The Annual Placebo Effect

It happens every year. The smiles, the handshakes, and the family get-togethers. The gifts, the goal-setting, the reviews, the time made for deep reflection. We feel a sense of passage, a sense of movement, possibly even a climactic transition from one moment to another.

Sometimes it's a birthday or an anniversary or the remembrance of a historical date. Sometimes it's the transition to a new year.

But what's a date, really? It's a system for tracking time, a system that a group of people agreed to use for communication. There isn't only one system and this isn't just the year 2011.

1460 (Armenian)
6761 (Assyrian)
1418 (Bengali)
2961 (Berber)
2555 (Buddhist)
1373 (Burmese)
7520 (Byzantine)
1728 (Coptic)
2004 (Ethiopian)
5772 (Hebrew)
2068 (Hindu Vikram Samvat)
12011 (Holocene)
1390 (Iranian)
1433 (Islamic)
4344 (Korean)
100 (Minguo)
2554 (Thai solar)
2011 (Gregorian)

Many of us have agreed to use the Gregorian calendar system, but does that really mean today or tomorrow holds anything special? In another calendaring system, today could represent the middle of the year, not the end. On another planet, all of these systems would become meaningless.

One year on Mars is actually 686 days on Earth.

One year on Pluto is 247 years on Earth.

Our entire concept of time only works on this infinitesimal blue dot, in the minds of people who agree to the systems in place. And yet every year billions of people are affected. They're changed, moved, and motivated to act, think, and behave differently.Β 

By what? A date? A thing that is entirely arbitrary?

No. We're changed, moved, and motivated because we choose to be. The moment we choose is the moment it becomes reality. It has nothing to do with a number.

There's no need to wait for an agreed upon date. You're alive today. Let's recognize today. Let's choose to celebrate today. Let's choose to celebrate now. Seize the moment, every moment. It's new.

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  1. I agree – a date is just a date. However, a placebo effect is still a real effect. I think we should try to capitalize on that effect – whether or not the cause (an arbitrary date) is a real cause or not.

    Happy new year.

    • You’re right, Joshua, it’s still a real effect. But I think beyond capitalizing on it, we should recognize the potential to capitalize on each moment. πŸ™‚

  2. It’s ironic that you exploring the concept of time with this post. I’m almost finished reading the latest book from Daniel Pinchbeck, where he explores in great length the concept of “time” — what “it” is (and isn’t); how the shift from lunar-based time measurement to solar-based has impacted cultures, societies, and spirituality. It’s fantastic.

    Couple that with a documentary my oldest son and I watched yesterday with Steven Hawking exploring the fourth dimension of time — and well, I think it is all a matter of perspective.

    When I went on retreat last year at the Insight Meditation Society (Barre, MA), there were no clocks anywhere. We moved and did activities when our teachers indicated through the ringing of bells. It was liberating (though difficult at first) to let go of our control of “time” in that way.

    I really think being tied to time prohibits our ability to indulge in the moment. We’re always thinking about what’s next.


    • And I think it’s exactly that inability to indulge in the moment that we need to rectify, Bill. I think the keeping of time has its place and purpose in society, but unless we remain conscious of its effects on our perception, we cannot truly be free.

      I’ve been practicing detachment from time for several years. It was definitely a lot more difficult when I was working a 9-to-5 job. In fact, I can remember the only time I truly felt as if I had begun to detach from time was after spending two nights in the mountains on weekend camping trips.

      Now that I’ve taken more control of my time, I’ve had more success with this practice of detaching from time. I find it easier to “forget” which day it is, to release my concept of when things should happen. And in applying that practice to “the new year” I find it incredibly freeing.

      To really feel the lines that distinguish months and years blur together into one, single constant… that’s an incredible sensation!

  3. I agree. I think the concept of time is self limiting–if you ask the question “what do you not have enough of ” many people answer time, (money, love)..enforcing a scarcity mindset. When we feel scarcity, we tend to create from a place of fear and necessity rather than purpose and awareness.
    Within our society so much is geared toward “buying more time”–from time management in the workplace, to practices of efficiency in life, to physical means of extending life..that for many life tends to “pass by”.
    If we fully practice this: “You’re alive today. Let’s recognize today. Let’s choose to celebrate today. Let’s choose to celebrate now. Let’s seize the moment, every moment” time would be irrelevant to our choices and our creations.
    Because I live in mainstream, I do acknowledge the rites of time; but in my personal life I honor natural cycles within a practice of unfolding.

    • Thank you for sharing your reflections here, Joy. πŸ™‚

      I think if we all became aware of just how much power we all have over time, how easily we can all “buy more time”, there would be a lot less stress and worry in the world.

      A concept that I have been exploring on and off for several years is that of living more in the moment, literally spending more time within each moment that passes. I believe that we possess the power to actually slow time through being more present, through slowing time with our mind.

  4. Hi Raam,
    Just when I thought I felt at ease with my new years intentions, resolutions, love lists, and what have you, I read your post and everything flies out the window in the best way possible.
    Thank you for delving deeply into the concepts we as a society just roll with and rarely stop to gain perspective on.
    I feel eternally connected to the universe after having read this post.
    Much love and happy days,

  5. yesss, raam. thank you for enlightening us with your words, and all your great work. xoxo

    this moment is the only moment we will ever have, and it is ours for the taking.

    screw plans, goals, and resolutions!… haha. πŸ™‚

  6. It’s like there being no borders visible from space. Time just “is”. Here on this earthly plane we deal in linear time and what I call “clock time”. Yet time, as the Universe, is limitless, without boundaries, beginning nor end – it simply… no adequate words exist. As you say, “Let’s seize the moment, every moment”. That’s all that there is, as each moment simply unfolds into the next, into the next, into the next, ad infinitum. And yet, each of these moments contain everything. Om Shanti!

