Me and my sister talk about your blog all the time since summer and we think we’re getting it but we were talking on new years and it made us wonder if New Years are even real?
I believe you’re referring to the official Western concept of New Years on January 1st and by “real” I’m assuming you mean, does it actually exist? Firstly, I’m glad you feel you’re getting somewhere with the blogs and yes, you’re right—there is something fishy about a “new year.”
Of course a “day” is one revolution of the Earth. One month depends on where we’re from, but wherever they started it was usually about lunar cycles. Unfortunately a bunch of powerful Roman Emperors kept adding days to the months named after them so thanks to guys like Julius and Augustus that’s just an approximation now. And of course a year is the Earth travelling around the sun in an orbit for one revolution. So our birthday s are less a time than they are locations.
The Earth goes around and around. But if the orbit of the planet is endless, then where do you start from? What is the beginning? Turns out it’s wherever we say it is for whatever reason we choose.
As many readers may know, the Chinese celebrate a different new year that those of us on the Julian Calendar. Different religions have different weekends. Changing cultures can changes your calendars a lot. Calendars and dates aren’t things. These are human ideas that our minds layer over the natural world.
You and your sister must be learning something because you’ve done well—by noticing the arbitrary nature of a “new year” you have identified what the Buddha called The Illusion.
The Illusion is that layer of thinking that creates the illusory things that are made of nothing more than concepts made of words. We all use these words all the time—words like Monday, or Summer or Beautiful or Good. These are all just ideas in our heads.
We’ve all had instances where we have noticed that the actual weather doesn’t care much if we name a season summer or winter. We’ll still get whatever natures laws create, no matter what we call it.
Now that you’ve spotted this illusion, that’s a demonstration that your mind is quieting—which is critical to your development. You’ve lived with this fact for your entire lives and only now have you noticed how silly it really is. And that’s because you’re not so busy thinking about yourselves. You’re like a clear-headed kid—you can actually notice obvious things again. That’s great.
To help you increase your awareness, let’s encourage what you’re doing already. You and everyone else reading along can do this, but it will be especially fun for you because you can do it with your sister.
For the rest of this month compete with your sister. Each day see who can collect more word-based ideas that masquerade as actual things. Make a list and trade it. Cross off the ones you both get and count what’s left, and for things like months or days as soon as a person picks one day then consider all the days picked so those are out.
You can both start your lists with the words fair, time, money, and border. Again: these are not things these are ideas. Those things all need humans to think them into existence. In the days of dinosaurs, no aliens could come to the Earth and somehow sense that it might be a Tuesday, or 3:15pm or that the piece of paper they were holding was worth twenty dollars.
You’ll probably have to debate a few out, but with enough discussion (that’s another term for out-loud meditation) you’ll figure them all out. You can feel free to post your lists here in the comments if you like.
Now that I’ve invented it, I realize that this is actually quite a valuable exercise.
When people tell me they can’t meditate because they can’t stop thinking I tell them to consciously wait for the next thought. And of course they always get a pretty good gap of no thinking. Why? Because if they’re waiting for their next thought then their mind —like a crane in the water hunting— is fully occupied with waiting.
If we’re busy watching for a thought we can’t use enough conscious energy to actually create the thought they’re watching for. Get it?
Eventually everyone slips and start self-talking but as soon as they catch themselves they and we can always start over. Same with this exercise. If you’re busy watching for these ideas then you are also disassembling the illusion that permits the creation of you. You cease performing life and you’re free to be.
Expressing the act of looking for something like false terms is much healthier than creating a version of ourselves that sits still, suffering under the weight of our own fearful narratives.
The exercise will probably be fun. I think I might do it myself. But I appreciate your question and I hope you feel I answered it satisfactorily. I also hope you and your sister both enjoy your day, week, month and year.
(For questions originally submitted via text or email or social media messaging, I will edit them for grammar and punctuation but only as much as is required to ensure they are clear.)
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.