I used to make resolutions every January. I have all of my journals from the time I started keeping them when I was around 13 years old. Until more recent years, every journal has a list I wrote at the beginning of the New Year of things I’d planned to do or to stop doing in the months ahead. Then every year in December I tried to evaluate these things, gauging a successful year by how many resolutions I’d accomplished. More often than not, these resolutions went unresolved. In fact some of them (learning to make bread well!) have never been accomplished.
I stopped making resolutions a few years ago, which started partly as an act of defeat and partly as an act toward freedom–these things don’t work, I told myself, and besides I want to cultivate the ability to be at peace with who and where I am in this circle of life. As I’ve learned more and have given more consideration to why (perhaps it is that New Year’s resolutions often don’t work for people in general), I’ve gained some insight that has helped me to reframe my perspective on resolution-making.
Living in harmony with both Ayurvedic practices and Traditional Chinese Medicine practices can afford us the gift of living in harmony with nature. Though each practice has its unique features, both see winter as a time of Yin energy, in which our most natural state is one of living a slower, more internal, more introspective lifestyle. Winter is our dormant time, in which we should feed our mind and spirit with activities such as meditation, reading, writing, longer periods of sleep–activities that slow us down and help to ground us in the center of our potential. Likewise, we should feed our bodies with foods that are naturally heavier and more grounding; for example, sweet potatoes, warm soups, butternut squash, cooked greens, plenty of warm water, bone broths and chicken for non-vegetarians. In doing so, we cultivate a sense of presence and rebuild our life force for the expansive periods of growth that take place during spring and summer. It all seems very logical when contemplated from nature’s growing periods. Nature doesn’t become externally focused, sprouting new seeds and growth is activity left for spring and summer. Why, then, do us humans think that attempting to sprout into all new growth is the natural order during the cold, dark, Yin period of January?
This year past, just as December began, I learned some fun information that solidified my perspective on this. The root of the word “December” comes from the Latin word decem, meaning ten, and was thus named because in the original Roman calendar, December was the tenth month in their calendar that began in March and ended in December. The period we know of as January and February was called the “monthless period” and the days at this time were not marked on the calendar. Had we kept with the original Roman calendar, then, the New Year would not begin in January but in the new growth period of spring that March kicks off. The idea of this being a monthless period calls to mind the image of us suspended in a period of quiet withdrawal from the outer world, drawn inward for contemplation; a dormant period of reflection and nourishment from which we can grow ourselves outward into the world when spring comes.
To me, this explains why January New Year resolutions don’t come to fruition–at least not in January or February. And perhaps, like the tiny buds that try to grow up from the ground on the unexpected warm days in January, the buds of growth within us that do start to come alive at this time struggle to survive the inevitable days of cold and withdrawal. I’m reveling in this time as the monthless period this year, cultivating an awareness of a more Yin, quiet presence within myself, noting that when I try to expand too quickly, I feel depleted, unready for sustainable growth.
In order to sit in this place of stillness comfortably, I have been deepening my practices of meditation and breathing, both in my seated meditation and in my asana practices, doing less vigorous Vinyasa flow sequences. I am learning to sit in the essence of my heart, or Hrdaya, in Sanskrit. The heart’s essence can reveal our space of exuberant joy–and it can also reveal where we are completely shut down to fear and constriction. As I meditate, I am making space for connecting the feeling of expansion and contraction in my breath to the same feelings around my heart, and becoming comfortable with each. I am practicing metta meditations, saying to myself as I meditate, “may I be free from physical pain, may I be free from psychological holding, may I be free from emotional suffering, and may I be spiritually awake” (excerpted from Yoga of the Subtle Body, by Tias Little), and then offering these same meditations outward to all human beings. I am also using the practices inspired by Danielle Laporte that encourage us to go deep into the heart of what it is we want to feel, rather than what we want to do, and in so doing we learn to foster our “Core Desired Feelings” through the activities that we plan and make space for.
I am going slower in my physical practices, too, doing more back bends and twists, and not trying to “get in shape,” but rather to open my heart more deeply and connect the flow of my breath with the rhythm of my heart. I am eating Ayurvedically, eschewing my beloved salads for more grounding cooked root vegetables, soups, and kitchari stews.
By coming into the essence of my heart, hrdaya, I am learning to restrain my tendencies to live a Yang, over-stimulated lifestyle. Instead, I’m sitting with courage in the center of my being, to cultivate a relationship with my dormant self, and to prepare all parts of me to bud in spring. Reflecting on past years, it’s the spring bud that seems to really take root into fresh growth in my life, when I provide properly tended soil. So for now, I’ll tend to the soil that is me, and offer myself this time as one of suspension–in which I need not go backward to bemoan that which is not or to jump too quickly into that which I wish would be. I think that inevitably, then, I’ll be ready to burst forth into all that is new and expansive when the time and season is right.