I know today is almost a third of the way into January, so you may think its a bit late to start talking about new year resolutions. Most people have probably broken their resolutions by now anyway. I wonder what the problem is? Is it that we make resolutions that we don't really want to keep (so we can justify ourselves by saying "At least I tried") or is it that the new year is the worst possible time to make resolutions about anything?
Why do we bother with resolutions at all? My theory is (do I sound like Ann Elk?) that it's just another attempt to control our futures. And so few of us succeed because we don't clear out the spiritual, emotional and physical clutter in our lives that gets in the way of us tapping into new opportunities.
In the Dogon country of Mali, the villagers consult diviners like the one above to get answers to the questions that are concerning them. They ask about their health and their families, their crops and their futures. The position of diviner is usually passed down from father to son, and training only begins when the young man is at least 29 years old and considered mature enough to hear and keep the secrets of the people.
The legend is that the foxes (jackals) know all the answers to the questions that trouble humankind, and years ago they used to come into the villages and tell the holy men everything they needed to know. The one year there was a terrible drought and when the fox come to the holy man, he was overcome by hunger and tried to eat it. The fox was so offended (as one would be) that he swore that he would never enter the village again, Now the diviners have to go well away from the houses and scratch their questions with symbols in the sand. The foxes come at night and provide the answers in the directions that their footsteps have taken and the ways that they have disturbed the patterns.
It interested me how many questions the diviners asked of the people who came to consult them. The women in our group who asked for their futures to be told described it as being like a visit to the psychiatrist.
And that brings me back to clearing out the clutter. I don't believe that any resolution can succeed if we have not made room for the new by facing and discarding the things that are holding us back.
New beginnings are never easy. In any new beginning there will be darkness, emptiness and confusion. Sometimes all that is needed is to acknowledge the darkness in which we find ourselves and follow the light we are given.
TS Eliot in Little Gidding sums it up best:
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
It seems that 2009 is going to be a year of choices and changes, and a year when great courage will be needed.
We will have a general election in South Africa this year, and as the ANC and the new opposition COPE square up, we have already seen the effects that having some choices has made. I remember feeling totally liberated in the 1990s by declaring my distrust of Winnie Mandela, Alan Boesak and a few others.
Letting go of the sensibilities of the past (where struggle heroes are beyond reproach) is a big part of what is happening in the South African political scene at the moment. My wish as we enter 2009 is that we as a nation will have the courage to make the choices and changes that are needed to see us actually fulfil the promise of 1994.