I keep hearing people talking about their New Year’s resolutions. “I’m going to eat less chocolate.” “I’m going to stop drinking caffeine.” “I’ll drink less”. All of these (and others) speak in some way of guilt, of not being the people we want to be. But “giving things up” seems to imply that we are relinquishing something we enjoy.
The other thing I have heard is self-deprecating comments from someone giving in to a proffered chocolate: “there goes the new me”, was one. This got a good laugh, but I think there’s more to it. People make resolutions because they want to see themselves differently; but they break the resolutions because the ‘new’ person is unattainable. Wherever people try to take themselves, there they still find themselves. They make rules and focus on their observance, instead of thinking what they want trying to go there incrementally.
We all have things we want to change. For most of my adult life, I’ve slept for about 6 hours or less a night. Most of the time this seems to suit me, but occasionally, when I am feeling down, I wonder whether I might not benefit from sleeping more. But habits acquired over half a lifetime are hard to break. Last year, I resolved to drink less caffeine. I thought about it like this: “I should drink less tea and coffee.” But this ran up against the thought, “But I LIKE tea and coffee”. And having resolved to drink less, I in fact made no progress at all. I think this was because I set up the resolution in my mind as a pleasure that I would now have to deny myself.
This year, I wondered what would happen were I instead to think: I want to sleep more?
The result (so far) has been interesting: my caffeine intake has fallen to almost nothing compared to before. I have a coffee when I get to work and then drink herbal tea for the rest of the day. So that’s an improvement on last year. I haven’t beaten myself up for breaking a rule, because instead I have done something I wanted to. And I feel good about that.
The conundrum is that my sleeping patterns have barely changed. My six hours a night routine seems to have had nothing to do with the amount of tea or coffee I was drinking.
This is where the photo comes in. Walking in Sussex last Saturday, we saw a row of trees with odd clumps of earth. There were probably around 30 of them, arranged along a muddy path. The clumps of earth were around the roots of the trees, and the trunks lay horizontal. What look like the trunks of younger trees behind are in fact the branches of the fallen tree. Though they had fallen, they were still alive, putting out new leaves and branches, only while lying on the ground. My guess is that they were felled by the 1987 hurricane, but instead of slowly dying, they somehow maintained some rootstock. Horizontal trees aren’t very intuitive, and it takes a couple of looks before you realise that that is what they are: not simply immense fallen logs. Yet still they go on. Life maintained, growth unbroken, the form altered.