How are your new year’s resolutions going? According to a survey, almost a third of us give up our pledges within the first month. But I believe there is hope for us all – and it has nothing to do with will power. In fact, will power may well be part of the problem.
Don’t despair: mother nature has a whisper of encouragement – and today is a good day to stop for a moment and listen to what she has to teach us.
We have only just crept into February, but the quality of the light has changed and the days are getting noticeably longer. The young sun, reborn at the winter solstice and now beaming a smile across the fields, seems to give everything a gentle glow. We have had some glorious, though cold, days. Winter is still at our heels and warmth has not yet returned, but this time of the year is more about light than heat. Life is returning.
Today is Candlemas – a Christian adaptation of the seasonal festival of Imbolc (pronounced im-olk), which celebrates the first stirrings of spring. Imbolc is believed to have meant either “in the belly” or “ewe’s milk” – referring to the lambing season.
It is traditionally held on February 2 but our man-made calendars do not always tie in with nature’s rhythms. In fact, it was just before the full moon last January when my stepdaughter told me she could smell spring in the air. January is generally regarded as still winter, but it was a sunny day and then I spotted snowdrops starting to push through the leaves in our garden. That’s proof enough for me that warmer days are just weeks away. We live near grazing sheep, but there is something about these delicate flowers that, for me, embodies spring’s gradual awakening – like the first light of day before the sun has risen.
And, associated as it is with St Brigid (who took over, it is believed, from the goddess Brigid), it is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate, and be open to, the gentler, feminine aspects of ourselves and the world around us. It is a time of listening to our quiet inner voice; of the arts and creativity, such as poetry; and inner and outer healing.
It is a time of clearing away the debris of winter and preparing the ground for planting, and choosing the seeds we hope to harvest later in the year. A good time, too, for a spring clean. February comes from the Latin for ‘purification’ – an important aspect of Candlemas.
What has this to do with new year’s resolutions? Everything.
Imbolc may see the first stirrings of spring, but there will be some wintry days ahead before we get into spring proper. Nature reminds us to rejoice in our small, sometimes overlooked and apparently insignificant, achievements. The fact we have planted the seed of a resolution is enough. Now we must be patient with ourselves and allow the seed to grow. There may be times when we fall short of our expectations. But we often learn more deeply from our failures than our successes. So, we acknowledge we slipped, pick ourselves up gently, and carry on.
Resorting to will power can result in a destructive inner battle of wills. In terms of “carrot and stick”, most of us are carrot people – we achieve most through positive encouragement (company managers should take note here if they want to improve productivity!). Very few of us do better after criticism – and so beating ourselves up for failing is counter-productive.
Imbolc teaches us that you cannot force spring. The seeds will grow in their own time, if we love and nurture the soil we plant them in. The same goes for new year’s resolutions.