Longing for a Quiet December

It’s 1st December.  How the heck has that happened? 

My 2016 vision board || raeritchie.com

Glancing to my right, I see the vision board that I made right back at the start of January and I think about the goals I was aiming for.  Some I’ve achieved, others are still outstanding.  Life has got in the way of certain plans.  The mental health issues sadly scuppered getting married (and yes, I know it’s just postponed but I still feel both sad and angry about this).  There are a few things that I just need to get on and sort out in order to get done: going horse riding, for instance, or reading Middlemarch (if finishing it within a month is ambitious then I could at least get started).

Only trouble is that I can’t be arsed.  I could go a considerable way to achieving the remaining goals which I set myself in the time that is left, only I just don’t have the inclination or the energy.  Last week I may have written (with the help of friends and readers) a blog post about the good aspects of the maligned year that has been 2016, but I still can’t wait to turn over the first page of a new calendar.  January offers a fresh start which, however mythical, feels appealing right now.

Woolacombe Beach, Devon, 31st December 2015 || raeritchie.com

What does this desire to get to 2017 mean for the rest of 2016?  Is my urge to begin again affecting my attitude toward the month we have left?  The answer is most definitely yes.

I love whole festive season but this year my enthusiasm is seriously dampened.  My partner and I had the Christmas discussion on Saturday evening and he rightfully pointed out that my sigh and groan when mentioning Christmas cards was a sign that I ought to not bother sending any this year.  We are also having debates about the tree.  Last November going to choose one from a nearby Christmas tree farm was one of the highlights of my whole year and I waxed lyrical about it to anyone who would listen.  This year we’re considering get a pre-potted one from a supermarket or maybe not even bothering at all.

This lack of vim and vigour bears no relation to actual demands or levels of responsibility.  We only have eleven gifts to get between us.  We’re even going away on Christmas Day thus are avoiding much of the season’s labour – cooking, hosting, trying to keep everyone pleased – but even so the impending holiday feels like hard work that I don’t have the energy for.

What to do?

My instinct is to go full throttle, ramping up the gears from now until the end of the month in an attempt to jump start myself into feeling Christmassy.  That would be my usual approach – forcing myself to be festive to fit in with my self-image as someone who loves Christmas.  I’d be forcing myself because of what I think it means if I don’t turn on the bells and whistles – that I’m a curmudgeonly, negative miser who doesn’t value the opportunity that this time of year offers to truly connect with family and friends while celebrating the best that life has to offer (usually in the form of edible substances).

Glade Jul (Happy Christmas) by Viggo Johansen (1891) - my favourite image of Christmas & one that for me evokes the softness and comfort of a quiet December || raeritchie.com
Glade Jul (Happy Christmas) by Viggo Johansen (1891) – my favourite image of Christmas & one that for me evokes the softness and comfort of a quiet December

I don’t want to be that person, but nor do I want to cajole myself into an emotional state that doesn’t fit.  Moreover, that approach never works.  Instead I need to go with the flow of how I’m feeling.  I need to let go of the shoulds and oughts and focus on what is.  I need to accept that however much is actually going on in my life, this festive season is a quiet one; sombre, even, given the events of the year in both my own life and the world at large.  The prospect of a quiet December makes me breathe deeply as my shoulders relax.

A quiet December, no goal setting or added demands, feels good.

A quiet December…but we may still get a tree.

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Week 13: The Gift of Light

As I sit down to write, it’s a proper grey December
afternoon.  Ostensibly still in the
middle of the day, there’s been no sign of the sun even though science tells me
it is actually still there, hidden away behind the thick blanket of cloud.  It’s a good job physics et al have a
reasonable track record in being correct about this kind of stuff else right
now I’m not sure I’d believe them.

Returning to my computer after lunch, I immediately flicked
on all the electric lights in the room.
Then, in an action that has been repeated innumerable times in countless
locations over many a long year, I struck a match.  I struck a match and lit the lone candle that
sits on my office desk.  Suddenly the gloom
lifts.  Illuminated by the flickering
wick near the window, the scene outside takes on a new atmospheric hue, making
me almost want to bundle up and head out for some of its fresh, crisp air.  Inside, the room assumes a golden glow, an
aura of festivity and sparkle.  My mood
is lifted and I am ready to write and work.
The little candle will remain my constant companion in the hours ahead,
the flame seeming to burn even more brightly once the grey sky drifts to black.

