Wherever we are, no matter how bad our life might look, we can take a step forward.

It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, what we forgot to do, or what other people think of us — our choice is basically the same: to go forward.

At a Sunday Service several years ago I heard a story that was deeply moving to me. As I remember, it went like this:

Nayaswami Jamuna, now a Lightbearer-minister at Ananda Seattle, was working at the Ananda-owned East-West bookstore in the San Francisco bay area. A man walked in off the street and asked to speak with her privately.

He told Jamuna his story: that he had been a hit man for the mafia for a number of years, that he couldn’t follow that way of life any more, and that he had left it. He wanted to give the rest of his life only to seeking God.

Jamuna talked with him for a short time. If I remember right, she taught him a little about meditation and prayer. Then he left, and she never heard from him again.

Hearing the story at that time, I was deeply impressed by that man’s dedication, and willingness to step out of one reality into another, completely different. Wouldn’t it have been easy for him to think, “I’m a sinner, I’ve failed in this life, I’ve done horrible things?” But instead, he chose a higher path! I wished I could have his dedication and singularity of purpose to transform myself.

Few us of have the chance (or the need!) to make such a dramatic turnaround. But we each have the opportunity to step back, look at our lives, and to make big changes.

New Year’s is a good time for this, as I learned four years ago. It is a time when we can look at the past, look to the future, and make a decision to improve now.

The New Year at Ananda Village is celebrated with a ceremony and meditation at midnight, and a retreat the following morning.

The first time I attended the retreat was a couple of years after I came to Ananda Village, in 2007. Nayaswami Devi and Nayaswami Jyotish led it, and at the moment I remember most clearly, Devi was leading us in looking back at the past year.

For the first time in a busy, active year, I took a step back and looked at how things had gone on a spiritual level. To my surprise, I realized that, in what mattered most to me — developing love for God, or at least deepening my meditations — I hadn’t even been going forward. “A whole year wasted, or worse!” I thought.

(That moment, I realize now, wasn’t at all a tragedy. The year before it had been the problem, and that moment was a great success!)

More important than realizing the mistake itself was taking the next steps in fixing it. While I was grieving, Devi asked us to write in a little yellow booklet — just an 8” x 11” page, folded in half — what our spiritual goals were for the coming year.

I still have the booklet. On the front of it, it says,

My Spiritual Goals

… below which is the “Affirmation for Success” from Swami Kriyananda’s Affirmations for Self-Healing:

I leave behind me both my failures and accomplishments. What I do today will create a new and better future, filled with inner joy.

Then on the inside, in small, peaceful handwriting, is what I wrote:

Master, forgive me if I am wrong, but I want only one thing: to love Thee much, much more than I do now; in time, to love Thee perfectly.

Aum, Amen.

Swami Kriyananda said that we can consider a life a good life if, at the end of it, we love God more than we did at the beginning. I suppose we can look at a year the same way. Are we able to meditate more deeply now, than we were a year ago? Are we kinder? Are we more focused on the things that matter most?

The point at which I saw the mistake of the previous year was the point at which I had the greatest opportunity to change. As Paramhansa Yogananda said,

The season of failure is the best time for sowing the seeds of success.

If you look back at the past year, and see instead reason for celebration (which I hope!), you can take this advice of Swami Kriyananda which he shared with Ananda Village a few years ago.

At an informal talk at Crystal Hermitage, someone asked him what we could do to improve. He said that he felt everything at Ananda was going well, in fact, that it had exceeded his best expectations. All he could share was this suggestion: to do “more and better!”

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