I kept going back and forth about writing sooner, but as December got well on its way and I kept feeling more and more tired, I decided that it was okay not to write straight away. It was okay to take some time.
A few weeks ago now, at the time of my recovery from surgery, a friend sent me a beautiful text about Winter and hibernation, and how our current cultures do not allow for restful moments at all, particularly during this season. If you look around, Winter is when nature takes a moment to pause, to rest, to hibernate, to die. Nature teaches us quite regularly, even though we’ve mostly forgotten about it, that life is about constant change, it’s about ups and downs, it’s about life, death, and rebirth. This text that my friend sent me, talked about this conflict between culture and nature, in regards to Winter. At least where I live, this is a festive season where we’re bombarded by consumerist demands and expectations, where we over-indulge on food, drink, financial expenditure. And then, after that, we are meant to have all these resolutions which we must abide by, to the point that we often overwhelm ourselves with goals and life-changing decisions, only to crash out and hardly fulfil any of them. We do this incessant routine every year, whilst all around us, nature is telling us to slow down, to be still, to take our time, to stop. Why don’t we listen to that? Having a slower-than-expected recovery really helped me with this. I slowed down. And I’m still slowed down, because the height of winter is actually now – Spring is still many weeks away!
Moreover, I came across this article which talks about this very issue, and suggests a different approach to January: to make it a month of reflection, rather than resolutions. I really liked that idea. To use this time to reflect and ponder, rather than spring into action. I’m actively doing this for the first time in my life. In fact, this time of reflection so far has been quite fruitful in terms of finding clarity about what the future may hold for me, and I have come up with what I’ve termed some “commitments to myself”.
The week before I went home to Portugal for my Christmas break, two different people told me that I’m too hard on myself. One of them was a co-worker who barely knows me and the other a new friend whom I’ve known for just under a year. This is the sort of thing that people sometimes brush off as an interesting coincidence, but since I don’t believe in coincidences, I paid attention. I could have told myself that because these two people don’t really know me as well as my longer-term friends, that they were wrong, and I could have dismissed their message. But sometimes, paradoxically, important messages can come from people with whom we are not yet close to, or even just cross our paths in one particular moment of our lives. I paused. Something about the message they were carrying with them that week really resonated with me. It resonated because I knew it to be true, even though it was a truth I didn’t want to admit to myself. In many ways, being hard on myself is all I’ve ever known. It’s how I kept perfect marks at school, how I left my home country and family at 17 years old, and how I’ve basically managed my life at every major turn. It has been helpful in many ways, making me more resilient in difficult situations, but it has also hindered me in other ways, making me hardened to lighter life experiences. It’s why I find it easier to work with recovering addicts than with young children, for instance. No time to play when you’re being hard on yourself.
Whilst in Portugal, I pondered all these things a lot. I gave myself a lot of quiet and alone time, and the clarity I got about what the future may hold was the acceptance that I actually don’t know what the future may hold. What I know and feel deep down for sure, is that a lot of what I thought I knew, I really don’t know. I also know a lot of stuff that doesn’t serve me anymore, and therefore is time to unknow it. This is my first commitment to myself: to unknow and unlearn values or ideas that I actually don’t know if I agree with or believe in. I’m using my personal therapy to address this one, as there is a lot of work to do in this area. Specifically, my therapist has been an incredibly important person in recent times, by helping me to unpack my life and offer me new ways in which to see and experience life.
The other two commitments are related to and a direct result of my “personal challenge” from 2018 where I committed to go watch a musical theatre production every month. I learned unexpected lessons from it, the most important being that having a monthly task/action/”challenge” is a very doable, practical, and easy thing to do. There isn’t a lot of pressure to do too much, and it is also something to look forward to. Whilst I thought about this blog post, it also occurred to me that I didn’t necessarily like the idea of “personal challenge”. Yes, it is always a personal challenge to do something new, and the process of it may be challenging in itself. However, it is also something I’m doing for myself. Something that I like, that makes me smile, that moves me, even something that may change me, and make me see something new and unexpected about myself, others, or the world around me. Because it is something I’m doing for myself, I felt it appropriate to call them “commitments to myself”, rather than “personal challenges”. And so, I’m giving myself two monthly commitments this year: challenging in different ways, but both incredibly rewarding in their potential, one of them involves going on a hike every month, and the other reading a book every month. They both appeal to precious loves of mine: nature and books. I’m very excited about them!
Finally, I plan on finding new work within the therapy world: whether it is seeing more clients, or working for an organisation, or managing another service, who knows? I’ve got some spare time that I’m looking to fill, and I’m seeing what’s out there. If you know of anything or anyone needing help, you know where to find me.
So, here are my commitments to myself in 2019:
1. Work to unknow and unlearn old narratives
2. Go on a monthly hike
3. Read one book every month
4. Find more work
Do you have any commitments to yourself? What are they?
Or maybe you don’t, and that’s fine as well. Feel free to just be, without having to plan anything, or wish for anything, and just enjoy life, whether you’re actively living it, or choosing to hibernate for a bit.
Like the great teacher and performance artist, Adrian Howells, used to say: it’s all allowed.