Crossing the bridge over to January with new intentions
Welcome to 2024. Welcome back. This post is (a backdated) the beginning of a new phase of my liberation psychologies Almanac project. The first phase was centred around the Celtic calendar. However, I have now decided to return to my Slavic roots and work with the January to December frame. I will honour the Celtic Wheel of the Year. I will also weave in Nature cycles from other cultures. Liberation psychologies celebrate diversity of views, and I work as an integrated practitioner, so it makes sense to me to invite a wide range of perspectives here. Last year, I followed my local Nature here in the UK, so I will continue with the focus on the Northern Hemisphere. However, in many cultures, January is the time to set intentions for the year ahead, so I am reflecting on this space, too.
This year, I invite you to pay attention to your digital wellbeing through the lens of Nature but with a special focus on stories. Thus, I will lean into books that support our annual journey. I will also introduce some of my current favourite books and speak about the healing power of stories. So yes, there will be a little bit of psychology, too. Here is what I have in mind, all neatly ready on my bookshelf:
Just by looking at the titles, you will see that this year will be a collage of Nature practices, art and creativity, spirituality and therapy. All of this, as always, is written in very easy-to-read, accessible language with simple reflections that so many of you asked me for. The format of my posts remains the same: an update on my local Nature and digital experiences, my personal inspirations (this time maybe a book or two), and a final weekend reflection on your digital wellbeing. What I am now adding to this structure is a quick browse through my favourite almanacs to bring you more ideas for Nature Connectedness each month. I have moved to the Voxel Hub blog, so over on Subtack, you will see the post summary and reflection only, with the link to the full post on our website.
January is much milder in the UK than in Eastern Europe, so I love seeking blooming flowers. I found stunning marigolds on my way to work and tiny flowers on some bushes. I like walking through the city and mapping it out with the plants I meet on the way. Sometimes I even say hi to my favourites, stop, take a photo. More often than not, I bow to trees – as a simple practice to remind myself that I am one of many natural species on this planet. I signed up for the core shamanism training with Paul Francis, where “core” means learning about hunter-gatherer animism – shamanic practices across all nations (not spirituality, thus avoiding the risk of cultural appropriation) predating the sky religions (religions introducing a hierarchy of heaven and underworld/hell, strongly linked with patriarchy and seizure of power and property). As an agnostic person with strong hunter-gatherer Tatar roots from my dad’s side, I sit well with those practices and a more liberated, equal and inclusive worldview. In our first session, we learned about the language of core shamanism in which we can refer to plants as “plant people”, to rocks as “rock people”, and to trees as “standing people”. So yes, it makes sense to me that I need to bow to the “standing people”. Especially in winter, when their bare trunks make us notice the beauty of the bark more. The bark on the giant tree next to our office always reminds me of the passing of time – how fitting for the beginning of the year – closing the cycle of 2023 and setting intentions for 2024 while also connecting with this magnificent map of time under my palm.
My digital work is focused on writing about geek therapies and liberation psychology. In November, I was asked to write an essay for the upcoming Geek Therapeutics book about the psychology of the Witcher series. I spent two months researching the topic of The Witcher in Poland, but I also looked into the history of witch hunts. 2023 was a year of exploring my own shadow, so the topic of female discrimination and the resulting violence we work with as therapists today was a pretty extreme ending to my year. I was exhausted and humbled by my findings – so much makes sense to me in my work, especially at the sexual abuse and violence charity. It can sometimes be a little bit easier to explore such difficult and heavy topics when working with pop culture stories and archetypes. It was incredible to explore the archetype of the witch Yennefer from The Witcher and her emerging voice, especially since the Witcher games made the original books ever so popular. It was also much easier to write this and process my own trauma from 18 years ago when I myself was in an abusive relationship. As soon as I finished my draft and submitted it, I set up my 2024 skydive fundraiser to give myself another ritual of letting go of the past. All of this happened around my Birthday (we are all January babies), so an academic project serving my fellow geek therapist became a little present to me, too. I feel that researching the Polish roots of Yennefer actually connected me deeper with my homeland and its Nature. I collected the fallen birch branches in our park and made myself a little broom to swipe the patch in our allotment. However, I am also tempted to use the tip from Zuza Zak’s recent book, “Slavic Kitchen Alchemy“, and maybe use the broom for home spa treatments instead.
