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Visioning a Re-NEW-able Year

Getty/Sergey Peterman

This year, turn to the first known resolution makers—the ancient Babylonians—for inspiration.

Flashback: It’s December 31, 1999. Flushed from dancing, I’m perched on the steps of the Hilton Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, filled with anxiety about Y2K and the chaotic world around me.

Although my eyes peer out of the glittery zeros in 2000-shaped glasses, a local tells me it is 1992. Bent on educating me gently, he further informs me it’s not even the new year—those festivities happened two months ago.

I was 28 years old and full of myself. Courtesy of Prince & The Revolution, I had been waiting since 1982 to “party like it’s 1999.” I was clueless about the impact of the Council of Chalcedon or the Gregorian Calendar. And I had certainly never considered that on this night, not everyone was celebrating the entrance into a new millennium.

Admittedly, advancing numbers help us mark time. Calendarizing is a construct that humans use to make sense of the progression of our lives. Yet, there remains something magical about the start of a new cycle. Indeed, for over 4,000 years, our species has been making New Year’s resolutions.

For over a decade, I resolved I would quit drinking. Then smoking. As I got healthier, I resolved to hit my yoga mat every day. To lose 10 pounds and find my abs! To stop eating processed sugar. Some of these resolutions stuck (#soberlife) and others, well, let’s just say I’m a work in progress.

As a self-identified spiritual rebel, I follow an odd liturgical cycle: a mash-up of practices, holy days, and sacred texts from around the globe. And yet, this ungapatchka of traditions provides an opportunity for expanding—like the universe itself—with unrelenting curiosity.

This year I turn to the first known resolution makers—the ancient Babylonians—for inspiration. At the start of a yearly cycle, Babylonians paid debts, returned anything they had borrowed, planted crops for the coming year, and pledged loyalty to their king (or crowned a new one).

It occurs to me that the first two activities help restore balance, while the latter two encourage sustenance and dedication. Combining and adapting all four creates a much-needed vision for restoration after a year filled with pandemics and politics.

Paying debts: 2020 pummeled many of us with financial insecurity, fear, and increasing monetary debts. It’s important to have some gentleness with ourselves around this. Debting can bring up feelings of failure, frustration, or that other F-word. Set up
a repayment plan, and then engage in some self-forgiveness. Living in a pandemic is messy.

Next, consider debts beyond hard cash (and slippery plastic). Think back on your year. Where might you owe a debt of kindness? A debt of gratitude? Or perhaps a debt of encouragement? While we may be tight on funds right now, these debts can be repaid from our hearts. Make a list of the people that pulled you out of dark thoughts, lifted your spirits, and smoothly guided you to do the next right thing. Meditate on those moments. Ask your highest Self or spiritual guides for ideas to repay kind acts of spirited humanity.

Returning what we’ve borrowed: There’s a sweater that needs to go back to Amy, a book belonging to Topaz, and I’m pretty sure that salad bowl shoved in the back of the cabinet is Lakisha’s.

Semi-enforced winter hibernation is a judicious time for giving back. And considering our most critical restoration: Since 1970, we have taken from the Earth more than it is capable of regenerating. In 2020, our demand for natural resources, food, and cool stuff we saw on our Instagram feeds created an Earth Overshoot Day of August 22. Everything from August 23 onward has us—and the world’s other beings—living on borrowed time.

Renewing Earth means we must act two-fold: Conserve what we use and revolutionize our mindset. Because we are way past reduce, reuse, and recycle, friends. Set aside an hour on the first day of every month this year for New Month Day. During that time, research how to use something more sustainably, replace it with something more planet-friendly, or cut it completely out of your lifestyle.

Planting seeds: Organically—pun intended—last year taught us about the issues within our indefensible food system. Millions of farm animals were gassed, shot, or drowned when the supply chain broke. These horrors for the more-than-human world were compounded by emotional stress on farmworkers who had to carry out these gruesome acts. Shortages of toilet paper and sanitizer led to hoarding, while fear of food insecurity brought forth pandemic gardening as more of us turned to increasingly plant-powered lifestyles.

Doctors, sustainability experts, eco-warriors, and animal lovers agree: We must reduce the amount of our calories that come from animals. Plant seeds, munch on more things that come

from plants, and eat less food that has faces. It’s a win for the Earth as well for human health, slaughterhouse workers, and other sentient beings.

Pledging loyalty: If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that pledging our loyalties to one side or the other creates division and a failure to acknowledge the complexity of the human experience. Instead, for 2021, what if we pledge our commitment to what truly sustains us? As spiritual seekers, we call that by many different names. And while we express our devotion in distinctive ways, my path reminds me that at the heart of our dedication lie three shared values: peace, compassionate service, and love for all creation. Renewing our loyalty means committing to uphold all three.

While the jury is still out on whether humanity can U-turn enough to stop our catastrophic trajectory, 2020 proved we can revolutionize the way we live when we have to. This new year let’s choose to go even further.