Transcription of New Year’s Eve Talk:
We come to the end of another year. For many of us, we’ve spent this entire year together. We began this program just under two years ago, so this was the first complete calendar year that we have functioned as a residential community and many of us have been here for that entire time.
We have in that year had the opportunity to see many of the original residents go and bring their practice out into the world. We continue to see the effects of that, to see the impacts on their lives and on the lives of those they touch. And we’ve had the opportunity to welcome new members into this community and that has been an occasion for rejoicing.
We’ve had the opportunity to spend many wonderful days together. We have joined in many wonderful experiences together. We are an amazing group, a beautiful and lovable and inspiring group of people. It’s a great honor to spend this evening with such a wonderful group of people.
And we have together, working as a team, made great progress towards impacting the world in powerful, just, caring and ethical ways. This is something that we can and should be very proud of. Here, we are dedicating ourselves, we’re throwing ourselves into letting go of our stuck, self-centered patterns and perspectives and creating a new kind of community, a new kind of economy that is capable of caring for life more fully than the dominant models that are available at this time in our history.
This is a magnificent dedication and we are living it. We are doing it. We can look back on this year and know that we’ve given this precious year to this prayer, this dedication. We can look back on this year and know that here, we have actually lived it, lived it with each day.
Of course, when I say “here” it isn’t just about a physical location, or being the official member of a certain community. Being here means being a part of the dedication, the integrity, the love for all living things, and demonstrating that with our lives. This is a kind of “here” that is true of all of us in this community, whether we are at this location or not. It’s a magnificent achievement, something to be proud of, something to be depended upon.
We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We as an organization have a vow, have a dedication that we share, and each of us has our own vow, something to be achieved in this life, something that you could say we were born to do, we’re being born to do, we’re going to die for. We each have that, we collectively have that. We don’t know what’s going to happen as a result of that, yet we are fully committed to it.
Some people say that our goals, the commitments that we have, are impossible to achieve – they say we’ll never do it. I hear this often. People say, “I just don’t want you to be disappointed. The vow that you’ve given your life to is something you’ll never achieve. I want you to face it now. I don’t want you to feel bad later.” We here have the chance to experience something beyond that.
Here – I mean in this position of awareness – HERE! In this open minded clarity, we have a way of seeing beyond that. We see, “It’s true, I don’t know if I’ll succeed at this vow. I don’t know about that. But, this vow is something I can be happy failing for. I can fail for this and die joyful.” Its better to fail at what is good and true, than to succeed at what is bad and false. I’d prefer to succeed at my vow of course, but that isn’t ultimately the point. The point is to be fully dedicated. That’s what a vow is – it is a dedication. And to live with that dedication is already success in itself. The objective success that eventually follows is a reflection of that foundational success of having made a dedication. And if the reflection in the objective world for the time being seems to be failure, then that’s okay. I’ll accept that “failure” at my vow. I’d prefer that over succeeding at something that I don’t believe in, something unethical or inauthentic or dishonest or selfish.
Now of course, we spend a lot of our time – people in society spend a lot of our time – not just not succeeding at our vows, and not even succeeding at something that’s inauthentic and uncaring, but failing even at that, don’t we? It happens, doesn’t it? We work hard to succeed at something we don’t believe in and we don’t even succeed at that.
I was teaching a class over at Saint Michael’s College and I asked the class, “So, what do you really believe in? What is it that really matters to you?” and the most common answer was, “Relationships. True Friendship. My family. The people I’ve been close to.” It was a senior seminar so I said, “Now is that going to be reflected in your decisions after you graduate?” And they said, “Yes, absolutely.”
I had a chance to go back at the end of the year and I asked everyone, “What are you doing? What decisions have you made?” And of those who had a clear answer, most were making a decision for work. Most of them were moving somewhere to make money. I asked, “What happened? What happened? You were clear, remember? Do you remember what you said to me?” They did remember then, once I brought it up. But at that moment, not even one of the students had an answer. Not one person could explain what happened over those months. There was nothing to say.
But there was one person, who for whatever reason, had tried to set his standards too low to fail. He said that, “Well, I don’t have any particular goal. I don’t have the goal of being close to my friends, or making money, or helping others. I don’t have any goal. I just want to live, that’s all I want.” Hearing that, I couldn’t help it. I had to let him know. I said, “I have some bad news for you. You’re going to fail at that. Soon enough, you will not be able to live. In a short time, a few years or a few decades, or a few days for all we know, your one goal will be impossible to achieve.”
I bring this up because this is serious. Our lives are serious. So precious. It’s essential for us to see the extraordinarily precious nature of each day. This is partially for our own benefit. Each day is miraculous, and each day, seen this way, is filled with joy: to be able to see and hear and feel and know and love and, yes, fail! All of that is a miracle. All of that is incredible and so for our own benefit it’s important to know how precious each day is. And yet in a bigger picture than that, each day is precious because we have something to give. We have a song to sing, we have a dance to dance, we have a vow to fulfill! And there is very little time to do that. There is not much time. Life is passing very quickly. It’s passing very, very quickly.
