If you’re anything like me, the new year passed with ambivalence. As in, wanting to be optimistic about another year of fresh opportunities for change, but knowing that (a) time is just a construct and the “new year” is really just another day and that (b) the problems that we’re facing are at a level of complexity and can’t be solved like that. So from one jaded millennial to another, here’s some notes for 2021.
The problem with “Death to 2020” and toxic positivity
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. No more “2020 is cancelled”. We are not cancelling the year that was our collective awakening. Yes, I’m cringing as much as you are at the phrase “collective awakening”. But 2020 really was the year people everywhere began to see the deep injustices and oppression inflicted by the systems and people that bind and govern us. The global pandemic, which is still a reality as we speak—1.85 million deaths as of writing—shed light on the fact that it’s not that the system has flaws, but rather that the system was set up to fail to begin with. It’s working exactly the way it’s supposed to. And it doesn’t do anywhere near enough to protect the most vulnerable and marginalised.
And if we’re not cancelling 2020, we’re also not engaging in toxic positivity. Which, if you didn’t know, sounds like “better things are coming”, or “2021 is going to be our year”, or “no more negativity: only positivity in 2021!” Realistically speaking, it’s not like in 2021, all the problems that we began to see in 2020 are going to magically disappear. If anything, 2020 was probably the tip of the iceberg. Like any therapist will tell you, awareness of a problem is the first step. In 2021, we’re going to be doing the work. And if we’re doing it right, it’s not going to be easy.
In the cards: the year of the Hierophant
Another reason why it’s not going to be easy is this: we’re moving from the year of the Emperor (2020) to the year of the Hierophant (2021). The Hierophant is one of those tarot cards which is more or less self-explanatory once you see what the card looks like. Much like the Emperor, it’s a card that represents strong authority, the sort that we’re not supposed to question. It’s a card of hierarchy, patriarchy, tradition and institution. Again, it’s the sort of energy that should be familiar to us, as it’s the kind of energy that dominated 2020.
But before you write off 2021, the Hierophant can also be seen as an invitation to liberate from these traditionally oppressive structures and beliefs. Seen another way, it builds on what we’ve achieved last year—the beginning of radicalising everywhere—and invites us to do more. The Hierophant, unlike the Emperor, is a card that carries with it the theme of spiritual wisdom. In my view, that’s an invitation to tap into our rich collective wisdom and knowledge to navigate and undermine the structures that no longer serve us. Bearing the number five, a number that is associated with change and conflict, the Hierophant reminds us that the year is certainly going to be a challenging one, but rewarding nonetheless, should we overcome.
Embracing the myth of new years
So how do we approach the new year then? Knowing all of this, and knowing that the passage of time from the 31st of December, 2020 to the 1st of January, 2021, is no different from any other day of the year? Hold your jaded horses and suspend your cynicism for a moment. One of my favourite internet personalities, Mimi Zhu, wrote this, which resonated strongly with me, as I believe it will for you too; “Realistically, the transition into the new year will be a seamless flow of time, moving from one day to the next. The virus will still exist, trauma will still lay bare, and our loved ones will still be missed. However, the symbolic significance of a new year gifts us with a spiritual sense of renewal. We need that right now.”
Which is to say, perhaps the myth of new years isn’t so bad after all. Collectively, we can allow a sense of renewal to mark the new year. It’s an acknowledgement of everything that happened in 2020—not an avoidance nor a burial. It’s not a restart, not a reset, but a renewal. There is a sense of working towards the same goals, working at those very same problems, a commitment to trying more and trying again. The strength needed to continue to do the work is far greater than the strength needed to start over, and the former is the kind we need for the new year.
From where do we draw the strength?
Learning from nature
Wisdom is found not only in humans, but also in nature, and the answers are often there if we know where to look. So from where do we draw the strength? Rachel Carson once wrote: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.”
These are words that have stuck with me since I’ve read them. They are a reminder that, just like nature, we can find it in ourselves to rise again and again. That we, humans, as much a part of nature as mushrooms, as streams, as the soil, can and will keep going. Even as we witness systems collapse around us, and even as we witness the utmost tragedy and heartbreak. Just like the seasons’ passage and the dawning of new days, we can find the strength to do the work. The work of rebuilding, regrowing, repairing. This is the work that we need to busy ourselves with in this new year.
Where do we start?
Rituals and resolutions for 2021
By no means is this an exhaustive list, but here are some things I’m trying out for the new year. For one, practising gratitude. This is cliché, but here’s something you might not have tried before. One of my other favourite internet personalities, Annika Hansteen-Izora, developed this Gratitude Wheel, which includes not only gratitude towards things and people around you, but also towards the earth, collective dreams, and more. It’s a much more inclusive gratitude practice than any other I’ve seen and is worth doing at least once.
Another is ditching goals-as-resolutions for values-as-resolutions. Instead of drawing up a list of things that you may or may not end up doing, try setting your intentions on values you want to live out in 2021. This would probably be a much more low-pressure exercise than committing to a list of goals. Goals, which you can still have, but that would be secondary to the way you intend to approach things. And arguably, the latter is much more meaningful.
The last thing I’m embracing for 2021 is something that I’ve—we’ve, hopefully—begun to embrace last year: learning and unlearning. I cannot overstate the importance of this. And in that spirit, here’s a reminder that I repeat to myself at least once every day:
‘Normalise changing your opinion when presented with new information’ – This
— IG: Msjoycek (@IamJoyceK) June 10, 2020
And it goes without saying that we should try to make information, education and learning more accessible. Let this be the year we grow our collective knowledge and act on it too.
PS: redefining our relationship with the internet is a good start. Let’s make the internet a tool for learning again! And on that note, here’s a new social media website that I recently discovered. But fair warning: you might go down a rabbit hole of reading and learning… which doesn’t sound so bad I guess.
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