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Generating Light for the New Year

Updated: May 30

From Seawalls: Boston Artists for Oceans 2020 by Silvia Lopez Chavez

It's that time of year when we spend many hours in the dark. The long, cold nights provide the chance to enjoy cozy indoor activities. It can also be a tough time, with the struggle of staying warm, getting through the holidays with its mix of emotions and expectations, and keeping that inner light shining when sunshine is in short supply.

Mural in downtown Durham, New Hampshire

Looking for the bright spots is a habit that can help us thrive in the winter and enhance our lives in general. But as much as I believe this, my mind often puts up resistance. It tells me that I'm putting my head in the sand, letting my guard down, and ignoring serious problems that require attention and action. Focusing on the bright spots takes effort and creative energy. Our brain naturally zooms in on threats, troubles and bad news. Our negativity bias is designed to protect us, but when it goes into overdrive - which it does in large part because it's exploited for profit in our culture - we're in a state of perpetual stress. And this actually impairs our ability to solve problems effectively. Focusing on the bright spots is not avoidance. It keeps our minds healthy by reducing stress hormones and releasing "happy hormones." It flexes our brains to recognize the resources and opportunities that are available to us, and it enables us to see more possibilities and solutions.

One specific form of bright-spotting is to approach change with a sense of curiosity rather than dread. Our relationship with change is a crucial factor in building resilience and facing the future, which is inevitably uncertain. Change is hard. Change is also essential for growth, evolution, and improvement. I've learned this lesson about embracing change from the artists I admire most - the ones who actually welcome uncertainty as creative juice for their work. They see uncertainty as the path to creating something new, exciting, even genre-bending. No two performances are same, even when the setlist or the script doesn't change. Songs, stories, and paintings-in-progress often take on a life of their own as the makers work on completing them. Improvisation and freestyle are core aspects of music, theatre, dance, and comedy. The work can't soar unless the artist can move with the moment and loosen the reins of control.

In the spirit of bringing more light into the New Year, I encourage you to think on these questions:

  • What is something I learned in 2021 that will help me in the New Year?

  • How can I turn bright-spotting into a daily habit?

  • How can I stay curious in 2022?

  • What kind of activity can I do this winter, where I can enjoy the process and embrace the uncertainty of how it will turn out?

Music for the First Night

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