It’s important for us to be clear about this. Because if we see how precious our lives are to the world – how precious our true authentic life, a true loving life, is to the world – then we gain what I talk about so much: we gain a sense of urgency. It’s not a sense of urgency that’s based in panic and becomes a frenetic frantic contortion. It’s a clear and smooth and energetic slice straight through the obstructions, to the fulfilling of our vow, our gift, our unique and precious way of fully receiving and using this unique magnificent joyful moment, that we have waiting to be unveiled for the world. It’s essential that we clarify the precious nature of our vow, of our commitment, of our love, of our creativity. We must have DEEP faith so that we can make use of each day. Make use of each day!
Time is passing. Here we are at the end of this year. Time is absolutely merciless. It’s absolutely merciless. We can play games in our minds and pretend we have time to spare, but there comes a day when we realize, “Where did that time go? Where did those minutes go? Those hours go? Those days go? Those months go? Those years go? Where did they go?” Where did this past year go? Well, it’s gone … that’s where. Its just GONE. It cannot be retrieved. We can’t gain enough power and money to buy it back. It’s gone.
The passing of time is merciless. Here we are at the end of this year and it’s important to be clear that this ending is an indication of the end of our lives. It’s a clue about our nature.
This was the essential shift for the Buddha. He was a prince – moving towards the fulfillment of his vow as a bodhisattva – and he realized this shift the first time he saw that we die. People say, “Well, that’s ridiculous. You can’t not know that you die. Come on, you can’t be in your late twenties and not even know that people die.” And yet how many of us get to our late twenties, how many of us get to the end of our lives, without noticing that we die, without seeing that death, meaning time, is absolutely merciless.
There is no way to argue and say, “Wait! Just a second, I’m confused, I don’t know what to do! Just wait for a second! When I figure this out then we can keep on going with this life.” There’s no one to say that to.
This year is ending. It’s important that we see that as an indication of our own end – our end that is in process – that is happening and that is coming – coming coming coming without any interest in our opinion about that.
It’s important that we see this clearly because we so often, we so easily get off track. We worry about things that have nothing to do with what we wish to give this life to. We get worried about this and we get worried about that. We get caught up in this and we get caught up in that. But if we see the precious nature of this day, the precious nature of our lives, then we’re in a position to slice through that. Yes, we may get caught up again but we can slice through it again. In this way, we move closer and closer to the fulfillment of our vow.
The essential component of this path is a true willingness to die. This death is, if it’s merely a physical death, the thing that prevents us from fulfilling our vow in this lifetime. But if it’s the death of our selves, then it’s what enables us to fulfill our vow in this lifetime. Everything that obstructs us, the summation of all those things that obstruct us, that has a name. It’s called “self”.
It says, “I can’t do it. I shouldn’t do it. Who am I to do it? Look at the big world out there, it’s so real. That’s the real world, I’m in this little container here. It’s not real. I’m just a fake person anyway. I’m just making this up. I don’t even know how to do it. This isn’t even going to work. There’s no way. I’m just going to fail at this.”
It’s so easy for us to get lost in that. But even if we avoid that, our selves can obstruct us anyway, tricking us into holding onto fixed views, getting lost in conflict. “I believe this is right, I’m holding on to this belief. This is what I’ve concluded through the logical pounding out of views. I’m right. Everyone else is wrong. Now I’ve got something that I’m going to hold onto and believe in.”
And yet, right here, if we see clearly the merciless passing of time, the precious nature of time that, if we befriend it, enables us to fulfill our vow – in just the same way that time, if we don’t befriend it, prevents us from fulfilling our vow – then we see our relationship with time as the essential component in our lives. We see that CLEARLY! Each obstruction that comes up becomes simply the next purification, the next awakening, the next insight. Then, we’re more able to completely die, to completely let go of everything! So that, in letting go of everything, there’s nothing more that can obstruct us from being true to ourselves, from being true to our love.
We train to become able to completely let go of whatever comes up, to totally let go of all of it. And then we find out, “Is there anything left? Is there any motivation beyond clinging? Beyond fear? Beyond resistance? Is there any other reason to do anything? Is there anything more basic than that? More foundational? Before that and after that, faster than that and slower than that, above that and beneath that, is there anything at all?” If we find that out, then we have broken the obstruction. It then may require a lifetime to clear away the wreckage of it, but at least it’s not growing. At least it has a fatal wound.
This is our opportunity. We’ve given ourselves this opportunity so that we can give our greatest gift to the world. We can feel the enormous confidence that comes from the experience of giving that gift and seeing directly that the experience of GIVING that gift transcends whatever success or failure may be stuck on us by others, or even by ourselves.
Let us dedicate ourselves as this new year opens. Let us dedicate ourselves to completely breaking through, completely letting go of everything we’re holding onto, so that there can be nothing left to obstruct us from actively living our love, our truth, our vow with a confidence that goes beyond success and failure. We live with a confidence that goes beyond entanglement in time, but which does not separate from time. This is our opportunity.
I’m very grateful to be giving my life to this opportunity and this community.