January is still very much with us, and so are our resolutions, if we made any; still hanging on by their fingernails. It is slightly odd, this artificial choice of ours to start afresh with some new pursuit, or dropping of an old one, as December turns into January- though this time of year, with everything outside still dormant, probably stimulates some inner feeling deep within us that if we don’t do something with our hibernating bodies, they may just decide to give up altogether. The gyms and fitness centres used to be jammed with new recruits in January. Not this year!
Perhaps we should blame Julius Caesar for making this dead time, when renewal still seems a little premature, the ‘New Year’. Before he introduced his ‘Julian’ calendar in 45 BCE, and as far back as the Babylonians 2,000 years before that, the new year was celebrated, and resolutions made, at the beginning of March, when crops were planted. It’s all very northern-hemisphericist of us anyway. In the tropics, seasonally speaking, January 1st is really much like any other day, and in the southern hemisphere they would have been, and no doubt still are, throwing another prawn on the barbie.
There is no harm in making a resolution of course, so long as we are not too hard on ourselves and set our targets low enough so that we have a good chance of success. Setting ourselves up for ‘failure’, as our resolutions so often do, is not a healthy way to start the year. Neither is it too late to renew our renewals, tinker with them; not giving up on our resolutions, just fine-tuning them to something that is within our grasp, with a realistic time limit too. Instead of giving up chocolate ‘for ever’ give it up for one month, say, or play the piano for an hour a week, not an hour a day, then review how it’s going. And if we do ‘fail’ renewal is out there anyway, in spite of all our human dramas, reminding us that all is not lost. The snowdrops are bursting forth, the days are lengthening, and the buds on the trees are forming, getting ready for their big day.
Forgiveness is the key in all of this, and we must try to cultivate our capacity for renewal and redemption every single day, with compassion for ourselves and for others. We have seen some pretty ugly events happening in the US in the last week or two that may cause us to question this, and giving up on compassion is something that tries to sneak up on us in small ways as well as big. Little bits of prejudice and bigotry reside in all of us and it can be healthy for us to be aware of that, and to recognise that renewal is always available. Neurologists have shown that none of this is pre-determined or pre-programmed, there can be scar tissue yes, from old and maybe not so old, wounds, from remembered guilt, from our faults and failings, but with care our brains can be rewired, repaired. There is a way back for all of us, however hard that may sometimes be for us to recognise.
As one of our favourite meditation teachers, Martin Aylward, reminds us: We are all doing our best and failing, and we are all walking each other home.