It’s the start of a new year. After two years riven by a pandemic that has tumbled our notions of ‘normal life’ the idea of ‘new’ carries a certain poignancy: has pandemic-life become endemic, is this the ‘new’ that awaits us? Here in London the sky is a cold winter metallic blue – beautiful and a blessing after weeks of leaden grey skies and rain. And yet. News reports warn that pollution levels in the city today are at their highest since 2018. And those disconcertingly high temperatures last month? England had the warmest new year on record… Along with our dawning realisation that repeated viral storms may now be a long-term reality, the here and now realities of extreme weather and the facts of planetary devastation have moved increasingly foreground in our consciousness.
The turning of the year is a good time to take stock. For many the year-end offers a window of spaciousness in which to reflect on the past year and to cast intentions forward – like long range fishing lines into the unknown of the year to come.
The Cambridge English Dictionary online defines taking stock as ‘to think carefully about a situation or event and form an opinion about it so that you can decide what to do’. Asking questions, making links, seeking meaning are my stock in trade as a coach. But ‘taking stock’ goes further than regular reflection and deeper than the tradition of making ‘new year’s resolutions’. ‘Stock’ refers to our roots, the trunk of our tree, our support structures, that inner-outer mobius of resources. I think our relationship with ‘stock’ has shifted profoundly over the last two years.
Taking stock undoubtedly means looking inwards as well as around us; and not just solo but also together. But how to ‘decide what to do’ in the current world? Are new year resolutions redundant? One could say that living with Covid has trained us to not make plans for the future. We have become used to get-togethers, holidays and work events cancelled at short notice. Instead, we attune to a climate of worry: for the health of friends and family, for our work, our education and health services, our children’s emotional and mental wellbeing…about the perilous state of our beautiful world, freshly lovely it seems as we blink our way into the new year. With exotic travel curtailed, and the future uncertain, are we learning perhaps to better appreciate the present moment and love the green spaces near to home more acutely?
So I am faced with a dilemma. I want to plan and shape my year to come, to feel that flush of mastery. At the same time I appreciate that control over my life is to a large extent illusory, at best partial. Most of what I do is either within comfortable tramlines, or contrariwise, adapting to unforeseen events – like my husband slipping in the mud on Exmoor this winter and rupturing his quad tendons ….
I return to my ponderings about the newness of the new year. Soaking up the gorgeousness of the blue sky (momentarily banishing the disturbing pollution reports), it comes to me with sudden certainty that rather than chasing the ‘new’, this new year is about re-newal. Taking stock this January is for me about nourishing that stock, my roots and resources, before branching out – even while decisions and plans for the months ahead are being urged upon me.
Renewal especially means refreshing my relationship with hope. Hope is not a casual or passive indulgence but an inner fierceness of spirit, a flame easily extinguished. I realise I often neglect to tend that fire. The kind of hope that sustains me is the kind that dissident playwright and former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel talks about:
“The kind of hope that I often think about…I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us, or we don’t. It is a dimension of the soul; it’s not essentially dependent upon some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation…[Hope] is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”