Sat on London’s Southbank, looking at the river, eating an egg sandwich on my own, about to write a new story. It’s Christmas Eve.
About 10 minutes ago I switched on my laptop and began the unconscious process of entering my password. The magical muscle memory of my fingers doing the thinking for me.
‘Incorrect Password, please try again, you have 3 attempts left’.
Off I go again, this time with an eye on the process, supervising but still allowing the fingers to do the work.
‘Incorrect Password, please try again, you have 2 attempts left’.
OK so I’ve just come back to London after a short sharp surprise visit to my Mum’s, where my family were having an early Christmas Day; before the kids go to their Mum’s for proper Christmas Day. This year I decided to break a 39 year old tradition and not spend proper Christmas Day at the family home. Graduating myself into an Adult state of mind that prioritises my needs as well as the needs of others. Seasonal Selfcare if you like. In a lot of ways, the decision was kind of a big deal. I don’t actually have a clear reason not to be there. I’m not sacking them off for a better offer. I have no other offer. But I felt a voice inside offering better.
I rang Mum and told her that the familiar family story where the baby son arrives in the humble nest (really, I’m not comparing myself to the Baby Jesus) would not be happening this year. Shitting myself, her response was:
“You’re an adult now and I want you to know that I understand that you will want to do different things. You’re not a kid anymore”.
The freedom in her words, the permissions she gave, made me immediately book a train ticket to Gloucester to surprise them all on their early Christmas Day on Christmas Eve Eve. Whattaguy!
And I’m just back. Head a little foggy after a late night and a few hours on the sofa (all the beds were taken, no room at the inn) and a treacherous journey through First Great Western planned engineering works. So you can forgive me for getting something simple like a password, wrong?
Third time lucky, full attention and awareness on the 24 characters that make up my password. With the intention of pressing each key in firm focus. I realise very quickly that my keyboard is broken. Sad face emoji (but without the close bracket as 9 doesn’t work). I switch off, on, off on and 2 minutes later I have arranged a call back from Google tech support (literally amazing) and he tells me to perform a system reboot. Preempting the instruction, I say, ‘I’ve done this many times and it doesn’t work’, he says hold down the key above the 4 and the power button for 3 seconds, then and only then, reboot. And quicker than the brown fox can jump over a lazy dog, I’m back up and running. I feel like I’m in Jumangi.
A miracle! ‘Merry Christmas!’ I say, ‘Happy Holidays to you too!’ he says and I start again.
A new story. A story about new stories in fact. The Natility Story.
Over the past few months I have been introduced to the concept of ‘natality’ and ‘the cycle of development’ (Thank you Giles Barrow). Natality: Hannah Arendt’s idea that our natality, our condition of being born, is the ‘source’ or ‘root’ of our capacity to begin, our capacity to initiate something new.
Arendt states that what is special about human beings, what distinguishes us from other animals, is the ‘capacity to begin’, by which I think she means the capacity to leave behind the status quo and create something new, the capacity to go against and beyond the usual course of affairs. She expresses this view most explicitly when, at the beginning of ‘The Human Condition’, she remarks that ‘action’, which for her is synonymous with beginning, is ‘the exclusive prerogative of man (it was the 50s, be kind); neither a beast nor a god is capable of it’ (1958 22-23).
She really believed this, and let’s be honest, she’s right. We do all have the capacity to start again, to create a new beginning. Over and over again. I mean, I make a career out of this fact now, guiding people to the lightswitches in their own heads to illuminate new pathways, new chapters, new stories. But why do people need people like me, if, as Arendt puts it, new beginnings are our exclusive prerogative?
Growth, development, change and new thinking has become a story of itself. A narrative we have begun to follow. A bit like the Nativity Story. Over the years, has it lost a lot of its power? Lost a lot of its purpose in the constant retelling and reappropriating? We all know we can change, we all have the resources to change, the books, the podcasts, the Ted Talks, the coaches, but still we struggle with the purity of choice and decision that is at the heart of natility.
