Even during the best of times, the turn of a year is a natural time to reflect on what we’d like to see changed, and what we’d like to do differently. I think this particular New Year presents especially rich opportunities in that department.
The economic turmoil of the past few months has created an environment of doubt and anxiety for many — and in times of anxiety, we tend to revert to our survival instincts. We hunker down and worry only about the most immediate, obvious and personal concerns. We let go of our ideals and start defending our interests. We stop reaching for a better future and start grabbing for whatever we can get.
But taking this approach now would be a mistake.
Because when our perceptions of scarcity convince us to start restricting our ideas of what’s possible, we needlessly abandon some of our best ideas and inspirations. And, too often, these are the very ideas and inspirations we need to move beyond our current quandaries.
For example, look at what’s happening in the debate around energy and the environment. Clearly, our reliance on fossil fuels must come to an end: It’s a reliance that’s burning the earth from beneath our feet, poisoning our ecosystem, and undermining both our economic stability and our national security. Just a few short months ago, everyone seemed pretty clear on this.
And yet, in the face of temporarily lower gas prices and a panic-invoking economic climate, our attention is easily drawn away from lasting solutions that could substantially better our future and is instead rechanneled toward stopgap solutions guaranteed to make our entrenched problems worse.
Don’t get me wrong. The economic crisis is real, and it’s important. But failing to invest in developing sustainable future resources — and ignoring the plight of a planet on which our very existence depends — isn’t going to make that crisis any better.
And the same is true when it comes to managing our personal health and energy. During times of anxiety and stress, it’s natural to feel the lure of unsustainable patterns. We may demand unrealistic things of ourselves and others at work and at home. We may grab for easy comforts and escapes (too much food and drink, too much TV). We may sell out our commitment to mindfulness and balance and settle for teetering on the edge of adrenaline-soaked exhaustion.
Unfortunately, these tendencies almost always work against us. Because they shut down the potential for inventive ideas and energy at the same time that they blunt our compassion and care for others. And these are things that we absolutely need to cultivate and amplify, not stifle, in order to improve our situation.
Albert Einstein once keenly observed that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” In the history of mankind, we have often made our most dramatic quantum leaps following catastrophes — both because necessity is the mother of invention and because when faced with dramatic shifts of context, we are sometimes able to perceive possibilities and opportunities that were invisible to us before.
In other words, when we fail to shift our consciousness, catastrophes have a way of doing it for us. What we are being faced with right now is both the necessity and the opportunity to reinvent the way we live — personally, collectively, globally. And I think the first important shift of consciousness involves a diversion of energy away from panic and toward our sense of potential.
Yes, these are challenging and chaotic times. But I believe that something great can rise from the current chaos if each of us has the presence of mind, and the clarity of intent, to invite the very best possibilities into being — and then leap bravely into a better future.
Wishing you a wonderful New Year!