Writing an article at the beginning of January, I find myself pondering about the new year.
I gave up making good resolutions, as they tend to be quickly forgotten once daily life takes over again. But new year is a shift, a transition, and there is this familiar feeling of ‘starting afresh’ resonating throughout these first days of January.
I wonder why this feeling is still around, as ‘starting afresh’ sounds weird given our situation in the midst of pandemic. Regardless of the change of year, public life is still restricted, health and safety rules are still in place to define people-to-people contact, a hug has not become a normal gesture again.
And still - many of us are longing for a new start after an extraordinary, exhausting year. In the best wishes for the new year, the relief was plain to see: Finally, this chaotic, sometimes devastating or profoundly sad year came to an end.
Seeing the light in the darkness
For all of us, 2020 was far from being easy. In each crisis, there is loss and deep suffering; but there is also learning, insight, new challenges.
So, shouldn’t we bear these experiences in mind, instead of pushing them away or judging 2020 as a “lost year”, as some media did? Why not build the new year on our learning and insight instead of just ‘starting afresh’?
By turning towards our experiences – both the uplifting and challenging ones – we can try to create a learning base to grow this year. “The wound is the place where the light enters you”, Sufi poet and philosopher Rumi wrote in the 13th century. And surely, in the midst of all the difficulties we encountered in 2020, we sometimes found unexpected help, kindness, creative improvisation, maybe even a new perspective.
Seeing people for who they truly are
As I reflect upon learnings I could take with me into the new year, I remember a drawing in a newspaper, showing a man with glasses on his nose looking like two viruses, characteristically crown shaped.
For me, the drawing mirrored my own gaze into the world through these lenses, towards the end of last year, when I started to perceive other people as a threat (and realised I could be one for others). A crowd of people in the street – a threat. A person coughing behind me – a threat. Friends of my children – a potential threat, too.
At the core of this uneasiness was (mis-)trust. By asking myself a hundred times (and more) what I was allowed to do, whom I could meet, how many people at the same time and what would be safe, I ended up seeing other people in a different light – through specifically coloured lenses.
While I sensed a strong interpersonal connectedness and solidarity a few months earlier, with the raising infection numbers in autumn this feeling drained away. In addition to the physical distance, I built up an emotional distance to people I met in the street, in a shop, at my children’s school, at our front door.
To a certain extent, it is normal to develop protective habits in times of pandemic. We shouldn’t forget though that behind each mask there is another individual, another human being with their own fears, struggles and wishes. Maybe this can help us to consciously discern the mostly hidden faces and rebuild trust in our fellow human beings.
Rebuilding trust and connectedness
When you look up the word trust, you come across related meanings such as reliability, faithfulness, confidence. At the time of the Vikings, it also meant to make strong and safe. Jon Kabat-Zinn said:
“We need to trust other people if we want to have meaningful relationships with them – this doesn’t mean that we have to naively trust everybody, but if we mistrust the whole world around us, life becomes very poor and cold.”
It is the quality of our interpersonal relationships that has carried us through the current crisis and will do so in the coming months. Feeling connected, reaching out to other people’s hearts will make us much stronger and resilient.
So instead of a good resolution fading away too quickly after a few weeks, I prefer to set an intention as the new year is starting off: Seeing people for who they truly are. Recognising our common humanity.
As a start, perhaps try out a loving-kindness meditation to cultivate good will, friendliness and compassion towards others and yourself.