    • Ricky, thank you for elaborating on this. πŸ™‚

      A concept I often explore is that of infinity. Many scientists have suggested that the Big Bang was only one of many, possibly one of an infinite number. And if that’s the case, then think about this for a moment:

      If time is infinite, then what are we? What is now? The concept of time itself, of a progression of one moment to another, of a past and a future, all can only exist if time is not infinite. So, if time is infinite (as I suspect it is), then now, this moment, really is everything.

  7. The benefits of rejecting the traditional system. There’s no point in counting days or resolutions. None of this matters anyhow. Weve got one chance at creating something worthwhile. Our resolutions are now.

    • Thank you for sharing here, David. All that really matters is what we do. Action is what matters. I don’t see how counting days really helps us take action. What we need to do is resolve to taking action. πŸ™‚

      • Absolutely. I think it’s just easier and somehow self-complimenting when we believe we have set new resolutions upon ourselves. The fresh slate is an easy way to deceive ourselves.

  8. “The moment we choose is the moment it becomes reality.”

    That is all we can really do. . . . ‘make a choice.’ We make choices all day, every day of our life. In essence, we are the sum total of those choices. Choices are ALWAYS made in the NOW.

    Now is forever. We are forever free to choose, to change our mind, to change the direction of our life.

    Time is the measurement of change, but change is NOT based on the movements of the hands of a clock, or the spinning of the Earth. Ultimately, time is the measurement of the inner changes going on inside of us.

    When the mind changes (transforms) to reflect (express) the changeless Self (Atman, soul, Consciousness), then the mind is established in eternity.

    • Thank you for sharing here, mom (or dad — I have a feeling you were using mom’s computer).

      Choices are presented in every moment and it’s up to us to choose wisely. When we’re not conscious of the moment, we cannot see the choices available to us. If we’re constantly thinking about something other than what we’re doing in the moment — for example washing the dishes and thinking about a product that’s on sale, or driving the car and worrying about a phone call we need to make — then we’re not really present; we’re not really living in the moment.

      When we’re really present, then we can choose in the moment.

  9. Excellent thoughts Raam.

    We all are so much obsessed with dates that we almost forget that we always had this opportunity during the other 364 days.

    When we want to change ourselves based on a mere date the change becomes a burden directionless because we force ourselves towards a rapid change. That’s an impractical situation. The glory of the deciding date catches wear and tear. The change that we wanted catches an eclipse as the days pass by.

    We will be back to our original habits and again a new wait starts for another big date πŸ™‚

    Instead, real change within us starts slowly and one step at a time and actions turn into habits and habits create a great character.Real change is never an accident, it is in our back of mind from long time. It only needs focused action.

    So, let us be slow . Let’s be real. Let’s celebrate each day. We have unlimited opportunities each day.

    Thanks Raam for this sweet reminder πŸ™‚

    • Naveen, thank you for sharing your thoughts here. πŸ™‚

      Deliberate action is what’s needed. If we find ourselves motivated by a date or time, we should inspect our motivations and ask ourselves why we didn’t choose to be motivated outside the confines of an imaginary framework.

      Changing habits and reaching goals happens with deliberate action and deliberate action happens when we choose to take it seriously and make it a priority. When we make something important enough that we’re prepared to put aside everything else, then stuff gets done. Habits are changed. Goals are reached.

      And like you said, Naveen, the beautiful thing is that each day holds an unlimited number of opportunities. πŸ™‚

  10. Raam,

    I appreciate your display of the different calendars.

    To me:

    Time is a great way to give people focus. I think it is a valuable and essential tool. As humans time helps us organize ourselves better and we like to do that. When we are disorganized we blow away lots of our time that we could have used to nourish our lives and the lives of others.

    Time well invested is the best investment you will ever make.

    I believe in goal setting using time – a goal without a timeline is not a goal but simply wishful thinking. We would never get on a plane with a pilot who could not tell us when we will arrive.

    Some people say time is not important but it is it is irreplaceable.

    Time is the greatest gift we are given to waste it is life’s greatest tragedy.

    Thank you for your time writing this post and reading my words.


    • David, thank you for sharing here.

      Using time as a tool for focus is an interesting concept. I’m constantly trying to walk that edge between being present, appreciating the moment, “enjoying life for life”, and remembering that my time is limited, I only have so many sunsets left in this physical body. It’s liberating and nerve-wracking at the same time!

      But I do believe our base-state should be in eternity, in recognizing that our true self is limitless and timeless. Our physical presence may be limited by the boundaries of time, but our true self has no boundaries, no limits.

      And within the framework of time, as you said, we have the greatest gift. We have an opportunity to do something within the small confines of this existence and the opportunity must not be wasted.

  11. The human condition tends to require some kind of external motivator, and time is certainly a convenient one.. but thank you for the reminder to think beyond the status quo and remember our power as conscious and creative beings.

    I’ve recently discovered your work, and am loving it. Thanks for finding the courage to live – and share – your authentic life πŸ™‚

    • Thank you for sharing here, Melissa, and welcome!

      There are few reminders as powerful as that of our own mortality, of the limited span of time available to our physical existence. But I think that limitation is also a wonderful opportunity: we can experience now fully for what it is and learn to appreciate life for all it has to offer. πŸ™‚


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