We believe in forward progress, that all will incrementally get better in life. It’s a very American belief. We see a straight line ahead moving upwards and cling to this notion.
One more time this is an illusion of perfection. That there is only one direction. And when it appears that life does not conform to this, we get anxious and fearful and disillusioned.
A closer look at reality might suggest that life is cyclical in a way where we build up and then destroy part of what we create while building up again. Views from above make this look like a never ending cycle. From another vantage point, we can see that this reality view is a spiral, ever tracing a new path. Martin Luther King’s long arc of justice.
If as zen practice tells us every moment is new, it reminds us not to compare one moment with another. It reminds us not to fall into declaring things better and best, bad and worst, even earlier and later. It invites to look at the true essence of reality of what is available now. If you prefer Catholic saints over zen, St Augustine said, “There are three tenses or times: the present of past things, the present of present things and the present of future things.” Only one of those three tenses presents us with new experience and information.
This guidance can also help us as to examine our community, social, political and economic worlds. As a college student in the early 70s, I saw a world that was unjust: civil rights were not present for many, economic benefits were not adequately distributed, we were involved with a war that appeared never to have an ending, women were not farely compensated or recognized for their contributions and, gay folks were outcasts. Yet for some reason, I expereinced this as challenging but not daunting. Part of that was naïveté of the privileges I had, a second part the naïveté about the ease of change making and a final part of naïveté about the linearity of human progress.
As we look at our present, we are forced to recognize that civil rights for many people are not guaranteed, that gender equality and equity is not present, and economic disparities are large. This does not mean nothing has changed over the decades. It means that change is change and can go in many directions. We have an opportunity to see what the conditions that exist are right now, not made up conditions, not imaginary ones, not ones that our privileges allowed us to ignore. Only conditions as they are. And from there our work begins anew, as it does each day.
This is how one celebrates a Happy New Year.