Maybe it’s the prospect of a brand new year and a fresh new page. Or maybe it’s the routine-free twilight zone between Christmas and New Year. But most of us think about our past and our future at this time of year – and I’m no exception.

2018 was a hell of a year for me. It had some tremendous ups; doing workshops for the Museum of Happiness), visiting Paris for the first time and attending a retreat at Plum Village, and being selected for Hay House’s Diverse Wisdom initiative. And it was also a real challenge in terms of my physical health, and the loss of my estranged father.

But what I’ve also noticed this year is how easily distracted I am. Life has just SO many squirrels, God damn it.

Friends say that I read a lot and, yes, that’s true .. but it’s mostly in the form of articles found online these days. My ability to simply sit and read a book (without picking up my phone to add a different stream of stimuli every ten minutes) feels like a muscle that’s withered away through lack of proper use.

I know why, of course; unlike a book, a mobile phone provides the tantalising prospect of social interaction. Which is hugely appealing at times when I’m not physically well enough to see people.

But it’s part of the reason why I’m amongst the thousands of people for whom David Cain’s blog post in January LAST year, Go Deeper, Not Wider, struck a cord. As he puts it,

“I keep imagining a tradition I’d like to invent. After you’re established in your career, and you have some neat stuff in your house, you take a whole year in which you don’t start anything new or acquire any new possessions you don’t need.

No new hobbies, equipment, games, or books are allowed during this year. Instead, you have to find the value in what you already own or what you’ve already started.

You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more.

The guiding philosophy is “Go deeper, not wider.” Drill down for value and enrichment instead of fanning out. You turn to the wealth of options already in your house, literally and figuratively.”

Because the reason so many of my friends think I read a lot is because my tiny flat is pretty-much insulated by a thick and beautiful layer of books.

I love books, I do. The way they look, they way they feel, the way they smell and, almost as importantly, the wisdom they contain.

But how many of them have I read from cover to cover? Proportionally, not that many, I’m sad to say.

It’s the same with online courses. I’ve stopped buying any on sale at Udemy, even though their incredible discounts still sing their siren-song in my inbox. Why? Because I still have ones bought and unopened since [checks, blinks] 2015.

The wise words of Pema Chodron, Seth Godin and more recently Diane Poole Heller and John O’Donohue (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist SoundsTrue‘s pre-Christmas sale) are collecting digital dust.

I was wondering if I should pursue a professional qualification in 2019. But instead, I’m going to go deeper into what I have, rather than being driven by the scarcity/dopamine thinking that, sure, keeps my home warm in winter but which means I’m relying on absorbing shelf-fulls of books by osmosis.

(At the very least; if I want to buy a new book, I need to finish reading one I already possess first.)

But it’s more than just buying less. As David Cain writes in his update on that initial blog post, depth is “a mindset”;

“I didn’t follow the original premise of the Depth Year, which is “no new hobbies, no new possessions.” Instead I simply tried to keep depth at the front of my mind when I made decisions.

To my surprise, my habits began to shift quite naturally. Depth wasn’t so much a game of persistently striving to top myself, it was more like a new lens for looking at the tools and opportunities that had always been there.

Essentially, I saw more possibilities everywhere: in my pantry, in my wardrobe, in my bookshelf, in my plans, in the different ways I might spend a spare hour.

Enjoying ordinary things seemed to take less effort. Without anything resembling striving, I derived more satisfaction from meals, furniture, cups of tea, walks to the store, hellos and goodbyes with friends, even odd details like illustrations in books and the shape my own handwriting.

In hindsight I attribute this effect to a deceptively simple shift in where I was expecting to find fulfillment: here, rather than there.

As I got reacquainted with the things and people already around me, I started to let go of a certain background belief—pervasive in our consumption-driven culture—that fulfillment is something whose ingredients still need to be acquired.”

I normally have a word for the year and, on David’s reflections, “depth” has to be a front-runner. But, while it’s certainly something I’m going to keep at the forefront of my mind, too, a different one has made its way into my consciousness: the word “spark”.

Maybe it’s to do with Darren Rowse, the guy behind ProBlogger. He’s on his third mid-life crisis since the age of 18, and while his post on how he’s engaging with it is, like David’s, well worth reading in full, this stood out for me the most;

“I’m going to take the ‘do something so small it would be silly not to do it’ route instead.

I’m going to identify “sparks” in a very intentional and targeted way by reactivating a very simple exercise I’ve done on and off for years.

Each night, before I go to bed, I’m going to answer these two questions:

What gave me energy today?
What did I do that gave other people energy?
That’s it.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what insights this daily reflection throws up over coming weeks. I’m interested to see if there is anything I feel compelled to act on.”

It’s such a simple idea. I know that when I’m aware of these two things – what gives me energy, and what I do that gives others energy – I often come back to writing, making, and being perceptive for individuals/in groups.

And yet, for me, the word “spark” is also indelibly attached to one last person; the quietly persuasive Marie Kondo.

As anyone who’s read her book or knows her work will testify, whether a possession stays in, well, one’s possession, comes down to a simple question; does it spark joy?

Does it spark joy?

What if I apply this question to everything in my life? What if I ask it beyond the realms of books and clothes, and into the realm of ideas, activities, plans, even relationships?

Is it possible to focus on both depth AND joy, to help rest in a deeper feeling that allows sparks to arise from a deeper mind than my own?

If so, I may not have so much as a word for the year, but a mantra:

Go deep. Spark joy.

I don’t know this for certain but my spidey-senses tell me that, somehow, if I hold “Go deep, spark joy” as my intention, 2019 could be an even more incredible year than the last one.

One thought on “Sparks

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