Of course in the same way that I know the sun is there somewhere
behind the clouds, the rational part of my brain knows that the 100w
bulbs overhead are doing more to light the room than the one small votive.  But what we know to be true does not always
correspond neatly with what we feel, or what we would like to believe.  And perhaps that is never more true than in
the depths of winter.  For good or ill, magic
and mystery lurk in the dark shadows that embrace the northern hemisphere
during these months.  

It’s perhaps no surprise that so many faiths have a major
festival during this fourth quarter of the calendar year.  Our souls, whatever label we attach (or
none), long for a flicker of light and a glimmer of truth about what it means
to be alive when so much around us seems to be dead.  In this context, a cylinder
of wax can take on a huge weight of symbolism,
from the advent candle to the Hannukkah menorah.

In this thirteenth and final week of The Fourth Quarter seasonal journey, I’d like to encourage you too
to light a candle.  It doesn’t have to
mean anything other than being a pretty twinkle on a tabletop.  Or it can be a light in the dark in the most
profound way you can possibly imagine.
It might be somewhere in between the two.  

Ignite a candle this week and in the weeks ahead if for no
other reason than to bring another source of light into your life, however
small.  We all need a bit of extra light
sometimes, and we have the ability to give that gift to ourselves as simply as
with striking a match.

As with over the previous twelve weeks, you can share your
thoughts and images either the A Life Of One’s Own
Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Instagram and/or
Twitter.  This is it in terms of The Fourth Quarter autumn and winter
journey.  I cannot believe how quickly
the months have passed!  I’ve loved
sharing my seasonal reflections with you and hope that they’ve bought comfort
and joy, to hijack a currently seasonal phrase.
From the new year I’ll be back to sharing regular blog posts but if
there’s anything in particular you’d like to see me write about (or indeed
*read* me write about!) then get in touch.
Suggestions are always welcome as I want to be as much help to others as
I can be.  

Have a happy holiday season all, and I’ll see you back here
in 2016.

Week 11: As with tea, with life

When I came up with the idea for The Fourth Quarter seasonal journey through autumn and winter, a
list of weekly symbols quickly emerged, as did what felt like the right running
order for them.  I didn’t plan them out
in detail, but I had clear thoughts about the themes behind each one; last
week’s reflection
on bathing
, for instance, I wanted to represent quietness and moments of
solitude.  What has surprised me as the months
have passed by, though, is the extent to which the meanings and metaphors have
evolved.  I *thought* I knew what each
week would be about, but the journey has taken on a life of its own (apt given
the title of my site and coaching practice!).
This perhaps isn’t surprising, but what is notable is that each symbol
has remained completely apt.  If anything,
the symbols have become even more pertinent.
In an Elizabeth Gilbert Big
Magic kind of way
, it is as if I have been the vessel through which the
concept and symbols found form but my real world brain has taken a while to
catch up with what they all actually mean.

This week’s focus, tea, has proved a particularly strong
example of this, what I can only inelegantly describe as ‘not what I thought
it’d be but totally right’.  In my
original human thinking, it was going to be all about a relaxed form of
hosting, offering people tea as a gesture of hospitality and forging
connection.  That would have been totally
fine, I’m sure; maybe even good.  Yet the
mysteries of creativity have another agenda that is forcing its way on to the
page.  Let’s see where it takes us…

This time two years ago, I developed a dairy
intolerance.  Seemingly out of the blue,
I literally could no longer stomach milk or cheese.  Adjustments to my diet followed, and I swapped
cow’s milk for first soya and then almond milk.
This generally worked well, only I didn’t like the taste of other kinds
of milk in tea.  As a result, English
breakfast tea, a former staple of my day (and one of the few attributes of the
British nation that I was happy to share), vanished from my life, replaced by
herbal varieties or coffee without milk.

