I hope that the holiday season now ending has provided you and your loved ones with comfort, warmth, and brightness, and that the start of 2024 brings some freshness and interest around the year to come.
As the year turns, I have been trying to balance energy for new projects with the natural pause and introspection that winter represents. Time to take stock of the year that has passed, and to dream, reflect, and plan for what’s beginning to unfold. To support this momentum, I participated in a New Year’s event for mindfulness teachers centered around shedding the old and envisioning the new led by one of my respected dharma teachers, Emily Horn. On January 1st, I also gratefully attended an in-person gathering at my local yoga studio, Castro Valley Yoga, centered on welcoming the New Year with intentionality that included meditation, yin yoga, journaling, and the sharing of reflections about challenges, aspirations, and the way forward. Like many of us, I’m apprehensive about what may occur in 2024, so I found these periods of formal practice centered around inclining toward the beneficial especially nourishing.
I’m writing this on the Twelfth Day of Christmas, known in the Christian tradition as the Epiphany. According to that wisdom stream, the three Magi, elite Zoroastrian priests trained in astronomy/astrology, alchemy, and sacred literature, saw a brilliant star rising in the night sky. Having studied the signs they were educated in, they under took a risky voyage from what is now Persia to Bethlehem to pay tribute to a child whose impact their sources informed them would be momentous. The spiritual urgency of their pilgrimage transcended religion, custom, and regime and attracted widespread attention, including that of Herod, the Roman-controlled ruler of Judea, who was not pleased by rumors of a newborn king. Nevertheless, without quite knowing what they would find, the Wise Men were compelled by the story they had found through nature, teachings, and the knowing of their own hearts. Is there a longing in you, as this new year begins, significant enough that you feel compelled to step beyond your comfort zone, journeying whether literally or metaphorically, to honor it?
I also recall my own childhood memories of January 6th, which in Italy is also the folk festival of Befana, a wise woman who according to legend was invited by the Magi to join them in bringing gifts to the remarkable newborn they sought. She declined the opportunity, insisting she was too busy–this maybe relatable to you, it certainly is to me! Soon regretting her decision, she committed herself going forward to bringing gifts to all the children of Italy on the night of the Epiphany, placing small toys and treats in the shoes of good children, and coal in those of the bad. Carbone di zucchero, or sugar coal (below), is still placed in shoes and stockings, providing children with a playful reminder to consider how ill-considered actions contribute to less than desirable results.
One of my goals for the New Year is to spend more time reading books and less time scrolling on my phone, since this restless and shallow attention undermines the capacity for sustained absorption and presence. This is also an exercise in everyday mindfulness, practicing to calm the chaotic, proliferative tendencies of the mind and return to the fundamental simplicity of the here and now. As with meditation, when the mind wanders off and I discover myself two pages into a chapter debating what to cook for dinner, I can bring myself back to awareness and begin again.
Also, there are so many books I want to read! Stacks of them, some from the library, some from bookstores, some read, many not. I’m intrigued by what comes up in relation to the presence of the unread books, including states of craving and aversion; curiosity and overwhelm; humility and ego. It turns out there is a Japanese word for this phenomenon: tsundoku, which can be translated as “leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.” Rather than being viewed as a negative habit, in Japanese culture surrounding ourselves with these is a wholesome reminder of all that we don’t know and of the interplay of dreams, wishes, limitations, and impermanence.
Italian scholar and novelist Umberto Eco, who owned 50,000 books, separated visitors to his library into two groups, the awestruck who seemed to assume he had read them all, and those who appreciated his enthusiasm and rightly supposed he had not. “It’s foolish to think you have to read all the books you buy. If for example we consider books as medicine, it is good to have many at home rather than few. When you want to feel better, you go to the “medicine cabinet” and select the right one for that moment. That’s why you should always have a choice.” Tsundoku understands reading as a journey not a destination, encompassing the hunger to know as well as the uncertain, unanswerable, and unlived. It holds the potential for all that can be experienced within the span of a mortal life, as well as all that will not, inviting us to awaken to that bittersweet interplay and deepening our gratitude for the time and opportunities we do have.
What’s your relationship to reading these winter days? What are you reading, or not reading, and how are you experiencing that process? How are you navigating the intersection of what’s possible to know and engage with, and what’s ineffable and unknown?
Another goal for 2024 is to continue with my four-part series linking mindfulness practices to the cycles of the seasons. Under that heading, I’ll be offering Four Seasons of Mindfulness: Winter on Tuesday, February 27th, 6- 7:30 pm Pacific Standard Time through the Remember Presence platform. This 90-minute online gathering will offer guided mindfulness meditation, reflection, discussion, and stories and poems related to the qualities of winter, a time of natural introspection, rest, and renewal. Join us to honor the sacred pause that winter represents and support your capacity to generate new energy, creativity, and opportunity with the arrival of spring. You can register using the link below:
I’d love to hear what’s alive for you this season and would be delighted if you dropped me a line about it. Meanwhile, sending warm wishes for rest, replenishment, care, and inspiration moving forward.