The new year has dawned like a thaw. These first few days of the year have always felt like a special, liminal space to me. A crack in the long ice of winter, a small window to bask in the glow of self-reflection and nuturement. A kind of hot spring for the soul in the dead of winter.
In our culture, New Year’s is often a time when we make massive lists of scheduled self-improvements. Shoulds and wills and musts, the desire to shape our lives in a time of soft indefinition. Sometimes this can feel empowering. And sometimes it feels like donning a coat of stones.
So what if, instead of beginning this time with a new set of rules to hone the selves we know, we began with a fresh curiosity about our deeper unknowns? What if, instead of making decisions about who we are and what needs improving, we simply begin with a curiosity, a willingness to peer over the thaw edge and deep into the inner mystery?
There are endless fascinations in the world. The electric rainbow of the northern lights. Octopus ink. Orchids that stretch like long raindrops from the trees. But the densest and most fascinating mille feuille we will ever encounter is our own selves.
I recently ran across photographs of the massive waves that collect and swell at the heart of Lake Erie during the winter winds. They were stunning. We have this preconception of lakes as still and placid entities, but anyone who has ever lived beside a great lake knows— they are ever-changing, powerful and dynamic beings. There was something about seeing these photos that shook loose a swell inside of me. A kind of recognition. This is what it feels like to step off the shores of the known and go deep into the heart of my own being. I am that changing, tempestuous, mysterious and deep.
A friend once shared with me a mantra that, growing up, her Mom seemed to repeat to her almost daily. Whenever you are faced with mysteries, let downs and catastrophes, Try being curious. When life seems to fall apart at the seams, or you make a long life of New Year’s intentions and each one is like a skipping stone that misses the mark completely, instead of berating yourself or looping back into a familiar pattern of thinking, Try being curious.
Curiosity is at the center of all growth, all invention. It is that pure inquisitive wonder that causes photographers to paddle out in the middle of a massive lake just to know what waves look like in the winter. It is the drive to experience, unfettered by judgment or shoulds. The sheer desire to understand what is and, of course, what could be.
So this year, instead of setting specific intentions for shaping or dictating what comes next in my growth, here is what I’m placing at the center of my altar: Curiosity. Curiosity as to what kind of foods my body needs to feel healthy. Curiosity over why I might feel joyous in one moment, and crushed in another. Curiosity about the way things unfold in my life. Curiosity about why I desire the things I desire and why my heart asks me, over and over again, to swim into the unknown.
Each and every one of us is a lake unto ourselves. Complex, changing, part of everything, and yet self contained. And the journey of our lifetime is the one that begins when we step off the shores of the outer world and wander within. When we can meet the creatures that lurk in the deep and instead of turning away or paddling back, we embrace them and be transformed. Because you are not a lake that can be traversed in a leisurely day of kayaking. You are an inland ocean with its own deep mysteries and awe-inspiring waves. So be inside the country of your own self, and let curiosity move you as lusciously as the moon guides the waves.
And remember that the word ‘curious’ means both a marked desire to know, and an occurrence that is unusual or out of the ordinary. So as you cross into this new year be open to the unintelligible, the complex, the puzzling, the odd. Because each mystery you encounter is your sign that it is time to plunge even deeper.
Go bravely. Go curiously.