Updated: Jan 2, 2022
I have discovered recently, that I have my most accurate realisations as I drift along the sleep cycle. This relaxed level of consciousness, (I'm guessing found somewhere between NREM stages) tends to bubble with moments of awareness for me, not found during my daytime 'wakefulness'. I like to swim in these waters for as long as I possibly can. It can often be a birthplace of creativity for me.
I was woken abruptly on New Years Eve 2022 to the shotgun sound of beach fire crackers at about 2am. After some moments spent consoling and commiserating with my distressed dog, I began to drift back off to sleep. I was still conscious enough to realise I was drifting off to the soundtrack of an old slogan, featuring a rather thick UK accent. A few more moments of discovery was afforded to me before I completely drifted off.
The intrusive slogan that was playing was from a 2019 Jenny Craig campaign. Strange, I know right?! I could still hear 'Scary Spice' Mel B, aggressively recruiting new sign-ups with this slogan, insistent that this New Year means 'New You!'. I tracked my mood shift in this semi-conscious state, and discovered an irritation at what had been sold, even to my sub-conscious mind.
As I swam along this thought, I found myself back at the dinner table from earlier in the evening, to the gentle sound of my husband's voice. He was asking my children and I what our 'New Years Resolutions' were. (Oddly, he never did disclose what his resolutions were!). I began to mumble out some honourable intentions, but stopped after I suggested a few, careful not to open a floodgate of unachievables. My attitude changed though when it was my children's turn to answer. Suddenly something began to grind my gears, in this dreamlike state.
Personal Transformation versus Growth?
Over the years I've sat through my share of long, hot school assemblies, as awards were handed out to children, mine included, for 'personal transformation'. I always assumed it was just the language of these awards, fancified by corny new-age catch-phrases, that bothered me. Were these not just the same as the 'Merit Awards' we were issued as children aimed at rewarding good behaviours? In my opinion the rhetoric, with its subliminal messaging is far more insidious. I fail to see how any child, however 'wayward' requires any kind of actual transformation. Direction maybe. Self-love absolutely. But I find the rhetoric of transformation in relation to children very concerning, especially as they struggle to find and just be themselves in an increasingly challenging world.
I remember the enrolment interview for my daughter when she entered High School. It was all quite formal, in a small humid office. We were all keen to make a good impression, (ridiculous I know!) and hoped we wouldn't say the wrong thing. I guess the anxiety of being in a Principals Office never really leaves you! The Vice Principal asked me what I hoped for my daughter by the end of year 12. She was shocked when I replied with a purely non-academic answer. I said I hoped my daughter would 'still like herself' by the end of year 12. 'And Art...', I hoped she was encouraged to always express herself over and above 'ability'. It saddened me to hear myself speak these words. I acutely remember how I felt by the end of Year 12. Sadder still, I was not at all optimistic that these 'outcomes' were at all achievable for my own daughter in this system. How truly remarkable it would be to find a place that fostered self-acceptance, prioritised individuality and threw in a healthy dollop of self-expression for mental health, if only such existed. What if growth and goals and mistakes were all encouraged, and perfectionism was frowned upon. What if we recognised children as already complete, rather than continually encouraging metamorphosis via some kind of 'personal transformation'.
There is to my mind, a blurring of lines between language and messaging. When does language become ingrained messaging or expectation? When I went to school the motto was a latin instruction 'Ad Majora Nata Sum'. It was drilled into us and regularly sung. It translated to 'I am born for higher things'. Never once, did this snobby overture, suggest any worthy pursuit in life other than a purely academic one. Especially celebrated were 'Ladies' who went on to become engineers, doctors and lawyers. What I do know is 'Ad Majora Nata Sum' has never left me. I really wish it would.
I grieve the missed opportunities in these formative years of development.
Authenticity comes at a cost
Just a few conscious moments remained before I would surf on a delta wave to a new phase of my sleep cycle.
Would I set a resolution this year or not? Did I want a 'New Me' this year? I reflected on the confusion and suffering I have felt when I have truly been me.
Authenticity has always come at a cost for me. Measurable in predictable ways. Easily weaponised to patronise, to condescend, to be the convenient butt of a quick joke. Authenticity has been in my experience, vulnerable to nay-sayers, and to evil green eyed monsters like jealousy and nastiness.
But the cost of failing to embrace authenticity for me would be immeasurable. And the freedom from it, intoxicating.
New Year, More You!
The last thought I can remember before starting to dream, was the impulse to shout at Mel B, 'SHUT UP! Not New You! 'More You!'.
This is what I want for my children. That is what I hope for us all. That we collectively plant the mustard seed of self love for our real selves, warts and all.
I may or may not set some resolutions for the year, but they won't involve trying to become a better version of myself, or transformation, or perfectionism.
They will be grounded in self-acceptance, without any "side dishes of shame", as the experts advise.
My Nana, a wise woman always encouraged our family to spend New Years Day doing what we enjoyed. It set the tone and intention to do more of this very activity, for the year to follow, and was really about feeding your soul. So if you liked gardening, for example, spend the day in the garden. I hope to spend the day at a slow, steady pace. At some point floating in the warm sea, to be in the moment as much as possible with the ones I love, with a generous 'side dish' of gratitude for all that I have, and all that is possible.
And if my strange NYE sleep cycle can be interpreted to mean anything, it would be this:
If your resolution makes you feel like crap, maybe it's what needs the transformation. Not you!
With love on New Years,