Every year I choose a word for the next year, rather than a resolution. I choose a word I want to adopt and explore in the coming year… I started this tradition following in the footsteps of someone I still consider a life mentor, the fabulous Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

Sometimes I ruminate at length over my word choice, this year the word slipped into my consciousness easily. However, since allowing this word to settle in my mind, I have been pondering what I mean by it, this process aided by three days on Katharine May’s Wintering Retreat in Whitstable.

Gentleness, or the act of being gentle, is not something I am naturally attuned to. Partly because I live in a body controlled by a Dyspraxic mind: I stumble my way through life. Partly because I have always been of the Dylan Thomas mentally that one should not ‘go gently into the dark dark’, or into any situation. I find meandering through life difficult, I blaze and I hustle and I break. The constant breaking has been hard on my body though, and on my health. I have reached absolute physical and mental burnout too often in the months that have passed, this must not continue.

On the aforementioned retreat with Katharine May we gathered stones that would lay to rest the year gone by. This act of physically marking out the months – good and bad – was simple but meaningful. Giving the feelings and experiences of the last year physical shape helped reduce in size some of the larger emotions and helped give structure to what otherwise seemed a shifting or translucent thing. In choosing the stones I would use I also reflected on the way the same stones might be used to mark out the new year. I don’t want to create resolutions or to tightly bind future moments yet to happen to a metaphorical mast, but I find it helpful making the invisible seen and intentional.

Some of the stones I gathered on Whitstable beach

So what do I hope for in choosing the word gentle?

Gentleness is not seen as a sexy word and is often misunderstood. To me gentleness is not a lack of grit or resilience, it is not a personality trait we either have or lack, it is not being meek and mild, it is certainly not being compliant or unquestioning. I want to think about gentleness as a rhythm to life, a way of being. In the same way the ocean laps at the shore carving out the coastline, gentleness can be persistently making small changes that lead to a new crafting of the world around us. So much of the world is incredibly violent at the moment – we are violent in our relationship with nature, with each other, with ourselves. Gentleness offers a way of treading more lightly in these relationships.

So much of what we do as human beings is drawn out of a scarcity mindset: we live in a constant state of urgency and fear which leads us to abandoning our intuition. Gentleness allows us to hold everything around us, and our own bodies, more softly and gives space for consideration and care. I need more of that!

Being gentle will be a form of rebellion for me in 2023. I want to learn how to give space to each moment, to give myself time to thing and consider. I want to be gentle with myself but not in a cringey #SelfCare kind of way! I want to sleep more, have more pauses, eat well, be outside – all fairly basic but important things. I want to be gentle with others, but this will also include sometimes saying no to them so our relationships are better built on reciprocity and trust, not on obligation or demand. I want to be gentle with the world, I want to learn to tend and nurture more.

Keeping the fire aflame

On the Wintering retreat we tended a fire every day – a challenge in the restless weather of a particularly blustery December! The act of keeping the flame alive with our care was gentle and beautiful. I want to bring more of those moments into my own life – tending what lives and grows around me, keeping fires aflame with care.

Wishing every reader here a 2023 where you can find some gentleness for yourself. Being gentle in an abrasive and hostile world is an option – let our rebellion begin!