What a Body Knows

Finding wisdom in desire.

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What aren't you feeling this week?

How are those resolutions?

Around this time of year, emotions are complex. You may feel unhappy that home holidays are over, as well as relieved that rounds of rituals and relatives are done. Pleased to be back with a familiar routine, yet bored by the grind. Eager for what is yet to come, and burdened by what has not yet been done. Glad and sad to leave 2009; both poised and unprepared to greet 2010. Energized and exhausted, elated and depressed; ready to go, ready to rest. Ending and beginning again.

It is hard to know what to do with all of the ambivalence. The reigning rubric for this passage in time is resolution. There is a tendency is to want to resolve the welter of emotions into a set of resolutions that you plan to enforce with new resolve. So you compress the chaos into a numbered list, and forge the tensions to an iron will. You vow to stick to some species of diet, asserting control over something that flows through your bodily self, whether calories, actions, or words. This year I will succeed!

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Or perhaps you are disillusioned by all this resolving and respond to the mayhem by rejecting the ritual as a set-up for disappointment. Too often, as you know, resolving is simply a matter of re-solving, applying the same old solutions to the same old problems year after year without success. For what significance does a calendar count carry anyway? Life continues, regardless.

Why celebrate the slipping of time at all?

*
The kids are milling about, waiting for our ritual. Every New Year's Eve, we create one. For the past couple of years we have sailed milkweed pod boats loaded with sticky burrs and other symbolic bits into the fire of our wood stove, delighting in the firecrackling bursts. This year, however, we haven't collected any boats or burrs. It's cold and dark. Kyra is already asleep on the couch.

I am out of ideas. Will our ritual fail? At least I can gather some pens and paper, surely we will write something. I pick a rainbow of ink colors so each person can have his or her own. What else do we have lying around? I find a can of mixed nuts that Geoff bought for the holidays. A chocolate bar house gift. Sprigs of sage from a local farm. Branches of evergreen cut from our Christmas tree. A candle and matches. I make a pile. Something will come of this.

We wake up Kyra, sit in a circle by the stove, and light the candle. An idea pops into my mind: A book! Our neighbor recently taught us how to make a six-page book out of one piece of paper. Let's do it! I show the kids how: fold and bend, one small cut, and fold again. Soon we are each holding small books in the palms of our hands. They feel magic.

Words flow from my mouth. For each open fold, pick a realm of your life, three in all, and write down the qualities and character you want that realm to have in the year to come. We'll try it.

Kyra wants help. She shows me her book. She has named her themes: Family. Life. Love. What else to say? I am scribbling madly, reaching deep into myself, wanting it all. I make a book for small Leif. We are writing our lives.

After filling our books we cradle them gently. I pass around the can of nuts. There are seven kinds. Pick one. We all have different hopes and needs and wishes and wants. Go for it. Be yourself. Be nutty! (Afterwards we realized that we each picked a different nut.)

The kids crunch their choices. I pass the chocolate. The no-fail cure for those times when dementors steal all your happy memories. Remember the sweetness we share. Our family will nourish you.

As the chocolate finishes its round, I pass the evergreen branch tips: keep your dreams evergreen. Then I pass the sage: a fragrant spice to carry your prayers to the heavens.

We bundle the sage and evergreen into our books (we'll keep the chocolate and nuts, thank you), and line up to toss our wads into the fire-the books of our lives, leaves of our loves. We let them go. We blow out the candle and talk softly. We realize how much our ritual embodied the community that supports us--friends, family, neighbors are all enabling us to write our own stories. We go to bed.
*
Why do it? It is not to resolve what roils. Rather, we celebrate in order to stir it all up-all of our competing desires and hopes, our conflicting wants and wishes, all the sheer, raw energy of our bodily selves.

For when we stir the embers of our bodily selves, releasing the emotions we have and hold, we open ourselves up to currents of creativity streaming through us. We crack open our small minds to the imagination of the universe, far greater than ours, that lives in our bodily selves and through our bodily selves, in the form of impulses to move that we can open to receive. What do you want? What can you want? What is there to want?

Think back ten years, five or even one-did you imagine then that you would be where you are now? Could you have even imagined it? How is it that you think you can imagine now what the best path for you will be?

Our capacity to predict and plan, to rationalize and hold in line, is a vital resource for sure. We need goals and projects, schedules and schemas. But we also need moments when we break ourselves open to insights coursing through our singular selves that no one else can know but us. And we need moments where we affirm that our ability to carry through our plans and projects depends on a web of relationships that extends beyond us, supporting us in being and becoming the singular selves we are.

Here is where ritual has power. For its actions grab our minds and direct our attention to what we are sensing, to the movements we are making, so that we can discern the impulses to connect that are stirring in us. We want to connect with what our bodily selves know. We want to connect with each other. So we affirm the mystery in which we are always already participating as we bring into being a world we love that loves us.

So what is there to resolve? Perhaps it's better to consider what we want to dis-solve: any well-intended mental constructs that pit us against our bodily selves in the name of ideals that aren't really ours.

Perhaps it's time to shake out our re-solving and learn to discern what our bodies know. Call it my new year's dissolution.

* Photos taken in ice storm on December 25

Kimerer L. LaMothe, Ph.D., has taught at Brown and Harvard universities. She is the author of What a Body Knows: Finding Wisdom in Desire and Family Planting.

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