Good beginnings . . . to everything

A guest article from a Kadampa practitioner in New York who is determined to start the New Year right … everyday.

6 mins read

new years

Well looky looky, here it is again. The New Year. The time when we are reminded that a “fresh beginning” is again upon us and that perhaps (perhaps) this would be a good time to make some internal and/or external life changes. . . or at the very least, some worthy tweaks.

But first …

I know, I know, I know. . . The whole New Years resolution thing…it’s a ritual schtick. There is nothing intrinsically “transformagical” about the beginning of a new year. It’s a construction. It’s a convention. I’ve got that. It’s not really any different than any other random moment of the Earth’s solar orbit. January 1st. February 14th. July 4th. All these “special” days are simply designations, names and numbers bundled together and endowed with various agreed-upon meanings. As many a Kadampa teacher would say, “Find January 1. You can’t. It’s not really there, at least not the way you think it is.”

I love that.

It’s not really there.

Picture2I love this because what it means is that we get to assign meaning. How is it that the “New Year” can posses its fabled rejuvenating qualities? How can there be actual power on this very day in our resolutions to start doing this, quit doing that, begin eating this way, etc.?  Simple. Because we choose to name it as a day of power. That’s it, folks. The magic wand of our mind says it is so. Presto change-o. It’s nothing else but what we name it. So I’d strongly suggest that we name it well.


So, let’s scoot back for a moment to Day One of this life. Happy New Life. Your own personal January 1. How do we begin our life? No real news flash here, it’s with our breath, correct?  Inhale. . . exhale. . . cry like a baby. All of us, at some point in this rebirth, we each took our very first breath. We sucked some of that good old O2 down into our little chests. And so it began: the appearances of this life. Welcome (back) to Karmaville. Happy New Life.

Picture6Here’s a question for you. Meditation. Our precious tool for transformation. How is it that we begin our meditations? Well, traditionally, it’s also with the breath. Once we have settled in on our cushions (cracked our knuckles, scratched our head, readjusted our legs, rubbed our nose, noticed some dustballs on the floor near our shrine…) we close our eyes and bring our attention to our breathing. Many people, it turns out, have trouble with this part. It’s boring (they say). It’s too hard to do. It becomes its own distraction (“Am I breathing correctly?”).

I don’t dare reveal how many years it was that I did the shabbiest of all jobs in this “bring your attention to your breath” part of my practice. Along with the excuses I just listed, part of this shabbiness was due to my urgency to get on to the “real” stuff. You know, the contemplation, the single-pointed focus, the insights, the clear light mind, the liberating of all sentient beings from their suffering through the power of my correct imagination and compassion and wisdom, etc. Why the heck should I sit here and stare at my boring old breath when I’ve got all these more fun and more important matters to attend to?

Who knew? The breath rocks.

As it turns out, this neutral object is an astounding thing. It’s a fantastic vehicle to start us on our road to all those powerful places we want to go. Inhalation … exhalation . . . inhalation . . . exhalation.

Perhaps it will help if you stop thinking of it as breath. Try thinking of it as a tide that washes up onto the shore then draws back from the shore, clearing and cleansing with every single cycle.

Picture4Or as a wind that blows smoothly and calmly through your entire body and mind, dislodging and dispersing any sort of stuckness and ugh-ness that has been building up there. That’s nice.

Or let it be light: a cascade of radiant illumination silently blasting away any and all shadows. Your call. It’s just breath. It’s invisible. It’s about as “not really there” as you can get. So you can picture it any way you wish. Go wild. Designate at your pleasure. And “pleasure” is the key here, isn’t it?  We need to enjoy. The best advice on meditation in general that I’ve heard from my beloved Kadampa teachers is: Have fun with it. It is being presented to us as a joyful path to good fortune, not a frustrating or boring one.

So we begin with our breath. Just like we did on that day we were reborn. But rather than simply breathing mindlessly as we did then, now we make skillful use of it to help direct us toward the experience of peace, of stillness, of expansive inner relaxation that is our potential. And of course the breath is so convenient an object. It’s right there. All the time. Usually being ignored. It’s like Dorothy’s red shoes…just sitting there waiting to start you on your way to fantastic places.

Picture5Lately, I’ve been employing the phrase, “Follow the breath into the heart,” as one of my encouragements, one of my suggestions to myself. “Do this. This will be nice. Follow the breath into the heart. This will help.”  And it has helped. Quite a lot. Geshe Kelsang provides a potent encouragement of his own (no surprise) in How To Transform Your Life:

Even though breathing meditation is only a preliminary stage of meditation, it can be quite powerful. We can see from this practice that it is possible to control the mind, without having to depend on external conditions….So much of the stress and tension we normally experience comes from the mind, and many of the problems we experience, including ill health, are caused or aggravated by this stress. Just by doing breathing meditation for ten or fifteen minutes each day, we will be able to reduce this stress. We will experience a calm, spacious feeling in the mind, and many of our usual problems will fall away. Difficult situations will become easier to deal with, we will naturally feel warm and well disposed toward other people, and our relationships with others will naturally improve.

