Happy New Year! Welcome to 2023. My 65th New Year. That seems unreal. As I went to sleep last night, on the last day of 2022, I reflected on how many New Year's Eves I could remember. I realised: not many. The particularly joyful and painful ones I guess.
And yet so much focus is given to the turning of the year. Centuries old traditions merge with new ones. And at the heart is the sense of having the possibility of new beginnings. Putting the old year to bed, with its sadnesses, disappointments and hurts, and looking to doing better in the year ahead - whatever that may mean.
Yesterday, as I walked through my local town in the pouring rain, my thoughts turned to our declining world. The shops empty of people but mostly full of stuff that isn't needed for life; the homeless guys in the shop doorways; the trees planted in the precinct too far apart for their roots to connect and sustain them. The elderly gent struggling with a walker and an umbrella - take care, there is no ambulance to pick you up if you fall. And then the shout of a parent "Get out, you will get wet!" to a child, who carried on joyfully running through the deepest puddle, already understanding that you might as well take pleasure from dancing in the rain. And I wondered how amongst all the sadnesses I could also enjoy the dance.
For the past week I have been wallowing in the Winter Writing Sanctuary offered by Beth Kempton. It has provoked and prodded me into reflections on aspects of my life, my thinking, my creativity, leading to unexpected insights. That is what can happen if you allow yourself the time, the space, the pause in the everyday.
And amidst the swirl of thoughts this morning about this heavy stuff came a newsletter from Dr Sharon Blackie. I was introduced to her work quite recently and her talk on Hagitude struck such a chord with me I have enrolled in her podcast This Mythic Life.
This is an extract of Sharon's New Year's Day newsletter:
"A friend asked me the other day how I found it possible to simply keep going, writing, creating, in the face of such a fractured world. And all I could do is repeat something I’ve said at several talks and workshops over the past couple of years: once you feel as if you’re really aligned with your calling, really embodying your own unique gift, your own unique expression of what it is to be human in that fractured world, everything slots into place. It’s not that you become smug: far from it. But you – in a sense – lose attachment to outcome. By which I for sure don’t mean that you no longer care what happens to the world, or the humans and other-than-humans who inhabit it. It’s just a recognition that the ultimate outcome isn’t ours to change. The world isn’t ours to save. It doesn’t serve us or the world if we’re constantly bowed under the weight of a burden of godlike responsibility for it. All we can usefully and meaningfully do, in service to that world and those beings – and to ourselves – is to carry on doing what we were born to do. Keep on working. Keep on creating. With joy, as well as hope and perseverance. And trust that that is enough."
She goes on to write about the work of Manda Scott and Faith Tilleray (who I had not come across before but am looking forward to finding out more via their website Accidental Gods and podcast (Listen to it, or read the transcript, here: https://accidentalgods.life/three-years-on/).
‘Every year, Faith and I (Manda) sit with the fire at the dark nights of the year. I have done this from long before we met – several decades ago now – and ask of the fire “What do you need of me?”’
Every year at this time – for several days, throughout the period between Solstice and the New Year – I also ask myself precisely this question. What exactly am I contributing to a challenged planet and a fracturing human culture which seems to be hurtling with desperate inevitability towards collapse? Is my daily work still in service to these things? Am I using my gifts – my writing, my creativity, my connectedness to this world through image and story – to serve it in the best way that I can?
She goes on to write
Once upon a time I would’ve asked a different question: How can I do more? But I’ve learned the hard way that constantly striving to do more, out of feelings of helplessness and inadequacy, only breaks you. And so now I ask: Could I be doing this work better? – because ‘better’ means not killing myself in the process. Means not agreeing to do things I don’t really want to do because I think I ought to, or because they matter deeply to someone else who I don’t want to say no to. It means trusting that guiding light inside: that inner wise woman. Doing this work better means that ‘Does this bring me joy?’ is as important a question to me now as ‘Does this serve life?’ And so when I ask, as Manda does, ‘What do you want of me in the year ahead?’ I’m really asking, ‘What will allow me to flourish and grow and be joyful, while serving the world to the fullest as I’m doing it?’
Wow. Sharon is not only writing to me but she is writing about me. Without ever having met, her words have resonated with me today. This day of new beginnings. And given me a hope that I have not been feeling over the past couple of years. I will spend time getting to know my inner wise woman better, allowing her to guide me on, and in particular to show me where I can find the joys and the energy to sustain me as I continue this creative journey of writing and photography.
I will finish with a poem that Beth Kempton used today for her Daily Spark:
New Every Morning by Susan Coolidge in Poems for Christmas edited by Gaby Morgan (Macmillan Collectors Library) p.217
Every day is a fresh beginning,
Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
And, spite of old sorrows
And older sinning,
And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.