Many older cultures appreciated the wheel of the year and understood that life is cyclical. But now we have calendars that just keep ticking on to the next year, marching forward in an endless line. Our modern-day culture acts like growth is only linear, always forward and upward. One should just keep hustling and hustling, adding and growing and pretty much never slowing down. We have no time set aside to honor darkness, death, and rebirth.
But, if you look at the natural cycles of the Earth, there are dark and quiet times, and there are bright and loud times. And our bodies crave to be linked to these cycles. When we go against them, we are setting ourselves up for struggle.
Which brings me to this idea of New Year's day and the push for resolutions. Have you ever noticed that there is a lot of shaming around people not sticking to their New Year’s resolutions? There are so many jokes about how the gyms fill up and then after just a few weeks, they empty out again. Or about people starting ambitious new diets and regimens, and then falling off pretty quickly.
But you shouldn’t feel ashamed if this was you in past years. It’s not surprising if you consider the seasons. What time of year is January 1st really? In most places in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s dark and cold. The days, although they are slowly getting longer, are still pretty short, and most people feel like hibernating.
If we look at a traditional Wheel of the Year, one that is a combination of many nature-based spiritual practices, we see four holidays which celebrate solar events
the solstices — winter and summer
the equinoxes — spring and fall
The solstices are either the longest day (summer solstice) or the longest night (winter solstice) of the year. They are days to think about embracing new energy, either that of going inward and honoring the darkness or of outward growth and welcoming back the light.
The equinoxes are days when the light and dark is almost perfectly balanced. And these are good days to think about balance, to contemplate the pauses between change. To think about where you’ve been and where you are going.
There are also four traditional “cross-quarter days” — the days that fall evenly between each of these. These holidays typically celebrate seasonal changes, planting, and harvests.
Feb 1st: Imbolc The celebration of the beginning of spring and new beginnings
May 1st: Beltane Celebrating fertility and the midpoint between spring and summer
August 1st: Lammas The first harvest
November 1st: Samhain The final harvest and the celebration of death
So, if we consider setting our goals to be more in line with the seasons, where should those resolutions happen?
Although the winter solstice is a peaceful and sweet holiday to celebrate the return of the sun, it’s also recognized that we will continue tending the fire and waiting for the signs of spring. It’s not time yet for movement.
The next holiday, the cross-quarter day between the solstice and the spring equinox, falls on February 1st. This is a great time to start to set intentions as we recognize that the earth is coming back to life. Although it’s still cold, we can start to observe signs of spring, sap running, crocuses appearing and birds beginning their return.
The vernal, or spring equinox is the day to really burst forward with our biggest goals though. This is when things really start to grow in earnest, and those quiet seeds we planted can begin to grow. We have to water and tend to them, so this is probably the best time of year to really begin these very ambitious plans. Then we can move into high summer, ready to reap the fruits of our labor.
With all that said, I would argue that from the Winter Solstice until February 1st, we should spend time dreaming, planning and really taking some time to go inward. Maybe start a meditation practice, or use journaling and writing as a way to uncover your deepest hopes and fears. Maybe it’s a good time for a short cleanse, to clear our minds and bodies for the coming work. Use this time to burn away whatever limits you may be placing on yourself and create a plan for spring.
But whatever you choose to do at this time, it should be more introspective, quiet and restful. It should feel nourishing, to your body, mind, and soul. The dead of winter is not a time for deprivation or pushing our bodies to extremes.
After this time of going inward and making space, we will then be ready to jump into the natural movement of the energy of spring and ride the tide, rather than forcing something before it’s ready. This way, our resolutions will feel natural and exciting, not like a chore to pile onto an already exhausted body.
So, for now? Leave the gym membership and juice cleanses until spring. Have that second cup of tea, curl up under a blanket and dream about what you want your life to look like as the seeds underground are still in their dark beds. Take time to get really clear on what you’d like to bring into reality and as they begin to burst out of their shells and grow towards the light, you will start to grow too.