New Year’s revolution

December 30, 2015 § 9 Comments

I’ve never been one to celebrate the new year with champagne and kisses at midnight (although I’m prepared to entertain the kisses idea). On the evening of 31 December, I prefer a quiet evening in, and an early night. After all, the new year is a human construct – the galaxy knows nothing of a new year; the earth simply moves around the sun as it always has.

But this year is different, somehow. This year I want to mark a new beginning – not with champagne and streamers, but quietly, in solitude, with reflection. Because the last 18 months have been very, very difficult for me, and I’m overjoyed to see the back of 2015.

So I have made a little list of things I’d like to do differently next year. But it’s not a list of things I need to achieve to make me a “better person”. I’m done with the self-improvement movement. All it ever did for me was make me feel more like a failure, and damage an already fragile self-esteem.

No. I’m finally at the point where I’m starting to like myself a little, and it’s taken a lot of work to get here. Like everyone else I am flawed, and I’m okay with that. But I’ve also been told I’m strong, brave, loyal, honest, generous, hard-working, funny and kind. And that’s good enough to be going on with.

My list for 2016 has been formed not out of a sense of strong-arming or self-flagellation, but with a view to keeping myself healthier in mind, body and spirit.

Traditional resolutions are all about subtraction – lose weight, stop smoking, drink less – I’m taking a different approach. If I subtract anything from my life, it’s going to be things. I have far too much stuff. But apart from that, my aim is more joy, more (true) abundance, more contentment. I plan to add a whole lot of things to my life.

So, in 2016, I will try to:

  1. Prioritise sleep – without good sleep, everything else goes to pot.
  2. Be mindful, be present, be attentive – to every moment.
  3. Do one thing at a time.
  4. Jealously guard my personal time – office hours are for working in, leisure hours are for rest, relaxation and reconnection..
  5. Move more, sit less.
  6. Spend more time outdoors.
  7. Cook more and eschew convenience food. I’m slow food-ing my way through this year.
  8. Eat at the table, with crockery and cutlery, even if it’s pizza. No more eating on the run, in my car, at my desk, or out of cartons. (Exception: regular breakfast in bed is permitted.)
  9. Only eat food that I enjoy. That means no more “discomfort eating” – as Nigella Lawson has so aptly phrased it.
  10. Acknowledge when I am in distress, and allow myself to feel those uncomfortable emotions until they have passed.
  11. Trust my intuition.
  12. Treat myself with kindness and compassion.
  13. Seek out people and situations that energise me.
  14. Aim for excellence, not perfection.
  15. Listen to my body – rest when I’m tired, eat only when I’m hungry, exercise when I’m stressed and fidgety, and every nerve in my body is screaming at me to do something different.
  16. Practise gratitude – because I have so much to be thankful for.
  17. Love and laugh more – life is far too serious.

Yes, 1 January 2016 is just another day. But I feel the same way as I did at the beginning of each school year – 2016 is a brand new exercise book, with my name on it. It is mine to fill with my very best handwriting, in whatever ink I choose to use.

I won’t always get full marks. I may even fail from time to time. But as long as I pay attention in class, do all my homework, and do the best I can, I’m sure to learn something along the way.

Old things

December 8, 2015 § 1 Comment

This morning, as I contemplated how to cope with the latest heatwave in Johannesburg, I found myself going around the house as my mother sometimes did, drawing the curtains during the daytime, to hold out the sun.

If you leave a gap for the breeze to slip through, and block most of the window with the curtain, the house might be a little dark, but it’s also blissfully cool and strangely soothing.

On a Sunday afternoon, when I have the opportunity, I retreat to my bedroom for a nap. And again I find myself doing what my mother did. I draw the curtains, and the slight darkness tells my brain it’s time to nap. I remove my outer clothes and lay them on a chair so they aren’t rumpled, and slip between cool sheets in my underwear for a slumber that seems all the sweeter for the lack of encumbrance.

Perhaps it’s just a product of middle age, but I find myself gravitating away from the new towards some of the things my parents used to do, those old things society used to do before we all leapt on the treadmill of Modernise! Update! Improve!

In the relentless pursuit of progress, there are some old ways we’ve left behind, and which we could sorely use in today’s world.

I don’t only mean the quiet drawing of curtains when it’s hot or you want to nap. I don’t only mean the return to eating food that your grandmother would recognise as such, or cooking your own meals and eating at a communal table, or taking a daily ‘constitutional’ walk.

I mean some other old things too: kindness, gentleness, friendliness, warmth, consideration, courtesy, and respect. We’d all do well to employ a few more of those.

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