Happy New Year! I hope you had a good last evening of 2019. I spent it with my husband and son, watching the wonderful Into The Woods – which always makes me ask, again: what do I wish? what would I pay for it? – and then writing a poem about a tree. Jools Holland and his marvellously mad mix of Hootenanny musicians accompanied us through the last hour.
And now the new resolutions are supposed to kick in: the discipline after indulgence, the activity after laziness. But my resolution this year is not to do more, but to pause more. I’ve been inspired in this by reading Robert Poynton’s Do/Pause, which I found in a serendipitous moment of doing nothing in an art gallery shop. Poynton makes the reader think about how pausing can add meaning and contemplation to life, can enable us to think, can make our choices more considered and our conversations – with others and with ourselves – more meaningful.
‘Experimenting with pause gives you a way to play around with the rhythms of your life. It gives you a way to give shape and texture to your experience, weakening the sensation that your life is driven by external forces over which you have no influence. Choosing where you put your pauses makes an enormous difference to what your life feels like and what you can do as a result.’
The state of the world in general and British politics in particular have often made me feel helpless and powerless in the last few years, made me want to hide away, to stop the world and get off. But of course that’s not possible. There is work to do and there are people to love and live with and look after.
So I’m not having a break (which sounds so destructive), I’m not stopping anything, I’m simply pressing pause – on watching the news, on following Facebook, on Twitter. I’m putting pauses into my working day. I hope to create whole days of pause where I can sit and read, and think. I plan to spend some of my pauses in hawthorn woods.
Winter seems a particularly good time to start a new pausing habit. In our technologically-driven centrally-heated lives, the difference between the seasons is evened out. For the medievals, winter was harsh but also a welcome time, where not so much work was required. In the ‘Labours of the Months’ in Books of Hours, the activity for January is feasting, for February it’s ‘sitting by the fire’: opportunities for conversation and contemplation.
I’ll still be working hard, mind. But I’ll be allowing myself all the pauses I can. Partly to recharge my energies, partly to work out what I should be doing next, what I wish, what I’m prepared to give for that. And also to enjoy the silence and what comes out of it.
Maybe the world doesn’t, we don’t
need changing in the way
that we would do it,
so we stand on a windy summit
in the last few minutes of the year
naming the view
and thinking of snow.