Go Gently into the New Year

The past is never passed. And there is no such thing as moving on. But there is this telling. And there is such a thing as passing through. 

These words are from The Untelling, a brilliant novel by Tayari Jones. I love this book; it's the best writing I have read in quite awhile--and if the truth be told, I don’t typically like to read fiction.

The novel is about a family's devastating loss and how it changes their entire physical and emotional landscapes. They eventually overcome their guilt and regrets, and although they don’t necessarily move on, they do successfully pass through their trials.

More than a scent of the season

With my nose buried in the book, I couldn’t help but think of a fragrance that helps us "pass through" painful, stressful and life-altering moments. I learned about it many years ago on Martha's Vineyard. I was attending a workshop on distilling marjoram plants into essential oil, and throughout the two-day event the workshop leader carried a little handkerchief infused with the warm, woody and slightly lemon-y scent of frankincense. She had recently lost a beloved pet and the scent provided solace.

Since then, I have met people who have carried a bottle of frankincense in their purse or pocket for months following a significant loss or major life transition. Extracted from the resin of a tree that originates in the Middle East, frankincense has long been used for spiritual healing. The incense you smell at church? Frankincense; it's still widely used in today's religious ceremonies.

In his book, The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Australian aromatherapist Salvatore Battaglia explains it like this: "Frankincense slows down breathing and produces feelings of calm. This tends to bring about an elevating and soothing effect on the mind. Ideally used for meditation, it has been discovered that burning frankincense produces a psycho-active substance, trahydrocannabinole, which expands consciousness. Its comforting and refreshing action is helpful for anxious and obsessional states linked to the past."

The pressure is on

As we leave 2017 behind there is pressure from many corners to overcome, "get over" and fix those things that haven't been working for us, personally and professionally.

You're familiar with the mantra. Move forward. Resolve to make fewer mistakes. Do better. Erase and eradicate what's not working, and achieve, excel and let the good times roll.

After all, a shiny new year stretched out before us is exciting. It’s rife with possibilities and opportunities for resolutions and do-overs, goal setting, and for righting old wrongs and forging new beginnings.

Overwhelmed? You're not alone. Simply thinking about all of the mistakes we've made in the past year and our expectations to atone for them in the one ahead is daunting. 

Maybe, just maybe, we're looking at this all wrong.

The reality + a gentler way

I read somewhere that 50 percent of the U.S. population makes New Year’s resolutions, but only 8 percent of the population keeps them.

Unfortunately, the pressure resulting from our unrealistic expectations for a new year can set us up for failure even before the page on the calendar turns to February. 

At least for me, the takeaway from Tayari Jones’ novel, The Untelling, seems like a better and gentler way to leave 2017:

Even if you can't move on, you can indeed pass through. 

Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and safe passage into and through the New Year.