For many of us, today is the first day back at work after the Christmas break. It’s the time for fresh starts, clean pages, and resolutions. The clichés tell us that the New Year is an opportunity to put some distance between ourselves and last year’s bad habits, ill-advised decisions and unhealthy obsessions.
The Reverend Dr Giles Fraser, speaking on the Today programme’s Thought for the Day this morning, spoke of his childhood pleasure at receiving a new exercise book at the start of a new term. He used this as a platform to go on to talk about the importance of forgiveness, but his mention of the new exercise book took me back to the first day back at middle school after the Christmas holidays.
The pristine, yellow exercise books would be waiting in a crisp pile on the teacher’s desk at the front of the classroom. The first task was to write my name, class number, teacher’s name and subject in the lined box on the front cover. I would do this carefully, first in pencil, to make sure my script was as neat and elegant as possible, and then, once satisfied, I’d go over it, allowing the ink to flow from the freshly inserted cartridge in my fountain pen. Finally, once the ink had dried, I would select my cleanest, softest, pencil eraser and rub out the spidery shadow of my pencil-drafted name.
I distinctly remember admiring the look of the newly titled and personalised exercise book, flicking through the clean, empty pages, and promising myself that I would fill it with only the most careful, accurate and neatest work. Compared to the dog-eared, mistake-filled book from last term, it really did seem to represent an invigorating and exciting chance to do things differently.
So, this morning, when I switched on my computer and Google Chrome flashed up a message offering to restore the tabs I had open on the last working day before Christmas, I paused for a moment before declining the offer. And then, when faced with a blank search page, I felt a bit sad that there is no pristine, empty exercise book for me to flick through, internally promising that it will be filled with more thoughtful, careful and considered work than last year’s. Somehow, a clean sweep of tabs on my browser just doesn’t hold the same power to make me feel filled the promise of a new year.
In the digital age, more and more of us are pretty much permanently plugged in to cyber communication of one sort or another. I didn’t look at my Twitter feed for several days over Christmas, but I’m fairly sure it didn’t dry up. With our smart-phones permanently by our sides, for many of us it’s rare that we really create distance between the world ‘out there’ and our inner selves.
Perhaps it’s an odd symbol, but for me the fresh exercise book at the start of a new school term really did offer an opportunity for something akin to a reflective moment, perhaps even a spiritual one. In the absence of fresh new stationery to bring in the New Year, I’m wondering what are our equivalent modern symbols – what small rituals do you have that allow for moments of reflection?
Spiritualise: Revitalising spirituality to address 21st century challenges deals with a weighty subject and the overall process of producing the report involved about 300 people over two years, so it’s not surprising the final report is relatively long – about 40,000 words over 92 pages; it’s half a book really. (Now there’s a thought…)
The following transcription came from a speech that formed part of a series of six public events within RSA Social Brain Centre's project: Spirituality, Tools of the Mind, and the Social Brain. The final report of this project, outlined here will be published later this month.