Beginnings are important

Which is all to say (among other things), that beginnings are important. They can set the stage for what comes next. Little baby sucking in that first breath . . . a very good thing. Little meditator taking the time to create focus and inspiration with those first breaths . . . a very good thing.

And now, back to the New Year. 2018. It’s coming. That thing that holds no inherent meaning. That thing we get to imbue with meaning, if we so choose. What I’m going to suggest is that when 2018 rolls around, we notice our very first breath of the new year and make a resolution to follow it into our heart. Let it take us there. And let’s remain there.

Picture3Even better, what say we follow that first breath into the hearts of those we know? Or of those we encounter in the course of our days and nights? And those we hear about or read about, or even merely think about?  Good idea? And then follow the next breath there as well . . .and the next . . . and the next . . . “and so forth.”

The New Year is empty.  Beginnings are relative. Lucky us. We choose. We can fill that first moment of our new year with good purpose, and then holding that intention, see where it leads us.

I will prostrate to the new moon . . .

Good Beginnings.

Happy New Year.

Over to you. Comments welcome.


Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

21 thoughts on “Good beginnings . . . to everything”

  1. Hee hee, I laughed out loud over my Starbucks coffee at the part where you said you couldn’t focus on your next breath because you were so excited to think about the clear light & liberating beings through your imagination & compassion! Only a practitioner steeped in the Dharma would develop compulsions towards such mystical & meaningful distractions!

    On a personal note, it really helped me to read your descriptions of how you imagine the breath with all these beautiful & imaginative qualities, the tide, the wind, the wild illumination!

    & of course, I can never be reminded enough to follow my breath into my heart; I wonder if you were practicing that as you wrote this article. It sorta moved like breath, in enchanting sure-sweet Rhythms. I’m taking your recommendation as I finish my coffee & run home to write! Not gonna scrunch up my forehead & feel it prickling in my skull, gonna follow it straight into my heart & let it blossom warm & full from there!

    Love you Tim & super sangha buds,
    Sally Blue

  2. This fresh breath starts the new year and every moment we have. I like that idea of no inherent new year and emptiness that makes us fresh and free. What we really have is the only breath we have and consciousness we experience. Other things are just created by the needy mind. Now I’m just going to enjoy the vast world the breath takes me into. It’s so beautiful to read the part “breath rocks”. For that you have Geshe-la’s affirmation by the quote. It’s an amazing adventure into the breathing world and the being state in the end, the ultimate bliss and emptiness. Thanks for sharing

    1. Funny how our needy mind keeps creating things we don’t on fact need. Hmmm, deceptive?

  3. Such an inspiring read!! Breathing meditation has definitely been such an evolving adventure for me over the years. And I love thinking of the breath as Dorothy’s red shoes ready to take us somewhere good.

  4. Lots of great stuff here. I may just have to make this article my next teaching (for myself)!!!!

  5. When the going gets rough at any point in our day, it’s amazing how effective it is to simply stop for a moment or two (or three!) and take a few good long delicious breaths. Clears the minds – and purifies our winds. So simple. So powerful.
    Thank you.

  6. Absolutely wonderful read! Filled with love, wit and wisdom – as always! Thank you, Tim!! Breathing into my heart and all of yours. (Love that!)

  7. “I don’t dare reveal how many years it was that I did the shabbiest of all jobs in this “bring your attention to your breath” part of my practice. . . . “, you wrote. Too bluddy close to talking about me. 18 years! And I’m still a pitiful beginner.
    A fun and excellent teaching with a bit of emptiness thrown in. Though the day is of astrological significance on the solar calendar. And there is no time.
    Thanks! Keep going!

    1. No time, to be sure. Yet also no time to waste. Hmm…. Here’s to your next 18.

  8. Very inspiring for the new year.Maybe we can all try and follow the breath to send out loving feelings to those we don’t always agree with.

  9. Great article. Thought about what a visiting teacher to KMC Florida recently said “let the meditation touch your heart”. As I was cutting vegetables this morning I reflected on that and your writing and made a commitment that this is for me the year of the heart ❤️
    May all living beings be happy may all living beings be free from suffering may my heart be always open, kind and loving to all

  10. Alleluja
    A good rap for the Breath at last🙏😊
    Before it all got serious Buddha did say that the Breath is the “direct path to liberation”
    Check our Satipatthanna Anaoanasati sutta(Pali)
    Like the lovely author I somehow got lost in the “serious stuff” in the early days.
    Have an amazing New Year, breathe , keep it simple. Big love
    Paul xx

    1. Thanks for the Satipatthanna Anaoanasati sutta info. If breathing isn’t a daily practice…then we’re all in trouble! Happy New Year.

      1. Yep good point regarding daily breathing 👍
        The 2 sutras are reputedly the earliest teachings of Buddha and focussed on guidance for Mundfulnessof Brrayhing which serve as the foundation for most of the Mindfulness training we find prevalent today
        So I guess the daily breathing has to be Mindful in order to point us to Liberation.
        By the way the spelling of the second sutta is Anapanasati ( my error)
        Warm wishes
        Ps apparently neither sutta was ever translated into Tibetan.

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