The new year as a threshold

Every moment offers a new beginning, but there is something special about the collective transition from one calendar year to the next.

It is and always has been a struggle for me not to get too caught up in new beginnings like this, to not be spellbound in the illusion that simply resolving to change will bring change, or that most of the mundane changes I desire, will bring lasting happiness.

And yet. A new beginning like a new year, if I use it skillfully—it can be an opportunity. It is a threshold at which I can pause and listen, receive instruction and energy, and set an intention. I can investigate and appreciate what has led me to this moment, and decide what can be let go of.

Last year I participated in a program that did in fact harness the energy that exists for me in the beginning and the ending of a calendar year, called One Little Word. Created by Ali Edwards, it involves choosing a word to focus on for the year, and as she says, “to live with, investigate, to write about, to craft with, and to reflect upon.”

My word for 2017 was Soul, and using monthly creative prompts from Ali I played with the word in all sorts of ways—set intentions, created a vision board, put together a play list, and a bunch of other fun things.

I’ll be doing it again this year, and my word will be Listen. As in listening to my inner voice, to others, and ultimately, listening to what can be be called my higher power, God or the Universe. But really, there were hundreds of words that are worthy of choosing—the gift is picking one and sticking with it while it works its magic.

One Little Word allowed me to shift away from seeing the new year as a pristine piece of white paper which I should resolve not to ruin, to instead seeing it as the space in which I can play and explore with intention, curiosity and imperfection.

If that appeals to you in any way, check out the One Little Word program for 2018. It would be fun to connect around it.

And just to clarify, I’m not an affiliate and don’t receive any money from Ali. As part of the class you can purchase some cool scrapbook/kit-making merchandise, but I used a sketchbook and my own crafty supplies.

 

Advertisements

Spending some time at the Threshold

When my husband and I moved our family from Boston to Stockholm last week, we decided to kick the whole she-bang up a notch by getting ourselves to Europe by boat on the Queen Mary 2. A week-long break between the stress of saying good-bye and hello appealed to us both. As the granddaughter of immigrants who had made their way to Ellis Island decades ago by sea, there was the romantic symmetry of returning to Europe on a boat for me as well.

oceanMostly though, I looked forward to experiencing the passage of seven days of trans-Atlantic travel, allowing my body to really feel the geographic scope of the experience, allowing it to catch up to the emotional and spiritual journey that my heart and head already knew I was making.

During the decluttering and packing frenzy leading up to “Crossing 2013,” a friend and family member pointed out that the boat ride was the missing element to make our move a true rite of passage.

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica in the ship’s library (satellite wi-fi being thankfully out of our budget here on the North Atlantic) rites of passage are “ceremonial events, existing in all historically known societies, that mark the passage from one social or religious status to another.”

Weddings, funerals, coming of age ceremonies, graduations – all are rites of passage designed to provide a productive outlet for the stress caused by major life changes. EB went on to say that folklorists and anthropologists break down rites of passage into three phases:

  1. the preliminal or separation phase,
  2. the liminal or transition phase, and
  3. the postliminal or reincorporation phase.

In other words, during this event one is before the threshold, at the threshold, and past the threshold. Anyone who has been on an odyssey knows how significant a threshold is, an invitation and a call to change.  Once crossed, there’s no turning back.

Apparently, all that decluttering I was doing back in Boston was the preliminal phase. In this stage, anthropologists note that we cut ties, we give things away, we fast, we mutilate our bodies with a good tattoo, piercing or even a good head shaving, as Britney Spears and the Army know full well. Getting rid of about 90% of my worldly possessions seemed to do the trick just fine, inducing a mental state probably  similar to an intense fast or mind-altering substance.

Then comes the limbo, the phase I have been in for the last 2000 or so nautical miles, literally and figuratively. This is the solitary walk in the woods, the 40 days in the desert, the vision quest. It’s the confinement before the birth, the hours during which the bride must remain hidden from her soon-to-be groom. It’s invisibility, it’s in between, it’s the period when the caterpillar becomes cellular goop  inside the chrysalis before reorganizing itself into a butterfly. In my case, that means being in between continents, in between jobs, in between communities, in between daily grinds and languages. There is no way to find solid footing here, no Facebook updates, texts or tweets in which to create a narrative to this truly plotless period of floating.

So here I am, in the doorway at the threshold. By the time you read this I’ll have taken the leap into the reincorporation stage, becoming reimbodied in my new role as just-off-the-boat immigrant, ignorant outsider, new hire, new neighbor, novice, beginner, a veritable tabula rasa.

But until then, there are waves to look at and miles to cross. Time to reflect and take in the physical and metaphysical significance of my adventure, to be freaked out by it and then to toast it with a glass of champagne. To all my fellow and future sojourners, seekers and pilgrims at the threshold, I raise my glass—cheers!

 “Come, come, whoever you are, wanderers, worshipers, lovers of leaving, ours is no caravan of despair, come, yet again, come!”

— Rumi