Strangely, despite years of heavy consumption, I didn’t miss
it – so much so that even as my tolerance for dairy products has improved, I
haven’t returned to drinking it.  Then
the other Sunday, I was out with a friend and we were having old fashioned
cake.  Coffee just seemed like a weird
accompaniment, so English breakfast tea it was, served in a proper cup and
saucer too.  And just like that, proper
tea was back in my life, like a lost love or the prodigal child, reunited at

What does this symbolise?
Of course it may mean nothing at all; it may simply be that I went off
tea and now I like it again.  This is
undoubtedly partly the case, but I think there is something figurative going on
inside those cups of char as well.  The
lesson I’ve drawn from it is that things change, and not just once and for
all.  Life is a constant ebb and flow.  Sometimes we’ll like tea, at other points we
won’t, there may be occasions where we can’t have it – and then it could all
shift again.  As with tea, with life:
people come and they go, relationships blossom and wither, jobs are started
then finished.  And the same is true of
identities.  Certain labels may serve us
well at one time but down the line they may no longer suit.  The danger comes when we cling on, refusing
to let go or allow the cycle of change to continue.  I was a tea drinker, then I wasn’t.  I couldn’t drink tea, then I simply didn’t
drink tea.  Now I get to choose: maybe I
will, maybe I won’t.  I don’t need a
definite position on the issue.  

I hope these thoughts resonate with you over the weeks
ahead.  December is a month packed with
annually occurring events and traditions that can make us feel like each year
is – or somehow should be – the same as the one before or one when we were kids
or one that occurred way back in some mythical past before that.  Except it isn’t like that.  This December does not have to be the same as
the last one.  Things change, you change,
the world changes.  Today you may have
coffee; tomorrow you might have tea.  As
with tea, with life.

I’m off to put the kettle on.

Tell me what it is that you are drinking right now,
literally and metaphorically!  You can
get in touch via the A
Life Of One’s Own Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on
Instagram and/or Twitter.

New year…but Christmas first

Anyone else out there feeling the new year vibe yet?  Or is it just me?  Please tell me I’m not alone…although perhaps I am!  Whereas a month or so ago January seemed out of sight, now it is coming into vision.  Much of what has been happening here at A Life Of One’s Own lately focuses around the end of this year and the early months of 2015.  I’ve begun planning a new year workshop and am also in discussions about running a short course on journaling in January and February. 

As well as these two events, my mind has started to scheme and hatch up other dreams and goals for 2015, both in my personal and professional life.  Maybe it’s because I’ve made more progress than I ever could imagined at the beginning of 2014 and now I’m keen to push further, to develop fresh ambitions.  Maybe it’s because the long dark nights are a bit depressing and looking ahead to the new year and the promise of spring is a means of escapism.  Either way, I have that clean slate, fresh start 1st January feeling in my bones.

There is, of course, one problem with that: namely, that there are still forty-two days to go until we get to 2015.  I don’t want to miss out on being present in the here and now, in my actual life, by dreaming and scheming for the future. 

In particular, I don’t want to miss out on all the joy and excitement of Christmas.  I want to show up for every single day and drink in the glitter and the sparkle and the warm fuzzy glow of it all. 

I want to be able to do this even though I have some major work deadlines before then.  Even though I haven’t thought about my Christmas shopping yet.  Even though this Christmas Day will be totally different from every other one I’ve ever had.  Even though I haven’t a clue when the final posting date for New Zealand is and that information would be really useful right now*. 

How am I going to do this?  By opening up to the suggestions I put forward in 24 Days Before , the advent journey that I’ve created.  I designed 24 Days Before to support participants in reaching in and reaching out at what is generally the craziest time of the year, and I’ve realized that I need that support as much as anyone – so I’ll be joining in opening the daily email along with those women from around the world who have already signed up for it.          

If you want to join us on this journey and explore ways to deepen a sense of meaning and connection during December, all the details are over on the 24 Days Before page.  

42 days until the end of the year…why not share a journey for 24 of them?

* The answer is 3rd December.  I just looked it up.  All the final posting dates from the UK are detailed here.


24 Days Before: an advent journey

Remember the excitement and anticipation generated from having an advent calendar when you were a child?  What if you could recreate similar feelings about Christmas now you’re an adult?  How amazing would it feel if you could capture some of the fun and delight – maybe even [gasp!] pleasure ­– of the festive season again, rather than treating December like a time that you just need to get through?  Imagine waking up on Christmas Day feeling nurtured rather than frazzled, loving rather than harangued, childlike rather than Scrooge-like.  Like that idea (and who wouldn’t?!)?

Then how about receiving an advent calendar equivalent of your own?

24 Days Before is an advent journey designed to help you deepen a sense of connection in the run up to Christmas.  For more information, including details about how to book, visit my 24 Days Before page: http://www.alifeofonesown.co.uk/24daysbefore