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Staying with the unknown

January can be a funny month. There’s an odd contradiction between the cultural energy of a new beginning, and the seasonal energy of not much happening: spring is still a long way off, January is definitely still winter in the natural world, and it’s the last time of year that I feel like eating salad or getting up early to meditate.

Some people say that the ancient Britons used to call January ‘quiet month’. For me, embracing a period of dormancy helps to sustain trust – that change is birthed out of the darkness. The natural world shows us this so powerfully. I love the author Katherine May’s observation that ‘winter is not the death of the life cycle, but it’s crucible’.

In our contemporary rituals around New Year, we still recognise the practice of letting go. But as we rush to grab hold of what comes next, I wonder if we are missing an opportunity to engage with the unknown.

Because we don’t know what will emerge in spring-time, do we try to make it more ‘known’ by imposing goals or creating self-improvement plans? When we’re impatient for change, it’s understandable that we fall into habits of control-seeking. In my own experience, if I put too much energy into trying to make change happen, it often results in frustration with myself at the least, if not a full-blown shame attack.

Mindfulness is a practice of patience, of staying-with: staying with our present-moment experience, rather than fantasising or catastrophising the future. Staying with emotional energy that may feel uncomfortable (even if we only need to ‘stay’ for a moment).

What if we stayed with the season, instead of rushing forwards?

Mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us that ‘Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time’.

What if the possibilities for new growth are beyond those that we can force, control, or hurry?

What if we stayed with the excitement and the mystery of the unknown?

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