Entering January, for me, is strongly connected to letting go of December’s darkness and allowing the light back in. In December 2023, we lost Benjamin Zephaniah, sad news to the liberation community in the UK. To honour his work but also connect with hope and the emerging light, I purchased his children’s book “Nature Trail” from our local independent bookshop (another intention for 2024 is to support independent retailers). I buy children’s books for work. However, I also love them for the moments in time when I need to nurture my inner child. Those beautiful, simple, concise stories remind us of the simplicity of kindness, connection, joy and hope. Somehow, children’s books are softer and more soothing. Less is more. Zephaniah’s quote, “When you have a garden, you will never be alone.” resonates deeply with how I relate to the world – and that gentle but incredibly significant difference between solitude and abandonment or even displacement.
I loved reading “The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice” by Carolyn Edwards, especially “The Raven and the Light” Inuit of Northern America story. The smart Raven finds a way to return the stolen Sun and the Moon to the people, and thus the light returns. How comforting is the cycle of Nature? In counselling and coaching, we often work with conflict and abandonment. We focus on the healing power of repair and return. Life can be traumatic, but we have choices in responding to those challenges. Repair and healing are possible.
This year, I will be co-creating and co-hosting an environmental arts therapy group in Bristol, so I will be mentioning its core reading a lot in this space. “Environmental Arts Therapy and the Tree of Life“, written by Ian Siddons Heginworth, offers insights into working with Nature outdoors, with myths and archetypes and with experiential therapy outdoors. In January, Ian suggests working with our inner archetype of the king and the symbol of the bridge. The king is an archetype that we can ask for intention for the year, a bit of guidance and direction, while the bridge offers a ritual of crossing – crossing from one side to another, one inner part to another – offering a smooth journey and integration of all our parts.
Having read a lot about the feminine and masculine before, during and after the witch hunts, I am in need of finding ways to integrate those parts of my identity and find balance. Of course, life is not static, so the balancing act continues as I move through the year. It is not about a static place but the well-paced movement forward as we close some cycles and open others. As life, time, and Nature move ahead within and around us.
Today, I would like to offer you a digital well-being practice based on a suggestion from Lia Leenderlitz’s “The Almanac. A Seasonal Guide to 2024“. She suggests making space for noticing, awareness and celebration of each month. She asks us to make a dedicated space at home to collect items representing each month. For me, it is our kitchen table vase with branches or flowers. For Wiccans, it will be their home altar. For others, it may be a little bookshelf with their seasonal reads. There is no right or wrong way of doing it. I love the idea of making space to pause, reflect and celebrate.
Today, I am asking you to consider the possibility of making this space in your calendar – monthly or weekly. I have so many friends working in the digital industries who feel overwhelmed with the amount of meetings booked in their calendars that I find it important to book a meeting with myself. So go ahead and book a time for seasonal reflection:
- Book an hour each week for reflection, sitting and thinking about how you are and how the world around you feels to you at the moment. Call it “me time”, “sitting time,” or “thinking time”. I know people who like to call it a “Date with myself”, which can feel even more powerful.
- Set up a new calendar and call it “health and wellbeing” or “me time”. Choose a colour label for it and start adding small events to your week – breakfast, lunch and tea; meeting with a friend; time for reflection.
- Set up a Pinterest space for seasonal reflections and create your January board. Collect images that reflect how the world around you is/was in January and how you are/were feeling then. Come back to it whenever you feel a little bit out of balance.
- Post an image representing the month to your social media channels. Document the feelings visually for yourself and your friends. And since we are backing this up and those are YOUR channels, you can do a January image in February, too – it’s your space.
(I will post another January update this weekend and then return to real-time blogging. I was so busy with my research that I have completely abandoned my allotment – I cannot wait to go back and keep you informed on the microworlds of our plants! Wishing you all a soft Saturday).