This first part is a repeat, of sorts, because Easter seems a good time to check in on a few things, irrespective of faith tradition/practice (or lack thereof). The checking-in is the important part; the repeat is just for context.
Janus (as I wrote, back in January) is the Roman god of beginnings, transitions, doorways, portals, passages, and endings. Unlike so many of the mythological gods and demigods, he has no Greek equivalent.
Represented by a single head with two faces, one looking back and the other ahead, Janus presides at the start of both abstract and tangible, sacred and secular.
Janus (January) was added to the Roman calendar in the seventh century B.C. when their formerly 10-month calendar got a lunar make-over. In this “new” calendar, however, January and February marked the end of the calendar year, which began in March, when the world sprouted new again.
Around 45 B.C., toward the end of the Roman civil war, Julius Caesar tasked astronomer and mathematician Sosigenes of Alexandria with consolidating and revising the various iterations of the Roman calendar into one official, 12-month, 365-day calendar (with periodic leap year). (For more, here’s the Britannica entry on this topic.) This Julian calendar is the foundation of the 16th century Gregorian calendar still in use throughout most of the known world today, at least for secular/civic calendar-keeping.
In changing the structure of the calendar, Julius Caesar also changed its starting point to January 1, the day the consuls took office. (For more, here’s a recent National Geographic piece about the Julian calendar.)
It is to Caesar, then, that we owe our annual urge to start fresh in the new year, guided by Janus to embark on a new project, new commitment, and new version of our former lives. To begin.
Though we tend to think of January — Janus — as the time of fresh starts and new beginnings, “beginning” is a constant state. There is never a wrong time to start anew, looking — like Janus — to time past and to time ahead, connecting what’s ahead to the experiences of before.
Recently, I overheard a friend talking about having failed at this year’s January resolution and waiting for next January to try again.
There isn’t anything, of course, preventing this friend from starting fresh today, or tomorrow, or next Thursday. And writing off this year as a lost cause, when it’s only just now mid-April, seems misguided.
But that’s often the power of an entrenched cultural norm: The force of habit guides us, mindlessly, to follow an established pattern, whether or not it makes good sense.
Consider, then, that spring once marked the beginning of the year. Spring — now — is as good a time as any to begin again, renewing whatever inspiration or commitment that seems to be fading.
For anyone being persnickety about dates, noting that spring began more than three weeks ago, how about taking Easter as the marker instead. The concept of Easter-time (the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox) renewal pre-dates “Easter” itself. Civilizations that crumbled long before the time of Jesus recognized spring as a time of resurrection, welcoming life back into the world as the weather warmed and new vegetation appeared.
Beyond marking a fresh start, the concepts of renewal, rebirth, and resurrection also share a common thread of restoration and well-being.
In January of this year, thinking about what I wanted for the year ahead, I picked an obscure reference, also from the world of Classical mythology: Sophrosyne. One of the first spirits (a good spirit) to escape Pandora’s box, Sophrosyne is the spirit of internal balance and well-being. Though now sometimes associated with restrictive restraint (chastity, abstinence, etc.), Sophrosyne, as I wrote (also in January), is the virtue of self-knowledge, self-control, temperance, and prudence.
I thought the spirit of Sophrosyne would be good inspiration for me this year, and I still think I was right about that. But the ebbs and flows of 2022 feel a lot like the perpetual whitewater of preceding years, and balance seems often out of reach.
So when a colleague offered up the mantra that I shared recently — Aware | Present | Relaxed — Easter suddenly seemed like exactly the right time to reset and begin again, with well-being and balance in mind.
If that hits home for you, too, then maybe you’ll join me in beginning again? Let go of whatever has or hasn’t been successful so far, almost four months in, and just start fresh.
Aware. Present. Relaxed.
Side note: For me, this one means aware in my head, present in my heart, relaxed in my body. This simple mantra might actually be the most helpful gift of 2022, so far. I repeated it in my head during a funeral today, and it helped in every imaginable way.
See you… soon.