Reprinted from the January 1996 issue of Unity Magazine®.
Jesus constantly challenged religious practices gone stale, their original meaning long forgotten and now become simply public ritual. He warned, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them" (Mt. 6:1).
One day he was confronted with the question of fasting. The disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees fasted. Jesus' disciples did not. People asked him why. Jesus took this opportunity to speak about what it means to really change from a consciousness of living by public ritual to a consciousness of authentic spiritual life.
When asked why, Jesus made several mysterious responses, among them, "No one puts new wine into old wineskins: otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins: but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins" (Mk. 2:22).
Fasting, of course, is not the issue that Jesus is addressing. It can be a beneficial, healthful practice, and I'm certain Jesus would have agreed. But, as a ritualistic religious practice, it belonged to the old paradigm that Jesus was trying to break through. In effect, he and his disciples were saying by their words and actions: "You can't put new ideas into old mind-sets. You can't get new results with old behaviors."
The comparison is a very apt one when we think of the properties of wine and wineskins. When wine is new, it is in a state of fermentation. It bubbles and expands as the fermentation gases are released. A fresh, pliable wineskin can absorb such expansion and slowly age-with the wine until the fermentation process is complete.
To put fresh wine into an old wineskin, however, is asking for trouble. The old wineskin has assumed a definite shape and is no longer pliable. It is fixed and somewhat brittle. The activity of new wine will stress it beyond its ability to yield. And so both the wine and the skin are lost. We can't put new ideas into old mind-sets. We can't get new results with old behaviors.
The ending of an old year and the beginning of a new one is a fitting time to work with this idea. It is a time of reflection for us, a time to take stock to evaluate where we are and to embrace new directions. Our classic New Year's activity is to make resolutions. We articulate the changes we want to make in the new year. And most seem to last about 20 minutes, don't they? So much so that "breaking a new year's tradition" is proverbial. We often seem to effect little lasting change with our resolutions. Is it that we lack willpower? Confidence? Faith? We often think so, and then we get further down on ourselves for our failure to carry out the resolution. But what if it is more a matter of an old mind-set or old behavior that doesn't fit the new resolution? It might not be that our faith is weak, our confidence low, or our willpower insufficient, but that our understanding is limited and stuck in an old paradigm.
For example, one of the most common resolutions, and one that gets broken most often, has to do with weight control. We vow to go on a postholiday diet, and we often do get temporary results, only to find ourselves replacing the lost pounds with new ones, along with the defeated feeling that comes with the broken resolution.
With the exception of weight problems that are not related to diet, what most of us fail to do is address permanent changes in our eating habits. Trying to put the new wine of a trimmer body into the old wineskin of established and ingrained poor eating patterns cannot bring lasting results. Habits unchecked are stronger than conscious willpower every time. Only when we fully understand what is really going on at the level of unconscious behavior can we take control and bring willpower to bear.
How many times have we said something like "I'm tired of procrastinating. Beginning tomorrow I'm not putting things off any longer"? And we try! But somehow tomorrow never quite comes, and we find ourselves still engaged in the same delaying behaviors as before.
How about, "I resolve that this new year will be my most prosperous and rewarding year ever." As the year unfolds, it's like preceding years: not much really dramatic happens in terms of rewarding prosperity demonstrations. Chances are we are still holding on to some old wineskin ideas concerning our true source of abundance. We haven't fully bought in to the concept of giving and receiving. We understand the concept with our minds, but we haven't integrated it yet into our behavior.
We can't put new ideas into old mind-sets. We can't get new results with old behaviors. So how do we get these new wineskins—these new minds out of which our new life will emerge? One way is by learning and putting to work the "Three Rs"—not our old noun friends "Readin', Writin', and 'Rithmatic," but three strong verbs, "Repent, Replace, and Relax."
The core of Jesus' message is found in Mark 1:15: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." Repent, as used here, means so much more than being conscience-stricken or contrite. The underlying Greek word is a form of metanoia, which means to undergo a fundamental change in one's mind or character. Simply put, to repent in this context is to change one's thinking. Shift paradigms.
