by Whispering Pine


The thundering of horses’ hooves fades away, a kind of Doppler effect. “Oh my Goat!”  The year of the goat is fast approaching. Well, maybe not with the speed of horses. As the New Year arrives, we prepare to start anew, and make fresh resolutions.  There is hope in all things.
 
I start by looking back at the year gone by, at what was lacking, and where there could be room for improvement. I must make some decisions—what would I like to accomplish in the coming year? What new opportunities lie ahead, and what goals should I set? There are many areas that I would like to work on. Some carry over from last year; maybe a few new ones.  

There are two aspects: one is a commitment to daily self-cultivation, both the spiritual side and the physical aspect (health and environment), including the many material and immaterial things. How do I take on this commitment and see it through, as I am aware that to know is to apply and do, otherwise my knowledge is useless.
 
How do I learn to unclutter my mind, or for that matter as my wife also says, my room.
 
I would personally like to simplify my martial arts practice, as well as the many various techniques, and come to an understanding of the purpose of all I do during practice and also when I teach students.
The other aspect is to be able to see all things as they are, clearly, with “a beginner’s mind” or “the mind of a child”—seeing clearly as if for the first time, unconditionally and without any prejudice or biases.  Only then can we learn new theories and acquire new ways of doing new things, or adapting the old ways to newly acquired insights. What was yesterday may have changed:   “nothing is permanent”.  Am I flexible and versatile like the goat that can live in all kinds of environments, harsh or not? 

In Aikido or Taiji, the beginner mind sees and slowly learns many techniques done differently by various students, so the mind may be full of options, of different ways of executing a technique. It is just the nature of things. Before long, we start feeling like an “expert”, our common response to new teachings or new techniques may be full of “sensei yes, but...”.  We want and try to understand, based on what we think or on our own personal “expertise”. Understanding can then become very difficult, as we start to think within our own box. For example, it is very difficult for me to explain how cold our climate is to my relatives living in tropical Malaysia. That is because we cannot know what we have not experienced, or reach the level of maturity or understanding required to fully grasp a new concept, for example, a cold climate.
 
Unlike the beginner student, the expert or advanced student is more likely to realize that a technique gives rise to many possibilities. Once on top of the mountain, our view of things should be clearer, not obscured by our preferences or prejudices.  Perspective and maturity make it easier to understand that nothing is permanent.  So, be flexible and willing to see with a beginner ‘s mind again. An expert is not a specialist.  Do not mistake the trees for the forest. A single tree cannot make a forest and a forest consists of many single trees. An expert works with the one principle, and does not rely on a single technique.
The New Year is a good time to let go, to become flexible again, to accept without judgment and to realize that we are reticent to unclutter our mind, and to simplify and unburden ourselves. When we enter the dojo, we leave our “baggage” at the door. This gives us an opportunity to practice with a free spirit and take a break from our daily problems.

Even with extra effort, you might feel that things do not work out as well as you have planned. However, don't give up! All these are only momentary setbacks. Make the year ahead a  “training” year, and you will reap all the benefits next year. The more you work, the more energetic you feel. This spurt of energy is beneficial. If it is a smooth-sailing year for you, you might get stuck in your comfort zone, both in work and in your personal relationships. However, even when you are not doing much and staying put, things can only get better! You could also consider taking a short break and travelling around the world. Travelling with your family could improve your relationships with them.
 
In fact, as long as you are cautious and honest, negativity will not affect you too much. Pass on good fortune by helping others, and that will bring you even more good luck.
 
Remember to exercise to keep yourself healthy, despite your busy schedule. Take extra care of your health and get ample rest.
 
The key for this year is to keep your confidence level high, stay motivated and 'never' procrastinate or slack off. Staying in your comfort zone is not good enough to get you anywhere.
 
Only with a clear mind can you execute your plans seamlessly to perfection. Don’t get caught up in any form of argument, and try to stay clear of taking sides.
 
Take one step at a time and be a little more patient when awaiting the results of your hard work. If things don't work out after putting in all your effort, take it positively. Think of it as a learning experience, as even this will be useful to you in the future. You are most certainly going to meet with some difficulties in some aspect of your life. Keep your spirits up, and be cautious when it comes to decision-making. As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race: this is how you should take on the New Year.
 
If there seem to be more hurdles for you to overcome, fret not; things will work out at the end of the day.
 
As we pass the end of the year of the horse, we cannot contemplate the future without looking back and seeing what we have done or achieved.  Did we meet our goals, big or small?  It is important to gain this perspective so we can better plot for the near and distant future. Knowing and being aware of the past helps by providing a stepping-stone to our next goal or goals. Being sincere and honest in this process helps us with our resolutions. It is essential to start with a definite goal in mind, and to avoid going astray and living without a purpose.

I guess it is important to be happy, just to live the year and still able to sit down and write this. The past is passed. We just need to be aware of the whys and the hows to improve what was not to our satisfaction.  
The New Year will start with a celebration at the dojo, a fondue dinner with my students and my family.  It is time to take a break before the next task. This is important, as it provides an opportunity to recharge and renew, making us stronger and ready to face the coming year.

My life goes around in cycles, some big and some small:  night-to-day is a small cycle, the beginning of the month to month’s end is a bigger cycle, and the end of  the horse and the beginning to the year of the goat represents a yearly cycle. In the Chinese  calendar, each year is represented by a different animal, total of twelve animals, which represents another longer cycle still.  Furthermore, there are also five elements associated with each animal: water, fire, metal, wood, and earth. Each of the twelve animal years can therefore be combined with the five elements, giving rise to another larger cycle of sixty years--one cycle nesting within another. Then the time cycle starts again. In Chinese culture, there is always a big birthday celebration when anyone completes a full sixty-year cycle. Children, do not forget this important date for your parents.
 
In this life on earth, there is, of course, one more important cycle that begins with birth and ends with death.  Actually, it is not auspicious to mention this last word during the New Year celebrations, which last for fifteen days:  fifteen days of visiting old friends and of eating good food for the benefit of both body and soul. Beyond this, I do not know what the New Year holds for me.
 
There are, of course, many different religions and teachings. You just have to do the best you can, and, most importantly, not neglect your spiritual health and well-being.