January: a loaded word. It strikes fear into the heart of many, as we feel the mounting pressure to kick old habits and be our very best selves – better than we were last year. And the year before that. We will be fitter. Healthier. More successful. Won’t we?
Just a couple of weeks ago, the whole world was celebrating the end of the last year and welcoming in the new, with open arms and raised glasses. After days of rest, over-indulgence and gift-swapping, our hearts and bellies are full as we gleefully declare our resolutions. Resolution: a firm decision to do something, or not do something. Resolve. There’s no get-out clause and that inevitably means a lot of pressure, and not surprisingly, disappointment; as the yoga-every-day, gluten-free, write a-blog-a-day resolutions go up in flames along with our (very human, and thus, fragile) resolve.
So what if we set our intentions, instead of resolve? Intention is a much friendlier thing. It’s saying, I intend to do my best – but crucially – if I fail? That’s OK. And it’s not an intention for the whole year, rather, it can be reset, as often as required. The mere act of doing so, on a regular basis, is a strengthening practice, as it is an affirming one.
Humans have celebrated the turn of the year the world-over, for centuries. From sending fireballs flying through the air and into the sea (Stonehaven); to flooding the streets with water (Burma); to planting trees under frozen rivers and lakes (Siberia): we have all got our traditions when it comes to New Year. Many of them involve water, fire, and pyrotechnics; all symbols of purification, release and letting go of what’s been. Our entire planet wards off bad spirits, welcomes transformation and puts old woes to bed. It’s no surprise that for most, New Year falls around the winter-solstice; the shortest and darkest day of the year. Right before the rebirth of the sun, bringing longer, warmer days, where the crop can be seeded, nurtured, and eventually, harvested. It’s a predictable, and reliable cycle of renewal which dictates our year.
But there’s another cycle going on, within that annual revolution around our star: the moon. It’s cycle gives us our monthly calendar. Aristotle believed that our brains were affected by the lunar cycle, just like the tides. For centuries it’s been believed that women’s menstrual cycles are affected by the moon. There’s not been much scientific evidence to back this, but I, for one, feel an awareness of the moon’s presence. I’m not looking out for it every day, in fact, I don’t often pay attention to what stage it’s at: usually I find myself looking up when something is out of whack. And usually I find an answer.
Take the first week of the New Year for example. On the sixth of January I felt a level of fatigue that was alarming, even for me (I have intermittent chronic fatigue). I knew my period was due to start, so put it down to that. Two days later, and I felt a strange sort of release– an anticipation of change, transformation perhaps. I went on a long, sun-filled walk where I found myself mentally setting my intentions with vigour. I checked the lunar calendar and wasn’t surprised to discover that there was a new moon (aka, no moon, in the sky) on the sixth; with a waxing crescent moon hanging thinly in the sky on the day of my walk. Investigating the effects of the lunar cycle I came across an article where I discovered that the new moon is a time for regaining strength, recuperating, and hibernating away from others. So what about waxing crescent? A time for setting new intentions, planting them deep into the good Earth. Huh. It seems that my sub-conscious is tuned-in, even if I’m not.
I also couldn’t help but be aware of how the spiritual effects associated with the moon strongly correlated with those listed in my hormone-tracking app (Hormone Horoscope, FYI: prepare to know yourself better than you thought possible). Right through to the fine-tuning of your hard-work energy of waxing gibbous (or just before ovulation); the reap-what-you-sowed energy of full moon (Ovulation); and the gratitude/sharing energy of the waning moon (last week of cycle). My cycle tends to run between twenty-eight and thirty days; interestingly the lunar month is twenty-nine-and-a-half days, so it seems my body, anyway, is in sync.
When I’m feeling particularly wired, as I like to call it, I’ve often looked up to see a full, or near-to full moon. The word ‘lunatic’ actually means moon-sick: the idea that the moon cycle affects us is age-old.
So, where does this leave us? In paying attention to my energy, emotional state and menstrual cycle, and keeping half-an-eye on what the big light in the sky is up to, I find that I can harness that same introspective power that is so often associated only with New Year. We are a civilization that wasn’t governed by electric lighting, alarm-clocks and industrious work-schedules until very recently in the grand scheme of our timeline. We were governed by the good Mother (nature) long before these things. Perhaps it’s time we tuned in again, to find a more contented rhythm.
In Japan, amongst many rituals, there is the Hatsuhinode: the celebration of the first sunrise of the year, where people gather to pray for good fortune and happiness in the coming year. There is also the traditional sending of greeting cards to friends on New Year’s Day, to wish them happiness for the coming year. In China, there is a ritual New Year's Day house-cleaning, out with the old, in with the new, literally. All over the world, we fill our bellies with good food, nurturing ourselves.
Why not invite these rituals into our lives on a daily basis? Catch the sunrise and feel your energy and hope renewed. Spend time with friends or colleagues and celebrate your achievements. Take time to savour a delicious meal – whatever the calorie count – and nourish your satiety. Clear out your desk/room/kitchen cupboards, and make room for new inspirations and ideas. Write down your woes and worries, and watch as they flicker into nothing, as you set them alight.
One chance, to be re-born, to make it right? Do your best? No thanks.
I’ve got twelve months; fifty-two weeks; three-hundred-and-sixty-five days: thousands of little moments to reset my intentions, and move forward.
My latest article for Counterpoint magazine explores the idea of sleep (or lack thereof) as a commodity in our modern world. It's beautifully illustrated by Ollie Silvester and is hand-printed by Out of the Blueprint in Edinburgh, using a risograph machine - meaning each copy is unique. You can buy it here.
Here's a Twitter thread showcasing some of the amazing illustrations for the issue.
Publications, thoughts and reviews
On themes of mental illness, disability and YA.