The sky was already streaked with shades of apricot when Koko and I set out walking this cool, quiet morning. Looking up, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a golden wedge, all that was left of the moon, as the quilted and snakeskin-patterned clouds shifted almost imperceptibly in the sky, their movement as slow as the wind was still.
As we moseyed mauka, accompanied by birdsong, the heavenly hues shifted to a deeper orange, then light pink and finally a blaze of scarlet as the sun peeked up over the Giant and quickly disappeared into a thick band of fleece, repossessing all the colors that it had so extravagantly put forth, save for a silvery gray.
It’s the last day of the year, a time when we tend to be looking back and forward in almost equal measure. When I reflect on 2010, I think of it in terms of how much beauty I was privileged to experience and all the words I wrote — some 242 posts on this blog alone, not to mention numerous stories for various publications, journal entries, the odd short story or poem.
But I also think about all the lives — frequently messy, difficult, troubled lives — that have been intertwined with my own as part of the job I’ve held for the past 18 months. After spending an hour or two in the morning immersed in intellectual musings on global warming, politics, land use, endangered species, Hawaiian independence, freedom of the press or what have you, I go to a place where many of the people I’m dealing with have much more pressing issues on their minds — basic survival issues like food, shelter, health and personal safety.
It’s a challenging job, one that often has me waking worried in the night, but it’s also rewarding, because it’s shown me that even though it’s very hard — OK, impossible — to change the world, it’s really quite easy to make a difference in an individual’s life, which in turn makes a difference in my own life. And isn’t that how the world is ultimately changed?
People often leave comments on this blog pressing me to provide solutions and answers, by which they mean external ones, and that’s where I’m not especially helpful. I don’t think any of our systems are capable of fixing the things that need to be fixed; indeed, they need to be torn down and rebuilt on a very different set of values. As I see it, there’s only one way out of the messes we’ve made collectively and personally, and that’s for each and every one of us to do the very best we can, to inform ourselves, to understand the world and its workings, to have more compassion and practice more kindness, to help one another, to constantly question our own beliefs, actions and assumptions and cast aside those that don’t serve us or others.
It's as simple, and as difficult, as that.
The transition from the old year to the new is a good time to engage in that process, and I received an email invitation from the Rev. Nori Fujimori to participate in the year-end Naikan Meditation at Waimea Higashi Hongwanji tonight. As he described it:
The Naikan is a therapy and it was developed by Yoshimoto Ishin (1916-1988), a devout Buddhist of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist in Japan. Naikan is a structured method of self-reflection. A more poetic definition of Naikan is “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye”. It is a structured method of self-reflection that helps us to understand ourselves, our relationships and the fundamental nature of human existence.
I’m not Buddhist, but I found the questions that can be reflected upon in the meditation useful, so I wanted to share them:
1. Reflect on specific people in your life who have supported you during the past year. How have they benefited you?
2. Make a list of things you've received this past year without providing any compensation or consideration.
3. Do the reflection on someone with whom you've had trouble, discord, or stress during the past year.
4. Reflect on ways you caused trouble and difficulty to the people over past year.
5. Reflect on your speech this past year. In what ways have you spoken critically, harmfully, or inappropriately about others. What was the result of this to others?
6. Reflect on ways you mistreated objects during the past year. How attentive or inattentive were you with your belongings or others?
8. What have you learned this past year?
9. Create a list of all the people and objects that helped you to grow this past year. Personally, professionally, and spiritually.
10. Forgive yourself for not reaching any of the goals you might have set for yourself and reaffirm to focus on them in the New Year.
Happy New Year, and thanks for reading.