Every January I get that same, giddy feeling. Another year full of potential lies before us like uncharted territory. But there could be trouble ahead. As cartographers used to write on unexplored lands — here be dragons.
Will this be the year we finally lose weight? Win the lottery? Have unforeseen surgery? Finally get married? Finally get divorced? Move?
Lose that last, dumb, bad habit? Lose the house in a fire?
It’s exciting when you think about it — so many possibilities, so many potential disasters. Here be dragons indeed.
Maybe this year we’ll go camping. Or volunteer at the after-school literacy program. Or start painting again. Or finally watch the rest of Game of Thrones. Or not.
One thing I’m finally going to do for sure is update all my software, and back up all my files to an external drive and the cloud. Yeah. Sure.
And clean out the garage, and take those dried up paint cans to the recycling place — and the old electronics and computers too. As soon as I download all the documents and folders off of them. Any minute now.
And I’ll finally get my office filing system purged, sorted, and, well, filed.
And the photos. Oh God, the photos.
So, January is looking pretty busy.
But then I stop and tell myself, wait. Hold on. Why are you doing this again? Why are you creating all these ridiculous scenarios, these bright fantasies of accomplishment? It’s one thing to have aspirations — it’s another to be delusional.
What’s really going to happen is this. On that fine January morning I’m going to get up, have some coffee, read for a bit, then log on and take care of correspondence. A dozen emails to write, website updates to create, performance and speaking schedules to manage. And then there are upcoming writing deadlines to prioritize, and articles, columns, and courses to plan, draft, format, and finalize. By then it’s lunch.
After lunch I notice that the kitchen could use some attention. I’ll empty, then fill the dishwasher. And throw in a load of laundry, or three. Maybe pop over to the store for some food, and get a plan for dinner going.
Then I remember that the car needs gas, and there are a few things at the dry cleaners that need picking up. I’ve forgotten them so long they probably sold them by now.
Pulling back into the driveway I see my neighbor raking the last leaves of winter from beneath her bare trees. We chat for a while about neighborhood stuff and recent travels — hers to London, ours to Sedona — and then I hear the drier buzzer. Time to swap loads.
Coming back into the house with my groceries and dry cleaning I see that the cat has vomited in the hallway. I clean it up.
I put away the groceries and wonder what surprises all those unmarked containers in the freezer hold. They must be something good or I wouldn’t have frozen them. I’ll figure it out later.
Then a cool song I heard in the car by Dawes or Steve Earle or somebody rises up in my head and I grab my guitar to chase whatever comes along. A new song takes shape. I am only vaguely aware that I have anything to do with it — it seems to be writing itself, or simply arriving. I have two verses, a chorus, and part of a bridge when the buzzer sounds again. I take the hot, dry clothes out of the dryer and load in the cold, soggy ones from the washer. I push the buttons.
I see that the mail has arrived. Including those two checks I’ve been waiting for. I sign them and deposit them with the credit union app on my phone.
The phone rings and I talk to a friend for half an hour.
The sun is getting low. Better start dinner.
And fold the laundry.
When Lori gets home from her long day at work, we finish making dinner and eat. Then more dishes.
And now it’s dark. It’s been a long day. Feet up.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll get to that garage clean-up and all the rest of the things on my to-do list. But now, I got a peaceful, easy feeling. The work is done.
Some laughs. Stories. Reconnection. Holding hands as we fall asleep.
What’s the point of having a home if you don’t stop to enjoy it? Your house shouldn’t only be a work site, a place of unending obligations and incomplete tasks. A home should be a refuge, a safe place to hide, a soft place to land. A place to dream dreams.
I’m taking a second look at my January plans.
Maybe this time I’ll just keep it simple. One thing at a time. As I engage in each task, really be present in that task, instead of thinking about the next nine things I have to do as soon as I finish this one. And leave plenty of time between for neighbors, songs, and the beauty of the world pouring in through the windows.
A contemplative mood is one of the special treasures of winter.
January may be a time of starting over. But it’s also a time for looking back. January gets its name from the Roman god Janus, the keeper of keys and doorways. (Janus is also where janitors get their name — they too have the key to every door). Janus has an unusual feature. You’d notice it right away if you ever saw him. He has two faces — one looking back and one looking forward. This gives Janus a breadth of awareness many of us lack. Most of us focus only on our own narrow, immediate interests.
But Janus sees it all. The wisdom he’s gained from his long perspective enables him to correctly assess the value of this present moment. He’s well aware of everything that’s been lost. And he’s also aware that up ahead there be dragons. But it doesn’t stop him from turning the key and opening doors anyway. He doesn’t hide from the past, nor does he fear the future. His is a total and heartfelt acceptance. In his wisdom he knows what to do, and he knows how to do it.
So do we.
The balance we strike between intention and renunciation is the vibrant nexus from which our most authentic creativity comes. Are we willing to show up fully alive in this next now moment, free from the past and heartily accepting of the future? More than any other force, the consciousness we bring into this moment shapes whatever unfolds. When we resolve to live purposefully, deliberately, authentically, and courageously, the doors begin to open. We hold in our hands the keys of Janus. And damn the dragons. “Once you make a decision,” Emerson wrote, “the universe conspires to make it happen.”
Peter Bolland is a writer, speaker, and singer-songwriter as well as the chair of the humanities department and professor of philosophy at Southwestern College where he teaches comparative religion, Asian philosophy, ethics, and world mythology. Everything you need to know is at www.peterbolland.com