The sculpture pictured here contains the secret to finding joy in the New Year. The Roman god Janus with his two faces is associated with beginnings and endings, passages and transitions. He is usually depicted with one face looking to the past and one to the future. And to the careful observer, the secrets of creation, joy and forgiveness are revealed.
As we embark on a new year, it’s a time many reflect on the year just past and dream about the year ahead. We assess the growth we’ve experienced and make resolutions about what we want to change. It’s a time of renewal and hope. For some it might also be a time of sadness as memories arise of loss, missed opportunities or poor behaviors.
The transition from one year to the next is a poignant and paradoxical moment. We are at once aware of past and future. We hold together those two opposing ideas simultaneously. We feel pulled in two directions at the same time. Yet ironically, we can only sense past and future from the position of the present moment. The present is what makes the past and the future possible. And though the present would exist without past and future, our awareness of it relies on our awareness of past and future. Without them we would have no frame of reference with which to recognize the present. The present would simply be and we would be like fish in water completely unaware of air.
In a recent blog post I wrote briefly about how worry takes us out of the present and puts our focus on the future. Regret also removes our attention from the present but locks it in the past. We relive experiences through remembering. The power of painful memories encourages us to define ourselves by those memories. Based on those memories, we can see ourselves as being wounded, mean, powerless, incapable, having no options. It’s easy to become a victim of such memories.
How can we not fall victim to the past or the worries of the future? What is hidden in the image of Janus?
If you look at the image of Janus above you’ll notice the two faces. What’s not as obvious is the point in the middle, the point that shares its existence with both sides of the sculpture. The point that both is, and is not, part of either side. This point represents the present moment. If we put ourselves at that middle point, in the present moment, we become aware that the past and future only exist in our minds. Eckhart Tolle in his book The Power of Now, writes about this illusion of past and future.
“Life is now.…When you remember the past, you reactivate a memory trace–and you do so now.…When you think about the future, you do it now.”
The only thing that exists is the present moment.
Though some may find this disconcerting, it is in reality the biggest gift we could receive. For it is in this gift of the present that we are able to shed our identifications with past tragedies and be free of worry about the future. Since memories and worries are merely mind made entities, we are able to learn from them and let go of them. Every moment we have the opportunity to start fresh. Every moment we can create our selves anew. Every moment we can experience forgiveness.
One of my teachers defined forgiveness as not dragging the past into the present. We can remember past mistakes. We can learn from them. We can also forgive ourselves by not identifying with those mistakes, by not defining who we are by them. But we mustn’t allow things from the past (memories) to draw energy from the present. Focus on the Now.
Spiritual traditions of all stripes teach of the importance of eternity as opposed to temporality. (Eternity is different than everlasting. Everlasting goes on forever. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity is outside the field of time. It has nothing to do with time.) This temporal world in which we live is filled with opposites: male/female, past/future, hot/cold, up/down, happy/sad, this/that. Eternity is that place outside the realm of opposites, the place where the present lives. The secret message hidden inside the image of Janus (also the god of time and duality) is to look beyond this world of time and dualities. Seek instead the place of eternity and unity. Find the place controlled by neither past nor future. In this place you’ll find possibility. In this place you’ll find opportunity. In this place you’ll find peace, love and forgiveness. In this place you’ll find yourself.
As you cross over from one year into the next, learn what you can from the past, plan what you desire for the future, but know that the present is the place to start afresh. Know also you can start afresh every moment. Happy New Year!
In the comments below, let me know of an experience you’ve had of forgiveness and fresh starts.