The Roman god of transition, Janus, after whom the month
January is named, was depicted in ancient times as two headed, with one head looking
forward and the other head looking back; and likewise the Latin word for
doorway, ianua, something which also faces two ways, has the same etymological
roots. Janus took an important role in Rome. In times of war, the doors on his
temple would be left open, only to be closed again when the transition was made
to peacetime.  This happened extremely
rarely, as Rome was almost constantly at war, but Augustus, its first and
arguably best emperor, boasted that he managed it three times.  I wonder how often our own world leaders would
be able to close those doors in the modern world – not very often I
suspect.  The god Janus himself was
important enough to the Romans to be present at every single religious
ceremony, regardless of which god was the main beneficiary.

I confess to never having liked New Year very much and
maybe it is something to do with this dual perspective: the looking forward and
the looking back.  With regards to
looking back, I have been hugely fortunate in my life never to have really
wanted the last year to finish.  I am
sure there have been better years and worse years, but by and large, who would
want to wish their life away by celebrating the passing of another one.  I also have a fear of regret, so that I now
avoid it at all costs.  It seems to me
the most wasted of emotions – there is nothing you can do about the past now,
except learn from it and move on: there is no point in regret. Instead, I now
use the possibility of future regret as a primary motivation in present
decision making – ie try to avoid it if you can.  With regards to looking forward, there does
not seem an awful lot of point in planning too far ahead too rigidly.  Life tends not to work out quite how you
planned and, frankly if it did, it would be a lot less rich and interesting
than it is in reality.  This particular
year, the press seemed to have cottoned on to this too, albeit slightly
obliquely: better not to bother with New Year’s resolutions, they claim, as
they are usually very short lived and lead to significant frustration once

So what is one to do then at this time of the year?  Well, regardless of what I have just said,
there will inevitably be some reflection and also some planning.  It is important to reflect, or you risk
learning nothing; and it is important to plan, or you risk a rudderless
existence.  The very best thing to do at
this time of the year, however, is to see the present for what it is.  It is a chance to be grateful for what we
have; to rejoice in friendships and family; to love life for what it is; to
remember that we have great good fortune, rather than to dwell on any bad luck.
 And I will offer you both an ancient and
a modern perspective on this.  The Roman
Stoics believed that happiness could be achieved only by living in accordance
with nature.  What they meant by this was
that one should learn to accept, and even love, the hardships that life throws
at you just as much as the pleasant experiences it brings.  Cricketers, I think, almost by default, learn
to be Stoics, as they can score 100 one day and 0 the next and they need to be
able to take both with an equal heart. 
Happiness for the Stoics also relied on an absence of need – this could
be achieved by a poor man just as much as it could be achieved by a rich man,
as it essentially involved an indifference towards material things: if you had
them, then that was great; if not, then that was great too.  As Seneca the Younger pointed out “that which
Fortune has not given, she cannot take away”; or as Epictetus put it in the 1st
Century AD, “Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of desires, but by the removal
of desire.”

The modern day equivalent is the practice of
mindfulness.  The essential belief in
this practice is that we spend most of our time either fretting about the past
or worrying about the future. 
Mindfulness teaches us to live in the present, wilfully, even if only
for short periods of the day.  Not to
think, but to take time to stop altogether; to feel our own breath; to notice
the beauty around us; to simply be.  We
spend far too much time rushing, agonising, worrying and frowning: we do not have
to do so – we can choose, for a short period of time each day, to concentrate
just simply on this moment.

So here, in a nutshell, is what the press has told us to avoid:
a New Year’s resolution.  Forget the
Janus-like qualities of the New Year and, especially when you are stressed or
worried, remember to find some time in 2015 to appreciate the present.  You may find yourself living in a rather
wonderful place.




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