The reminders (aspirations of a sort) that I offer below are not intended to be all-inclusive. And please bear in mind that I do not in any way, shape, or form claim to exemplify these qualities. Far, far from it: on a daily basis, I fail miserably to live in accordance with these common sense habits of being. But our lot on earth is to fail, yet to persist. We are, after all, in Keats's "vale of Soul-making": an ongoing journey, with an end beyond our ken.
These aspirations are echoed in three haiku that I try to revisit at this time each year. Here is the first:
Never to grow old, --
But the temple bell sounds!
Jokun (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 202.
Naturally, the turning of the year brings an awareness of time and its passing. In Japan, there is an added dimension to this tolling of time: as the old year ends and the new year begins, the bells in Buddhist temples are rung 108 times in order to remind we mortals of each of the 108 desires that beset us.
Our time here is short, and is shortening as we breathe. This fact should be sufficient to provide us with perspective as to how best to spend our remaining moments. To wit: "Manage all your actions and thoughts in such a manner as if you were just going to step into the grave." Marcus Aurelius (translated by Jeremy Collier), Meditations, Book II, Section 11, in Jeremy Collier, The Emperor Marcus Antoninus: His Conversation with Himself (1701).
Samuel Birch (1869-1955), "A Cornish Stream"
Given that we may "step into the grave" at any moment (a sobering thought, but not cause for despair), we had best attend to the fellow souls with whom we abide in the vale of Soul-making. It is all quite simple, really (but, like many simple things, difficult in the observance):
. . . we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
Philip Larkin, "The Mower," in Philip Larkin, Collected Poems (Faber and Faber 1988).
Kindness. The polar opposite of the irony and the politicization that infect the world in which we now live. Political beliefs (of any stripe) have nothing whatsoever to do with the ability of a person to behave in a decent manner toward one's fellow souls. As for irony, I find the contemporary version to be self-regarding, self-satisfied, self-congratulatory, and irremediably misanthropic.
Alas, failure in the practice of kindness occurs on a daily basis (speaking for myself). But it is a new year. The second haiku provides not a resolution, but a reminder:
The autumn wind is blowing;
We are alive and can see each other,
You and I.
Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 413.
Albert Woods (1871-1944), "A Peaceful Valley, Whitewell"
And, finally, my third turning-of-the-year haiku:
To wake, alive, in this world,
Shōha (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter, page 217.
The Old Year should end and the New Year should begin with an expression of that from which all else flows: gratitude. Gratitude for the World and its beautiful particulars. Gratitude for being alive. Gratitude for, yes, winter rain.
Best wishes for the New Year, dear readers.
Fred Stead (1863-1940), "River at Bingley, Yorkshire"