We don’t spend much time reflecting on our life. We don’t consider why we keep the hamster wheel spinning or what would happen if we stopped.
When we joyfully, or ignorantly, first leap onto the wheel, eager to achieve and amass the stuff and style of the middle class, we don’t consider when and how we will dismount.
As we age and accumulate, we’re always in the same spot, chasing another dream, eyes fixed on the horizon. Sometimes, the pace is so fast and hectic, we falter and wonder how we can keep going, and why.
But we suck it up and run faster, or we burn out.
“Most men never reflect on their state because they are convinced explicitly or implicitly, that they understand it,” French psychiatrist Hubert Benoit writes in The Supreme Doctrine.
We don’t reflect as much as fall into a pattern of blaming, whether ourselves or someone else for why we didn’t succeed at whatever we attempted, what Benoit calls auto-criticism.
“The brain is always trying to automate things and to create habits, which it imbues with feelings of pleasure,” brain researcher Gerhard Roth is quoted in Mind magazine.
“Holding to the tried and true gives us a feeling of security, safety and competence while at the same time reducing our fear of the future and of failure.”
We settle into that mind-numbing routine by the time we’re 30, but as we near 60, when the mortgage is paid and the kids are gone, we are, at least in theory, more open to change.
Our life is the story we repeatedly tell ourselves and if we don’t like it, we can re-write it. Granted, writing, as one New York columnist said, is easy, all you have to do is sit there and sweat blood.
Each year, we are given a time to contemplate the big picture, to be grateful for our lives, for our family, for our friends and for the fact that we are here and not there.
We always have these moments, but on Christmas morning after the stockings have been emptied with glee, after breakfast and before we start stuffing the bird, there’s a space, a time out of time to look back on the past year before we turn a page on our mental calendar and start looking forward.
It’s a Janus moment. We can emulate the double-headed Roman god of beginnings and endings — for whom January is named — who could see the past and the future.
Christmas is, after all, a time of rebirth. The winter solstice has long been celebrated as a time of hope; the sun rises higher and the days begin to lengthen. While the solstice is usually Dec. 21, it was Dec. 25 on the old Julian calendar.
“What matters most are the simple pleasures so abundant we all can enjoy them; the plain values that define us as good people; the emotional connections with friends and family that fill our souls with a sense of purpose,” it’s written in the introduction to 50 Things That Really Matter.
We might reflect on what our gifts are and whether we give them freely; we might ask what our carol, our song of praise and joy, is.
After some time reflecting, Scrooge changed from miserly to generous and the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes in one beat.
Actor Jim Carrey has played both characters and in an interview, in a Beverly Hills hotel amidst the trappings of movie stardom, mused about his particular Dickensian world of past regret and future hope.
“You know, if you’re lucky, at some point in your life, you have that Christmas-carol moment, and I certainly have, where things were kind of going south, and I had the opportunity to see how horrible things could have gotten, without them actually going there.
“I had my ghost of Christmas Future at a certain point in my life, that I went, like, ‘Oh! Wow! OK, I gotta really start caring about the right things here.”
Some people end every day with a Christmas-carol moment, by reviewing what they did, how they behaved and what caused them or others problems or pain.
If they were irritable, ungracious or behaved badly, they make a mental note, not of blame, but a caution to be different the next time.
Like them, we create ourselves in our own image; it’s just a question whether we do it unconsciously or consciously.
Do we heed the call from deep within ourselves or refuse it because it might mess with the life we know? Even if it's unsatisfactory, there is security in the known while the unknown creates fear and anxiety.
There is always anxiety before growth, but if we let the anxiety stop us, we live stunted lives.
“The call rings up the curtain, always, on a mystery of transfiguration — a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and birth,” Joseph Campbell writes in The Hero With A Thousand Faces.
“The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.”
Are we willing to step beyond the known, beyond tradition and society’s mandates, beyond the accepted into there-be-dragons territory?
If we’re happy within the self-imposed boundary of the known, or can’t be bothered to make changes, at least, after reflection, we do it consciously rather than stumbling from one dire circumstance to another wondering why things happen.
“The secret of self-mastery is a simple one. It is the clear concept that creation begins and ends within the consciousness of the individual experiencing it,” said Roy Eugene Davis, founder of the Center for Spiritual Awareness.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.