Image credit: Chris Lawton on Unsplash
I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions – I used to think this was just me being perverse, now I realise it was an unconscious pushback against arbitrary and possibly futile goal setting. However as I became aware of my rising anxiety over the course of this week – my borough’s fourfold rise in COVID over last seven days, about schools due to reopen, about how I will cope if they DON’T open – I’ve come to realise I had nonetheless managed to create expectations of how life would be better once midnight on December 31st rolls by. Magical, unicorn thinking had spilled into my mind.
This post isn’t intended as a criticism of anyone who is encouraged by the routine of setting New Year’s resolutions – it’s wonderful that you are able to reflect and take stock of what matters to you – but rather to acknowledge that, particularly this year, the seasons of life are not dictated by the calendar.
Despite the cultural norms of year end reflection and goal setting, it’s likely that many of you – like me – are not ready to process all that 2020 has brought us. The pandemic continues and we are simply trying to survive the breaking waves in this sea of uncertainty – we can’t yet integrate our experiences in the absence of stability and safety. How can we answer a question which is still being asked?
Instead, as the poet Rilke advises, perhaps we are called to carry on living the question for now, simply holding the space. Knowing that in time – with compassion and curiosity – we will begin to be able to process our experience and the meaning making will happen when it is ripe. According to the paradoxical theory of change, change doesn’t happen through our efforts to be different, but rather by more fully accepting the ‘what is’, which then enables a new ‘what is’ to arise. Slowing down and noticing all our emotions, including the uncomfortable ones, leaves more space for our humanness. By gaining a deeper awareness of what is now and allowing ourselves to stay in the discomfort of this present moment, we will ultimately allow meaningful change to happen at the right time. Toxic positivity berates us for the difficult emotions which are integral to the human experience and robs us of the chance for integrated, meaningful change. To quote the wonderful Susan David, “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life”.
So instead of New Year’s resolutions, I hold an intention to continue to nurture my own self-compassion, and leave you with this poem by John O’Donohue which nourished me during the UK’s first lockdown:
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
Notes & Acknowledgments
I want to also acknowledge Aundi Kolber (#trysofter) and Joy Vetterlein for their recent Instagram posts which helped me articulate my own emotions this December.