Another Beginning

Do you have trouble letting go of things?

As I was looking around my office, where I meditate and work, I was reflecting on the things that ended up here. In particular, on the large drum – larger than a hatbox – made out of a light wood and filled with excelsior, that is the packaging from the six loaves of bread that we received for Christmas. Six loaves of artisan bread – what a lovely gift (except that it arrived just as I was trying to gear up to not eating bread again and it was so delicious) and the packaging made it feel even more special: it wasn’t just a bag containing six loaves of bread or a brown cardboard box; it was a beautiful, handcrafted, light wooden drum – larger than a hatbox – that reflected the artisan nature of the bread itself.

Except now, because it feels like a “thing” and not like “packaging,” my husband wants to hold onto it. And we live in a tiny New York apartment. And so it becomes, like so many things, something else that makes my office feel like a junk room. And don’t tell me that means we should move it elsewhere – it’s a New York apartment and I’m lucky it even has an office. Which, by the way, when we moved into the apartment, was a guest room, and it was booked every weekend. But after 9/11, guests stopped coming and it became a junk room, never used, until I took a work from home job a couple of years ago and decided it was my office. (I’d much rather use it as a guest room.)

We all have things that we have hard times letting go of. Things that should feel important, like the ugly cheap jewelry that we inherit from well-meaning and well-loved relatives: we’d like to get rid of these things – we’ll never use them and they’re so ugly that they cause us pain each time we look at them and we love that relative so much that throwing them away would feel like we were throwing away our memories of that person. Things that represent something about how we feel like we should interact with the world: the carefully selected dress that represented what we thought we should look like at that event, although even that evening we hated wearing it and felt uncomfortable in it, and every time we find it in the back of our closet and stroke the fabric, we feel a longing for how special it should have made us feel and didn’t. The piles of magazines that promise a fantasy life filled with gorgeous clothes – so expensive that we would be afraid to wear them – and unattainable houses, and sumptuous meals that we’ll never take the time to cook.

These are all shapes that we somehow became attached to, although they don’t fit us, and we feel obligated to fill, although they are uncomfortable.

January, through the artificial construct that it is the “start” of a “new” year, always feels like a time when we begin to realize how crowded our homes are with all these things, and how crowded our lives are with all the thoughts and attachments we have to ideas, to grudges, to stories that crowd out new ideas, new stories, the way that larger trees crowd out saplings in the dark forest. Even in the best of years, aside from the groupthink of “out with the old, in with the new,” January feels like a hard time to invite change into your life. In the Northern Hemisphere, the days are shorter – it doesn’t get light until at least 7 am and it gets dark again by 5 pm – and colder, and the weather tends to be grey and overcast. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself cocooning in front of the TV or in a book or video game. Even unraveling yourself from your blanket to get up and make another cup of tea can feel like an unsurmountable effort.

In other cultures, the “start” of a “new” year comes at easier times: in some traditions, it came on November 1, with Halloween being the end of the old year. The Chinese new year comes in February this year. The Jewish New Year is Rosh Hashanah comes in September, at the end of the harvest. As does, Muharram, the Muslim new year. I think of Easter as another New Year’s celebration, with the symbols of death and resurrection. So you can really pick any day as your new year, the day that you observe some kind of traditional celebration, where you give up certain behaviors, and eat special foods that are supposed to bring you health and prosperity over the next period of time.

Where you let go of “things” and do a spring housecleaning of your psyche and physic and your soul. And your home.

You can pick any day to do this – your birthday for example, which I used to do: every year on my birthday, I’d go to the dentist and all of my doctors (if I could get appointments), and take myself out to lunch with a friend and have my hair cut and styled and get a massage and have my nails done.

It may be easier to do it when everyone else is doing it. Or it may be easier to do it a month or two later, when the yoga classes aren’t as full of people with new resolutions and everyone else has gone back to eating and drinking too much, and sleeping in.

Over the last couple of weeks, both my sisters in law and one brother in law (doctors all) and my husband (who is not a doctor but works for a heathcare company) have received their first vaccinations. I didn’t realize it would affect me this way, but with each shot, I felt a little less stress, although I am not the one getting the shot, and they will still have to take all the precautions that they had to take before vaccination, and will have to keep taking those precautions until enough people are vaccinated that we can build up herd immunity.

So now it feels like new years to me: a rebirth, like the crocuses sticking their pale green noses up through the left-over snow or cold hard ground in central park, on the path across from the museum.

In other ways, it feels like a rebirth. The Superbowl, which some people see as a culmination or a competition, to me feels like the end of the year: a last day filled with excesses – a feast of snacking and beer, followed by a cathartic hollering at the TV and way too many commercials and the ridiculously excessive half-time show that satisfies no one and often serves to put a period on a celebrity’s career – followed by a hangover and a period of letting go, letting go of all the disappointments that our teams brought us last year, letting go of familiar players who are retiring.

There are opportunities for death and rebirth throughout the year.

Every breath out is a death and every breath in is rebirth.

So if you didn’t start January off with a full set of resolutions and a new pair of walking shoes – or if you did, but then you overslept and had to drink all that caffeine to wake yourself up and while you were there, you picked up a donut – it’s okay.

You can start again now.

And then start again any time.

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