Musings on the turning of the year

The season of Winter Solstice through New Year’s Day is an interesting time for the human spirit. It’s the opportunity to reflect on the closing year and look forward to the new one.

How was your year?

For many, many people, 2010 was rather an awful year, on a personal, local and global scale. The economy remained troubled, bad news assaulted us from every angle and we grew more and more distant from one another as technology permitted us to communicate more but connect less.

For me, it was both a terrible year and a great one. While I suffered a number of physical and spiritual issues, I also came away having learned a great deal–strengths and weaknesses, powers and limitations–all laying the groundwork for what’s to come. And I learned what home meant, and these lessons all continue to take root and grow in me.

In my previous post, I talked about having three New Year’s not-resolutions; goals that are more like focal points and disciplines than the sorts of resolutions we typically make, and seldom keep. For me, those goals apply to myself, my friends and family, clients and beyond.

Where did this all begin?

There exists not far back in our racial/genetic memory a time when deep winter meant something entirely different from what it has become in the 21st century. It meant that the harvest was in, we ate from the stores we laid in over the summer and autumn.

It also meant a drawing in, particularly before electricity was harnessed, a slowing of outward activity, a time to repair tools, work with our hands in smaller, closer ways, and tell stories by firelight. By no means was it always the idyllic, romantic time that it sounds. If the harvest and the hunt were lean, we didn’t eat so well that winter. Winters were cold and difficult, and while many of us take central heat for granted now, our survival then was a much more immediate and precarious thing.

Imagine, too, how it must have felt to see the sun gradually remove itself, before we had the benefit of (somewhat) lucid scientific explanations for why it was so. A little frightening to watch the days get shorter and shorter–what if the sun just kept receding, and never came back??

Think about it for a moment: before the Age of Reason (such as it is), long before we had any inkling of how our planetary home behaved, that must have felt arbitrary and terrifying! So carry that through to its natural conclusion, and every dark season was a look into the fearful unknown, a chance to search our souls and cleanse our consciences, face our darkest fears (because really creepy stuff happens in the dark, yes?), make certain we connected with the people we loved, reflect on things we did well–and not so well–and think about what we might do differently.

What now?

Many of the basic ideas do carry through to this day, thank goodness! At the same time, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the now-strident demands of the holidays–the economy pundits tell us to “BUY NOW!” “Spend it here!”–we get caught up in the gift giving, get stressed out by the crowds, give in to marketing pressures, and forget to truly connect, care for one another, get straight with who we are and what we’re doing, fix our tools (including our psycho-spiritual ones–especially those!), face ourselves and each other and be responsible to both.

This season has become, over the decades, an increasingly frantic attempt to push back the dark, while gradually forgetting its origins in our not-so-distant past. We’re not so far removed from those tent-dwellers, those dwellers-in-caves, whose survival absolutely depended on each other.

It still does.

2 thoughts on “Musings on the turning of the year

  1. I started 2010 with resolutions that formed a thesis. I really believed in them. I wanted them. I didn’t fulfill a single one. The result of trying caused me to spend the later half of the year rethinking my entire life philosophy! I am glad I did. This winter has so far proven to be a great time for creativity, re-invention, and renewing of my foundation so that, hopefully, spring growth will build upon it.

    This is a great article. Thank you for writing it.

    1. When pressed to the wall, it’s amazing what our minds come up with, both good and bad, to solve the problem(s) at hand. I don’t know about you, but 2011 feels rather portentious–in a VERY good way! Thanks for your great response!

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