Joe Jencks


New Beginnings

New Beginnings

Photo: Jayne Toohey / 2E Photography

New Beginnings

For years I have watched people in my life make New Year’s resolutions: a promise to do, or not do something in the coming trip around the Sun. I myself have succumbed to such thinking from time to time. But the more trips I take around the Sun, the more I see resolutions at the New Year as fundamentally hollow and unattainable.

Thich Nhat Hahn, the ever-wise Vietnamese Buddhist teacher tells us that the entry point for any worthwhile undertaking is wherever we are at right now, in this moment. So while vowing to do something tomorrow, or next week or next year is a noble goal, the entry point, the beginning of the change we are seeking remains forever in this moment, today, right now.

In the late 1960s - Thich Nhat Hahn wrote something that has really moved me recently. He was writing to his students back in Viet Nam – while he himself was recently exiled and living in France. He wrote, “You have every right to suffer, but you do not have the right not to practice while you suffer.” This one gem of Dharma has been my mantra and my guide for most of this last year.

When I spent a week performing at Carnegie Hall a few years back, I bought a Teddy Bear in the Carnegie gift shop. The affable bloke is wearing a hoodie that says (of course), “Practice, Practice, Practice!”

One morning last spring, I woke up at home (rare enough), opened my eyes and looked across the room at the Carnegie Bear – and saw that hoodie in a brand new light. I was overcome with a new understanding of that chestnut of a phrase, through the lens of Thich Nhat Hahn’s teachings: Practice, Practice, Practice!

I got out of bed, grabbed my Yoga mat and my meditation bench and began my practice. It was a present-time resolution. And I am coming to understand with more and more clarity that the only functional resolutions are present-time resolutions. They are the things we decide to do today, and again tomorrow and again each day we decide to do them.

So this year I did not make any specific resolutions for 2017. But I did do a lot of work at the end of 2016 to lay the foundation for a healthier and more productive 2017. I did the tasks and engaged in the practices that will hopefully lead to more serenity, equanimity, and gentleness. How did I do this you may ask? I built shelves. I emptied boxes. I set up a new filing system. I threw away and gave away a lot of unneeded things. I created a space in which creativity will be more easily attained, and where my instruments are hanging on the wall, calling me to play every time I pass by.

Next time I’m home for a spell, I’ll set up some studio gear so that when ideas strike, it will be easier to capture them. I also set up a craft/art space and a separate writing space so that I can leave projects unfinished and come back to them as the mood strikes. I have made discrete spaces for work, play, meditation, and music. I am cleaning up old messes so that I can make room for new ones. I find the Muse is disinclined to call on me if I am in a state of complete chaos. I need to invite her into a space that is ready to receive her.

My morning practice typically begins with lighting four candles. I light one for the past which is gone, and which I cannot change. But from which I can learn much. I light one candle for the future, for which I must plan and prepare, but over which I have almost no control. And I light one candle for the present moment, which is the only moment in which I have the power to do anything at all. It is a joyous and intimidating responsibility to fully embrace the power of the present moment. I fail more than I succeed. But I practice, like the Teddy Bear (Andy) tells me to.

Finally, I light a 4th candle for all of the people I know who are struggling with various physical, mental, emotional and spiritual difficulties or afflictions. I light this candle of hope and healing, and imagine the light finding it’s way to each of those people I hold in my intentions. Then I do my Yoga and stretching, and my sitting meditation, and then I get on with my day.

Imperfect as I am, I continue to practice. And when I forget, as soon as I remember again - I begin again. It is a renewing and ongoing resolution, and a choice to do my best to actually be present in the here and now, as much as I am able. Because here and now – is the only time I have.

In this coming year, I wish all of us many wondrous moments, the gift of deep serenity, and meaningful action when the moment arises.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

In Gratitude and Song,

Joe Jencks