Reflecting on the Days Between the Years
I recently learned from a German friend that in her native country, the time between Christmas and January 6 is called the days “between the years” or zwischen den Jahren. Culturally, people take a dedicated time out from work, focusing instead on reflection and non-doing. While many people in the US also take vacation between Christmas and New Years, spending more time with family and setting their new year’s intentions, I love that Germans name and distinctly pause to honor this yearly transition.
In his book Transitions – Making Sense of Life’s Changes, the late William Bridges – a preeminent authority on change – described the three phases of transition as an “ending”, the “neutral zone”, and a “new beginning”. Germany’s days “between the years” feels much like Bridges’ neutral zone, when the old isn’t yet quite complete and the new hasn’t fully begun. While this no-man’s land can feel unsettling, it can also be a time of great creativity or a time of true pause to make way for what is meant to emerge.
As 2020 comes to a close, how can each of us apply intention to our own version of letting go of a year that has made history for so very many reasons? Can we appreciate and let the “days between the years” do their work for us? And, how can we possibly look forward to new beginnings? Here are a few ideas:
In reflecting on 2020 as it closes, many strong feelings are likely to arise. What began as the first year of an auspicious new decade, may feel like it lasted a full ten. So very much has happened in the world, in our country, and very likely in ourselves. How can we let go?
Bridges suggests that we handle endings poorly because we “take them either too seriously or not seriously enough.” Part of the journey of growth is rooted in taking stock of what we have learned and figuring out what no longer fits. Rather than just putting a pin in this year and rushing on without a second glance, I encourage spending time in reflection about the year you’ve experienced. You might journal or talk with a trusted friend or colleague. Consider these questions as you deepen your awareness around what you’ve gone through. What was your dominant mood? How would you title this chapter of your life? What kept you going? What or who are you grateful for? What or who are you grieving? What was the low point or high point? What new habits did you pick up? How did your relationships change? What is no longer important to you? What do you see differently now?
The Neutral Zone
As you pause in the neutral zone between this year and the next, the invitation is to embrace the stillness without judging yourself for being unproductive. Bridges says that the neutral-zone is “meant to be a moratorium from the conventional activity of your everyday existence.” It’s the place of dreams and attentive inactivity. Pay attention to your breath and just be. In this place of simple presence, can you be curious about what might be forming ahead? Can you sit in the unknowing? Again, journaling or conversation with a dear one can help. Consider, what sustains you in the here-and-now? What do you really want? Resist the urge to make a plan or set a goal. Let your creativity flow. Complete the sentence…. “What is still unlived in me is…” What begins to emerge for you?
As you look forward to 2021, it may not feel like much will change right away. After all, there is only one second between 11:59:59 on 12/31/20 and 12:00 on 1/1/21. How can we expect that everything will be new at the stroke of the clock? “We forget how indirect and unimpressive most new beginnings really are,” says Bridges. He shares, however, that when we set an intention from our inner reflection and focus on our purpose and process instead of the results, the way opens up. If you zoom out to this time next year, what would you like to say about 2021? What feels important to focus on? What will you pay attention to as you journey this next year?
Reflecting at each phase of transition opens us up to enjoy the unique gifts that each offers. Taking stock of our endings helps us to let go of what no longer serves us. Embracing the non-doing neutral zone allows us to recharge and connect to our deepest wishes for what we hope to bring forth. And, focusing on our purpose energizes us, keeping us alert to recognize the new beginnings as they arise. This week as we ring in the New Year, I, for one, will give myself permission to imagine what might be. Oh, and I’ll be utterly and unapologetically unproductive, too. Will you join me?
Wishing you peaceful days between the years.