Pie Crusts and Promises
For me, January is the slowest month. It has an honesty and effortlessness to it after the frivolities and chaos of December. Each day is fleeting, holding within it the briefest of moments, which fall untarnished and remain unmarked as the sun fades and time disappears into nothingness. Despite the shorter days, I feel as though I have all the time in the world. There is nothing pressing to do and very little to occupy my mind. It's too early for my seedlings to appear or to start the ritual of spring cleaning the house and it's too late to worry about the things that I didn't achieve last year. The mistakes I had previously made and the worries that I had carried with me were put to bed as I turned over the page of my new calendar. A sense of hope takes hold, that feeling of endless possibilities hums all around me as I ponder the year ahead and catalogue the things I want to achieve.
It is a time of optimism, a time when my teacup is most definitely half full. The things that I believed were lacking in my life the year before have no significance now as I focus on what I want to change and get right in the months ahead. I make endless promises to myself in the hope that I will become the person I want to be. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not dissatisfied with who I am, on the whole I like me but I know that there are some things I could do to feel more fulfilled. There are of course the usual things; eat well, lose some weight, take more exercise, reduce my sugar intake, the list goes on. But for me these are simply sensible and practical considerations and have nothing to do with actually making me a better person. I might 'feel' better as a result of them but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'll 'be' better and trust me, there is a difference.
For so many years, the task of taking down the Christmas decorations was a sad one. I would feel deflated and heavy after the excesses of the season. As I carefully wrapped each ornament, I would promise myself that next year would be different, that I would make the ever growing list of changes that I believed were necessary for me to be happy. But these promises were what my mother would have called 'pie crust promises', easily made and easily broken. Like most people, I would start the year with a newfound energy and undeterred resolve but as the days passed me by, my determination would be slowly chipped away by the old habits that were too hard to die.
But why is that these promises we make to ourselves at the beginning of a new year are so easily broken? Why is it that by the time we get to February, all of our good intentions have come to nothing other than a cupboard full of uneaten chia seeds and a sports bag discarded at the bottom of the wardrobe? Perhaps the goals we set ourselves were too unrealistic? Maybe we just became too distracted? Or maybe, and the most likely of reasons, is that we just ran out of time. Because that's the thing about January, it's an illusion. The fullness of time that we experience in this month is not real, it is merely the void that had previously been filled with the thoughts and duties of Christmas, it is actually just time that has been returned to us. We are suddenly free, that nagging feeling of things outstanding has quietened down and our days are our own again. We can go on long walks, we can read books, we can prepare a considered, home cooked meal, we can just sit by the fire and be.
Yet as the year moves on and life resumes it's normal stride, the promises we made to ourselves are shelved alongside the unopened mung beans. That all too familiar inkling of failure creeps upon us and we are left feeling frustrated and disillusioned. Sometimes we can ignore these feelings, other times we can simply promise to revisit the goals we set at a more conducive time in the year, when things have 'settled down a bit'. But we rarely do. Why? It has been a long road to travel down but after many years of soul searching, I have the answer. It may not be the answer for you, but it is most definitely the one for me. I break the promises I made to myself because they just weren't important enough to me at that time.
For countless years I have told myself that I will lose some weight in the new year but I never have yet. I would start the month by going swimming or joining a gym class. I would go shopping and spend a fortune filling the larder with pulses, fruit, vegetables and low fat produce. I can't even count how many food journals I've started over the years. But as the month started to pick up momentum, I would realise that no matter how much I wanted to make those changes, my heart just wasn't in it. Again, I ask why? Well that's simple. It's because these were things I thought I should be doing and not things that I actually wanted to do. And so, a few years ago I made my last promise to myself, I promised that I would never make another new year's resolution ever again.
Instead I decided to approach things another way. I knew that I wanted to make changes but I also knew that I needed a more holistic approach. It suddenly occurred to me that if I could make small, almost incidental adjustments, then the bigger picture would gradually and effortlessly start to improve by itself. For example, I accepted once and for all the fact that I do not like gyms. Don't get me wrong, I have a wholehearted respect for people who use them, they are to be admired, but that way of exercising is not for me. I would rather take a long, slow, steady walk and absorb the outside world burgeoning around me. So I started to walk more often and before I knew it, I'd been out for three hours. I'd lifted my spirits, stretched my limbs and revived my energy. All of this with very little effort or persuasion on my part.
So every January, instead of making a list of resolutions, I think of a word; a word that sums up what I want the purpose of the year to be. Last year, my word was 'create' and I made good use of it. I started my blog and website, the response to which has been overwhelming. I took more time to create the home I wanted, considering how I wished it to look and making things to put in it. I began the process of creating a cottage garden, my first ever dahlia bed and I planted bulbs in old china and pots around the house. I created more opportunities for myself too, giving myself time to ponder and reflect. Most importantly, I created new friendships, both on social media and away from it. Do I care that I didn't lose weight last year? Does it bother me that I still can't jog 5K? I think you know the answer.
My word for this year is 'simplicity', What does simplicity mean to me and how will it affect positive changes in my life? I'm one of those unfortuante people who naturally complicates things. This holds me at a huge disadvantage because I actually don't cope well with complications. As soon as a plan goes off course, I lose enthusiasm and start to whinge at how impossible something has suddenly become. It's safe to say that I do not embrace change!
For the most part, simplicity means finding joy in the little everyday moments. Taking the most perfunctory and necessary things and elevating them to a higher level of appreciation. For instance there is a 'taking a bath' and then there is 'having a bath'. the first implies a process the second implies ownership. It's your bath, so make it yours. Light some candles, pour something indulgent into the running water and grab a magazine. Change the bed linen on the same day as you have a new book to start, plan a meal on your day off that takes a little more effort, start it early with your favourite soundtrack on and slowly enjoy the processing of cooking something you really want to eat. Go to a florist and actually choose a few stems, select the flowers that you want in your home, instead of settling for a mass produced bunch of flowers selected by someone else. Most importantly, put out your prized tea towel (yes, I had to get tea towels in here somewhere) it doesn't matter if it gets dirty, you can't enjoy it when it's tucked away in a drawer. And finally, my personal favourite, go for a stroll in the country in a dress, trust me, it sounds mad, but it feels great. I think you get the idea.
I'm hoping to strip life down this year, take it back to basics. I want to take pleasure in the smallest of things and not get bogged down by the trappings and complexities of the things that don't matter. I want to cut myself some slack, tell myself that life doesn't always need so much effort, that sometimes it's okay to let things go. I want to take the year at a pace that is defined by me and not anyone else. Obviously there will be appointments, responsibilities, duties and household chores but these things should be a small part of the day, not the focus of it.
There will always be a pile of ironing or a muddy patch by the back door but if the sun is shining I'm going to learn to ignore these things. I'm going to grab my basket and Sizzles's lead and I'm determined to go out into the fresh air. Because this is a promise I can keep, it won't break easily and more importantly, it's going to taste heavenly.