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janusThe month of January is named after the ancient Roman god of Janus. Usually depicted as having two faces, looking to the future and to the past, he represents gateways, passages and endings. However, given the festive season isn’t always a time of good will, for some his mythical role as presiding over the beginning and ending of conflict may feel more relevant. The figurehead of Janus also reminds me of the two faces of the New Year. January is a time of transitions and laying down of new patterns – in that sense, we have the face of optimism. On the other-hand (or other-cheek), the looking back can be clouded by regret or remorse. Our year may be clouded with disappointment; a feeling we failed to meet expectations. It can also give a sense of old patterns that we’ve not been able to break, and can have left us feeling low. The “January blues” are not an uncommon experience for many people. The long build up to Christmas, whether stressful or exciting, is now over. The month of December may have physical, financial and emotional costs.

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I’m looking forward to the festive season this year. It holds an opportunity: a time to get together with friends, family and generally unplug from an ordinarily busy life. However, I haven’t always felt this positive anticipation about the winter break, so I can understand the statistics that uncover another somewhat ‘darker’ side to December (and indeed one that continues in to the early part of the New Year). Recent data released by the Centre for Mental Health shows peak rates of stress, anxiety and depression at this time of year – and this is above the ordinary baseline of 23% of adults who suffer from mental health issues. Staggering and worrying figures.

How has a season that was once about joy become one that brings on such stress, anxiety and depression? Why has a time of opportunity to connect become a period threatening loneliness and isolation?

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chimp paradoxI enjoy taking models from Eastern and Western ways of viewing the world, comparing them, contrasting them and working out how they can be integrated. I’ve long been a seeker, and I relish the challenge: looking at two supposedly distinct systems and seeing how they provide a combined (superior?) wisdom. Certainly as I deepen my understanding of mindfulness, meditation and the Buddhist teachings, and continue my practice in Western therapeutic approaches I actually see more overlap than distinction.

So, it was with much enthusiasm I greeted the decision that a book club I participate in took up the reading of Steve Peters’ “The Chimp Paradox”. Nothing unusual about that you may think – the twist being that the book group is made up of fellow Buddhists.

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