How can we actually start with a new story? If you could write your story from this point onwards, what would need to happen right now to start?
Then there’s the obvious Queen of them all: Mrs Happy New Year. Here she comes again with her promise of New. A new period of time, starting at the beginning again, and moving through to the end, again. A cycle. A repeating pattern? An opportunity for us all to reflect and emerge bigger, better and brighter (or smaller and slightly more at peace, for the most of us).
And we made all this stuff up. We literally made ‘Years’ up. We created them, see how good we are at creating new things. I mean, of course we have other things like the sun, the moon and the seasons to thank too, but Caesar literally made them up, well his astronomers did. They explained the need for 12 months in a year and the addition of a leap year to synchronize with the seasons. At the time, there were only ten months, while there are just over 12 lunar cycles in a year. So January and February were added and the original fifth and sixth months were renamed July and August in honour of Julius Caesar and his successor Augustus (oh and they were both given 31 days to reflect their importance, having been Roman leaders and all – well you would, wouldn’t you). What Patriarchy?
And so we gave birth to the human story of a cyclical measure of time.
I’m then immediately struck by the other recent cyclical story we have been enduring, granted it feels more like a saga right now. One I’m sure Hannah Arendt would have something to say about. The story of the political cycle. Round and round and back and forth we go. The promise of a new start. A new person at the top with brand ‘new’ ideas. New changes that will solve everything. We all feel that don’t we? That story hasn’t got tired yet has it?
So who is telling you that you have to wait for someone else to be in power before you can begin again? What is making you wait until midnight next Tuesday?
Wake Up. Start your own clock. It’s right now, and every second you wait is a second less you will have being alive in the story you wrote.
The incredible man that is Giles Barrow taught me about this TA model that has been around for donkey’s years. The Cycle of Development. He has a lot more info on his website (https://gilesbarrow.com/resources) but my take on it is that its a repeating set of stages that we move through in a cyclical nature without any firm or permanent relationship to time, and the first time we start this cycle is the moment we come alive. Child development has been told through the lens of this model for many years, but its application to many other fields and areas of life is incredibly beautiful. A little bit like when you notice nature’s repeating patterns in the spirals within a shell or a sunflower, or the striking similarities between a human iris and a galactic nebula.
Passing through the cycle of development is a reassuring reminder of nature’s story and our automatic drive to grow, our continuing capacity to begin and rebegin.
From a state of being and belonging, we move to activity, exploration and investigation, which naturally leads to a stage of thinking, testing and rationale. We then begin to form the new identity, the new state, the new idea. We begin to realise and actualise the next chapter and it is from the identification of this new way of being that we learn. Only then do we learn to create and apply skills and structure.
And what relevance does this cycle have on you, right now in this festive moment? Well it is that we cannot circumnavigate the cycle. We cannot ‘just’ decide to adopt new skills, new habits and resolutions. We cannot start at the end and run the cycle in reverse. First we must belong. Belong in our own skin, in our own place and in our own body, wherever that may be in the world.
And so this is my invitation to you, to come to that place inside where you belong. To surround yourself with those and that, that nurture and support your belonging. Be with what loves you unconditionally. Be who you are, not who you should or could be. Be where you are, not where you should or could be. Only then can your New Year start. Only then can you start to experience what it might be like, actually being you, now. Wake up to it.
So whether you want to measure it in Caesar, light or donkey’s years, make sure that you allow yourself the very best beginning. We will not all have the luxury of sharing physical space with those that love, or loved, us unconditionally, but that love still exists, still belongs, very vividly inside of you. Start there and let it grow.
Have a very wonderful christmas, Holiday, festive season, New Year, and here’s to a brilliant new start.
Arendt, H. The Human Condition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958.
Barrow, G. (2019). Giles Barrow. [online] Gilesbarrow.com. Available at: https://gilesbarrow.com/resour… [Accessed 24 Dec. 2019].