It’s 2017, and I’m in Amsterdam waiting for a plane to take me back to Ireland, where I’m spending the Christmas period. I’m starting the year as I mean to continue – in a place that’s not my home. I suspect that this year will be one of constant motion and disruption, but unlike the years that have gone before, where motion was part of a larger effort to disappear, now I run towards myself, eager to devour the next morsel of self-knowledge.
For years and years, the New Year heralded nothing but anxiety as I’d drunkenly count backwards from ten to twelve bells at midnight, feel a stranger’s tongue down my throat, and drink some more to avoid facing the reality that I was ringing in yet another year doing the very things I wanted to give up. Any realisation that dawned on me, I dismissed with a weary laugh. Drinking, in the company of people who didn’t care about me, who I didn’t care about. It happened year after year after year.
But a few nights ago, as the fireworks started to go off around us, as we watched from on top of the Albert Heijn supermarket in the Museumplein, the works of the Dutch masters asleep in the dark museums sprawling out at our feet, I can say that more things felt right than wrong. I was inspired, and sober; in good company but whole, alone.
Happily, I was in an unfamiliar place, out of my comfort zone. I was too distracted by the bitter cold, the desire to pee and the commotion (fireworks are legal, in the hands of or thrown like grenades by every local child and adult, every drunken tourist) to have a proper moment alone, but there was a brief second a few minutes after midnight that took the wind out of me; an explosion of fireworks in the distance brought these tears up in my eyes, and it was as though I was feeling everything that I’d felt in 2016 in one concentrated burst. The sum of my years’ joy and sadness was beating out of my chest, and for a second I was nothing but a hundred raw emotions before someone handed me a sparkler and the moment passed.
In saying that, it wasn’t overwhelming. In that second, I had the supreme feeling that everything was alright, and everything would be alright in the year to come. It was the same reassurance that I have felt in moments of meditation when I have felt close to my higher power; I wished that I’d been able to hold on to it for longer, but it burst forth and faded like a firework in the fog.
Now, as I look back on the year, I feel like it been such a sly one. Not the type that’s a stand-out in terms of things happening, but maybe a record-breaker for things not happening (in a good way). In the absence of big, obvious milestones or events I think that more has subtly shifted in this year than ever before, the effects of which I probably haven’t even felt yet.
But this time a year ago, I was smoking. I was drinking caffeine. I was binging on junk food a little more than I’d care to admit. I wasn’t so much too numb to write, but my hands were just warming after a long frost, and I didn’t know where to begin. I was as far from writing music as you could imagine, and wouldn’t have dreamed that I’d be performing my own songs at open mics by the latter half of the year, or regularly posting to a couple of blogs, just to get in the habit.
See, I am a seeker of the instantly gratifying, which makes me not unusual. In a sense that is what’s so pleasing about making New Years’ resolutions – the blank white pages of a new diary, or a bulleted list, or signing up for piano lessons or gym membership – bring pleasure to the present moment in the same way that a sip of something sparkling does. But perennial endeavours, or even spending a year’s worth of time and effort on something, aren’t quite as satisfying to think about. I want to be good at something now, or soon – my foreseeable future doesn’t stretch too far in the cerebral distance. I’d want to be able to almost touch it to consider it.
Until I quit drinking, I had no conception of the time it takes to start and finish something, or to learn or improve upon a skill. This is why I never started yoga, piano, songwriting, or my first novel. It’s why I gave up trying to give up drinking, too. The length of time that I would have to spend without any gratification, as well as the very palpable possibility of failure, were enough reasons to stop trying altogether. So in my safe space of gossamer ideas and ne’er-beginnings, little came to fruition, all was endurance and wanton consumption, as year after year rolled around drowning out the sound a soul makes when it’s living inauthentically.
As I reflect on the year past, I can see that what happened throughout wasn’t held in strict intention in the beginning. I believe that my only intentions at the beginning of the year were to stay sober and stay present. The former I did fully; the latter for the most part.
Perhaps in the future, I’ll be able to set bigger goals, but last year in the infancy of my free life I just began to slowly push myself. Rather than lay down a grand plan for the year, which I think would have been too wrought with all the old fears and anxieties, instead, I’ve been following a pagan calendar, and specifically a lunar one. So, on new moons, I set bite-sized intentions that are quite lenient and achievable, and they suit me just fine indeed.
This way, I’ve started to see that slowly, slowly, month upon month, things build without me struggling against the clock or my perceived insufficiencies. I am able to manage life in a way that I’ve never before been able to; not by completely avoiding my future, dreams and aspirations, but being present enough to realise that the future is just made up a hundred-thousand nows. Each month I light sage and candles and remind myself of who I am. Then, each day, if I can do one good thing for my soul – express myself creatively, take a walk, do laundry, meet a friend, help someone out, meditate, read a book – I stay on the path that I’m supposed to. It’s as simple as it is the most effective protection I’ve found against my own dark parts.
So I look upon the three-hundred-and-sixty-two sunrises ahead of me with excitement and joy, for there’s nothing more beautiful than a day, nor nothing more promising – and look how it fits right in the palm of your hand.