December 28, 2023

January is for Rest, not for Action.

Twixmas is upon us. The strange liminal period between Christmas and Western New Year where the excitement of Christmas is over, but the new year hasn’t quite begun.

The days all blur into one big mesh of different flavours of overconsumption; discarded wrapping paper, tiny strands of tinsel, and already abandoned gifts decorate the house.

Our days look like endless cheeseboards and Christmas TV whilst we sift through the last of the leftover chocolates. For those of us fortunate enough to be off work, we might even find ourselves (gasp) bored.

Cue the New Year’s marketing deployed to tell us that the old “us” just isn’t damn good enough and we need to be better. The foreboding pressure to lose weight, get fit, and otherwise start afresh. Trying to be both fiscally responsible whilst also pressured to spend money under the guise of carefully curated wellness packages selling some version of “new year, new you.”

And these efforts are all well intentioned. It is nice to have a bit of a boost of motivation to start the new year, isn’t it?

Yet we also know the data is stacked against us. We learn that despite our best efforts, the majority of those resolutions will spontaneously combust within the first few weeks of the year, and along with it, feelings that exist somewhere on a spectrum of apathy to crushing shame.

And it’s this that makes me wonder if there is a different model we could follow? One that might be kinder and gentler to our dear selves. One that enables us to properly close out the former year before starting anew. One that allows us the grace of a liminal period to rest and reset, prioritising dreaming and scheming over concrete action.

And when I imagine such models, I think of the extended mourning period observed in many different cultures and religions. According to pagan beliefs, after passing on from the physical world, the soul wanders the earth for 40 days before it fully transitions into the afterlife. Many religions have a significance around the number 40, from Christianity (40 days between Jesus’s assertion and resurrection), or the Islamic and Eastern Orthodox formal observations of a 40-day mourning period. Similarly, the Tibetan book of the dead describes up to 49 days between death and rebirth of the soul.

Essentially, what all these traditions recognize is that we cannot simply switch from one form of being or existence into another without an appropriate transition period. Stories don’t just have a beginning and an end. The middle is often the most crucial part of the story. 

I think of the quote from Nancy Levin:

“Honor the space between no longer and not yet. 

This space allows you to integrate all that has happened for you, everything you’ve experienced, and what you desire to create. This is the place where resilience, possibility and opportunity are born.”

So what would it look like to give ourselves permission to revere and perhaps even enjoy an extended liminal period in order to gather ourselves and prepare for the 11 months ahead?

In the Northern hemisphere, we might imagine that this period coincides with the winter solstice, a day in which daylight hours are at their shortest. It is an appropriate time for going inward, a time for “yin”—to receive or conserve rather than expend energy. A time for processing and healing, a time for rest.

We could start to envision what we want our year to look like through journaling, meditation, quiet contemplation. We could start to move our bodies through gentle stretches and low impact movement rather than shocking it into submission. Rather than starving and restricting calories, we could focus on wholesome foods that feed our bodies and provide essential nourishment through the dark winter days. We could sleep a lot. Relish the cold, gloomy, short, dark days by snuggling up and keeping warm. We could watch and read things that inspire us. Setting the foundations for what energy we might want to channel later, when it’s time for action.

And herein lies my vision of an alternative way to start the new year. From the time of winter solstice, I will be moving through the “afterlife” of the former year, transitioning from one into the next, allowing myself the luxury of an essential reset.

During this approximate 40-day period, I will let myself dream but without any associated need for action. I will enable sufficient time to process. I endeavour to rest. To be soft with myself. To allow myself the indulgence of a beginning, a middle, and an end.

~

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