Like millions over the season, I have seen the new Star Wars movie, not once but twice. (If there was ever a job description for “mom of a six year old boy” – this would very likely be at the top of the list.) It is my favorite Star Wars so far, in large part because the core conflict of past Star Wars (dark vs. light) has given way to a more interesting and, I think, more relevant conflict of new vs. old and, in a parallel argument, hopelessness vs. hope.
As I thought and felt into what words our community of Soulful Seekers might need to hear at this moment, I kept coming back to these themes: old vs. new, hopelessness vs. hope. And then, when I saw them writ large on the screen, I knew it was time to write about them. Of course, the truth is that I see them, we see them, everywhere, and that this popular film, meant for entertainment, in fact embodies not a few of our struggles.
Our culture’s wholehearted embrace of new technology, convenience, and efficiency is one of the most obvious places we see what is New accepted and what is deemed Old jettisoned off to the side – as we forget, even to our own detriment, to ask old essential questions about trust, goodness, truth, and excellence. Much of our political rhetoric is pitched as Old vs. New, “Conservative” vs. “Progressive” and so often seems to miss the point. Before either category, we are people, daughter, son, sister, brother, lover, mother, father, and friend, whose ideas and words have the power to make blood flow or the power to staunch wounds.
We can even see the Old vs. New and the Hope vs. Hopelessness motif playing out astrologically as Pluto, planet of deep transformation, is joined by Saturn, planet of conserving old ways, in the sign of Capricorn, which speaks to our most powerful, stabilizing, often corrupt and in many cases highly beneficial institutions. We all feel this movement and the sea change it anticipates.
And I see it personally. Every year as the Old Year dies and the New Year is born, it seems that everyone is thrilled at the possibility of a fresh start, a blank page, a new chapter – I feel that thrill too! – but all too often, in our haste towards the new and uncharted, we are willing to leave everything from the past, from the Old Year at the threshold, not discerning the lessons, actions, thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are worthy and worthwhile and should be carried with us into the next year, and the next, and the next – perhaps carried for the rest of our lives, perhaps not, but definitely held onto for now.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely think culling and banishing are essential at this time (which is why I created a community ceremony to do just that) and throughout the year. What I am advocating for is a selective, intelligent, and courageous, approach to the magical and sacred act of banishing.
A few days back, I was talking to my oldest friend, someone I’ve known since second grade. He is a now successful choreographer, director, and librettist, who works all over the country putting together plays, musicals, and operas. We were catching up after 15 years of not seeing each other, and reflecting on where we have come since we were eight years old. We both observed that none of our successes have been simply good and none of our failures have been simply bad. This is not a new thought – you know it to be so in your own life too. When you consider what to release and what to hold onto, remember this. Not every bright moment needs to be carried forth and not every pain or struggle needs to be set down and immediately escaped. They are all teachers.
Without spoiling the moment for those who have not yet donned their lightsabers, what I can say is that in the film The Last Jedi, there is a dramatic moment that clearly says: this is not working. This way of holding things, Old vs. New, Hope vs. Hopelessness? At the end of the day it does nothing but pull us apart. We can see this politically, as the arguments get louder and the listening (especially to voices that have different thoughts and opinions from our own) diminishes. We see it personally as we drop the Old in favor of the New and say ‘this year everything will be different’ again, and again, and again until the whole thing, well, gets kind of old. Oh, the irony.
The conflicts need to be re-framed; which is to say, we need a deeper and clearer understanding of them. The New without the Old is unrooted and unmoored. It lacks consciousness of lineage, which also means that in a very real way it lacks vision and clear direction. The Old without the New is ossified tradition for tradition’s sake that, at worst, breeds ignorance and superstition, and at best is not open to the spirit of a thing, but only the form. Either one without the other is downright dangerous…politically, personally, and spiritually. The same is true for hope and hopelessness. To only have hope and to see the world through rose colored glasses is to ignore much suffering and that in itself is a cruel act. To only feel hopelessness (something more and more voices have advocated for recently) is to act fundamentally from a place of fear and wrath, not love and courage. And we have all seen what happens when we only act from fear or anger.
So what to do? How to understand this in a way that makes better sense? How to put it together so that we ourselves are also more together? As usual I suggest we get literal with it. I envision the New Year as a baby. I see a robust and healthy little baby boy – who is carried in the strong arms of an old woman. To me she is Hekate, radiant Crone Goddess and midwife whose “crime” that got her kicked off of Mount Olympus was daring to cherish all children, all new life, no matter their parentage and no matter their imperfections. Old and New coming together, carrying time forward once more.
Maybe for you it is found in the strong affinity that the Old and the New have for each other, how they enrich and enliven and season each other. I think of my how own son carries a special love for his Nana, my grandmother – now in her 80’s – who loves babies and little children and her great grandchildren in the way that only a Nana can.
And you can reflect on your own life too. Are the actions and accomplishments, dreams and desires you wish to summon up in 2018 more likely to occur if they are informed by your past, if they are woven into your full story? We do not need to carry everything with us as we go forward, but we also do not need to feel as if everything must go either; just as we can know that feeling hopelessness at times does not preclude us from living from a place of hope.
There will always be tension between opposing forces, whether they be Old and New, Hope and Hopelessness, or a thousand other oppositions that we could conceive. Some spiritual teachers advocate for a resolution of all tension, dissolving difference into single unity, and for letting go as radically as possible. I do not. Not only do I find that this approach does not work in day-to-day life, but I find that our differences, our specificity and particularities – and that includes the uniqueness of our manifold stories – are essential to who we are, to how we are, and I think our actual experience resists attempts to smooth out and down all rough edges.
But I do know this about tension. The tension is a force that can destroy, break apart, and sever forever. And it is also a force that is required to fly, to soar, to fall in love, to flourish, and to create anything. Rather than letting go, perhaps we ought to try a new direction, to seek to learn how to hold that tension in a more beneficial, useful and creative way. The solution would not be to choose Old or New, Hope or Hopelessness, but instead choose to find a way to hold both, together, as we hold of our parts together, and as we hold onto one another. It will not be easy. But this, then, is my wish for the New Year, carried by the Old – may we learn what it means to hold on, hold close, hold together and may we do it beautifully and well.
In love and blessings always,