Snow has finally starting falling in Saskatchewan, as January brings in a new year and its usual push for resolutions. At the same time, my social media feed is also full of gentle reminders that it is okay to just have made it through. I have been thinking about how these two extremes can be healthily connected at the heart of things. Like snow falls gently over the ground, and fog wraps its way over the earth, it is a gently held intention that allows us to move peacefully through the season we are in.
First, I want to consider the autumns and winters of our lives, the seasons of rest after the harvest and hibernation, of decline and death. There can be so many reasons we find ourselves in a time in which we cannot set lofty goals. Some of them might be under- or unemployment, caregiving, serious mental or physical illness, grief, or exhaustion.
In these seasons, resolutions can feel like a tempting way to jumpstart something new. (If that works for you, please go ahead.) For me, intense resolutions have resulted in a variety of failures. Sometimes, I made significant purchases I could not really afford to try to force myself to comply with a goal that felt valuable, despite its impossibility. Other times, I pushed myself harder into exhaustion and overwhelm, only to fail and then cause further destruction by nasty self-criticism. And I have rejected resolutions and just bathed in self-pity a few times too.
In the darkest and most draining seasons of my life, I found compassion at the end of my capacity. Crawling out of depression, loss, and grief taught me that there is a different kind of resolve held in a soft and open heart that holds intention. Where darkness pulled me under in depression, I held gently allowed the tiniest bits of light to reach me. In loss, I gave myself permission to fall apart. Grief pushed me to choose beauty alongside heartache.
The intention that lies under mounds of snow and layers of fog keeps something tiny and warm close to my heart while ice forms on my eyelashes and wind whips at my face. The intention does not change the difficulties of intense seasons, but it does allow me to surrender to surviving what must be endured before things get better.
Seasons do eventually arrive in my life that are more like spring and summer. Times that are about planting and building, dreaming and hard work, pushing toward and realizing things hoped for. The soft intention tends to work better that rigid and extrinsic resolutions for me in these brighter seasons too. Every seed that is planted has a unique shoot that grows. Depending on the amount of water and sunlight, the time and space for weeding, the direction of the wind, the plant that grows changes in real-time response to the environment as it grows. The plan for the plant ideally evolves in light of what actually happens in my life.
For example, I hold an intention to honour the ache to write. Rather than resolving to write for an hour a day, I come up with three to five different ways that writing can happen in the midst of my full life, including 5 minutes of journaling, a list of writing ideas on the counter, making a writing appointment with myself, or putting a single word or phrase down to paper. It is possible to honour my intention even when a full hour of writing isn’t going to be possible. I consider three things I could stop doing and write instead.
I make my choices, moment by moment, and observe them without judgement to see if the ache to write emerges into the desire and capacity to actually do so. When the seeds of the intention start to push up shoots, I can see and respond to the growth.
There will be seasons for surviving and falling apart. For building little fences around the tiniest bits of hope. There are times ripe for good enough and making do. For showing up for someone else and coming second. And there are times where everything comes together. For deep satisfaction. May a soft intention for something beautiful and good lie under it all.