Good results are good effects. Good effects are brought about by good causes. So we must engage life at the level of cause if we want true change. This is the heart of the new paradigm, and we must change our thinking from the old wineskin of working only outside of us to effect change to the new, fresh wineskin of inner work in the realm of cause.
Paul grasped this well. To his friends in Rome, he said, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Rom. 12:2). And to those in Philippi, "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5).
The way Jesus saw the world is crucial to understanding and living in the new paradigm, the new wineskin. Do we want prosperity? We can adopt the Jesus mind-set of an opulent universe. The old wineskin says that the harvest comes only at a certain time and in a certain way. The new wineskin of the Christ mind says, "But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting" (Jn. 4:35) and "give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap" (Lk.6:38). The old paradigm says, "Yeah, I'll believe it when I see it!" The new paradigm says, "Ah, you'll see it when you believe it!"
The essence of repentance is letting go of old, limited ideas and investing our belief in new, expansive ideas. For example, we, you and I, are creating our future selves right now. No matter how old we are in this moment, we are creating our even older person. What kind of an older person do we want to be? The old wineskin says that we get older and older until we retire and expire. I would rather repent from that thought. I'm with Bill Cosby, who used to say in one of his routines something like this: "I'm creating my old person now. I laugh and keep a sense of joy and adventure. That's the kind of old person I want to be."
Now let's do some replacing, our second 'R.' We replace the old mind-set or concept or behavior with a new one. Unity's method of affirmative prayer can be very helpful here. We construct meaningful affirmations that keep our conscious mind interested and entertained and then we practice them repetitively so that our subconscious mind is impressed with the change.
Here is a beginning affirmation: I am the product of a certain set of concepts and behaviors. Just realizing this helps us identify those concepts and behaviors and establishes what needs to be changed.
Help is available all around us—a trusted counselor, a doctor, or an expert in whatever the relevant field might be. If we want to work on weight control, we might consult a dietitian and then remember to relabel the product. We won't call it a diet, which sounds and feels temporary, but a lifestyle change, which connotes permanence. Then start replacing the old lifestyle: My meals are healthy and balanced, and my exercise is sufficient. I am trimmer and fitter now. Make sure that the two conditions in the affirmations are true, that your meals are healthy and balanced and that you are getting enough exercise. We can't kid ourselves here. Such an affirmation keeps us conscious of our goal, and practice and repetition make it a habit.
As we replace old patterns with new ones and use them, not as temporary measures but as permanent changes, we become transformed. Our repentance takes on visibility.
And now the third 'R,' and just as important as the first two ... relax. Let the process work. Relaxing doesn't mean going back to the old patterns. It means not worrying or straining for results. Don't establish unrealistic time frames. It took us awhile to get this way, and it will take a while for changes to fully materialize. Relaxing means to give things the light touch. It means not condemning the old concepts and behaviors. Just let them go. They have served their purpose of bringing us to this present moment. Relax and know that God is in charge.
Talk to your body and give it instructions to relax, beginning with the toes and working upward or with the scalp and working down. The sequence doesn't really matter, just as long as you relax. A regular period of time set aside for the purpose of relaxing can be of inestimable value for our bodies and our minds. As we learn to relax, the learning spills over into our general attitude until we have developed a new mind-set of ease and poise.
It is always a good idea to surround the whole process of repenting, replacing, and relaxing with prayer. Spend time in the silence with the Lord of your being, your source of guidance and energy. This is perhaps the greatest benefit of learning to fully relax. In the deep silence, you may tap into that vast, inexhaustible source of universal energy and become fully empowered to change your thinking and to begin replacing old, limited patterns of living with new, vital ones. You can change your thinking now from the old to the new, from the impossible to the possible, from the limited to the unlimited.
Here are some bold thoughts for your new future:
I am transformed by the renewing of my mind.
I have the mind in me that is also in Christ Jesus.
I lovingly release all old, unproductive thoughts and feelings and let them go.
I change my thinking now from lack to plenty, from illness to health, from the old me to the new me.
I joyfully welcome new ideas from the Christ mind in me, and I am transformed.
As the great, old Unity song says, "Wonderful, wonderful, fortunate you, this is the year that your dreams come true!"