my work and my relationships with my community.

In general, I’ve been making some improvements in my tendency to procrastinate and avoid work I feel negative about. But I’ve also become more acutely aware of how strong those tendencies are, and how pervasive they are, so it’s hard for me to feel as good about my incremental improvements as I otherwise might.

I’ve also been rather irresponsible with money this year. I’m making a commitment to cut my spending and save money so that I can have more freedom to do work that supports my values, rather than simply doing whatever will pay enough for me to live on (and eat out as often as I want, and buy things occasionally because I feel like it and not because I need to).

But on the up side, I’ve simplified my life quite a bit through getting rid of a lot of unnecessary things. I’m living smaller, and that should help me save money. I’ve made some decisions that I feel very good about, and I’m looking forward to putting them into action in the coming year. Now as we start to leave summer behind—by my reckoning autumn started at Lammas, around August 1, and winter begins at Samhain—the pace of life will start to slow down a little, and I’ll have more time for reflection, relaxation, and inner work before the next season of growth.

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