How To Use Seasonal Themes
Seasonal themes are a way to break your yearly theme into smaller chunks. This helps you set clearer goals for your projects. It also helps you clarify what you are asking the universe to do for you.
‘Japan has four seasons.’ You hear it all the time, as if Japan were the only country to experience seasons. Foreigners living in Japan often mock the cliché because Japan isn’t the only country with distinct seasons. Rather, life in Japan feels different because seasons are so deeply enmeshed in the art, holidays, poetry, and life of the country.
It starts with a procession of colour that marks spring, from cherry and plum blossoms, through the vibrancy of azaleas and hydrangeas, to the calm of dogwoods and peonies. Then summer changes the air, filling it with heat, humidity, storms, and relentless rain. Autumn sees the days calm down and colour explode again as the leaves turn before the solemnity of the cold, icy winds of winter bring the year to an end.
We assume the four seasons are universal. But that pattern reflects life only in temperate climates. It spread around the world thanks to colonialism, even to places where the seasons don’t divide into four.
The Indigenous people of Australia acknowledged five or six seasons, and the timing of those seasons, together with their length, varied depending on where they lived. Having observed these in Sydney and Adelaide, to me they make a lot more sense as a description of local weather patterns than the imposed European calendar. Six seasons are also common in the south and parts of the east of India. The Cree calendar in North America also has six seasons, but in Thailand and other parts of South East Asia there are three.
These divisions of the year – into three, four, five or six seasons – come from observing nature and then considering how we should organise our lives in response.
Maybe it’s time to bring our thinking about how to live well and our observations of the seasons of life closer together?
For a while now, I’ve suggested choosing a theme for your year, one word that sets the tone for what you hope to achieve and how you hope to achieve it. My theme for 2020 is Momentum, and my previous themes were Conviction, and Simple.
Alongside a yearly theme, a seasonal theme can be helpful. Three-month blocks (13 weeks, or 91 days, if you prefer) map out well onto a lot of different kinds of projects.
Having a seasonal theme gives you a chance to put four different perspectives on your yearly theme. For the first months of 2020, my seasonal theme was ‘move well’, because I had a lot of travel. Then it was ‘move the ideas’, because I was reorganising my plans in light of the pandemic. Now it’s ‘frictionless’, because I’m trying to change the small points of friction in every day that make things less efficient and pleasant.
Seasonal themes help you reflect the pattern of your life. Maybe there’s a time of year when you travel a lot or when you face a repeated commitment like the start of the school year.
Seasonal themes can also help you deal with big life transitions. When I was leaving Japan, the theme for my last three months was ‘finish without regret’. This came from a little prayer I said a lot in my last months in Japan IL2 and also a conviction to make the most of my last days in a place I’d loved so much.
‘To be interested in the changing seasons is… a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.’
― George Santayana
In Japan, each of the four seasons is sometimes divided into three subsystems. These can be subdivided to create a schema of 72 micro-seasons. Some of them are only a few days long. These are often reflected in local festivals and in poetry. My favourite is the season when fish start to break the ice on frozen lakes and rivers.
That time of year when it’s still winter, but you can sense the slightest hint that spring might be arriving soon, is a micro-season.
As much as I love the reflective and philosophical nature of yearly themes, it’s the seasonal themes that drive a lot of work and personal growth.
Seasons Add Meaning And Focus
Bigger than days, weeks, or months, but much smaller than years, seasons give structure to the year. They also connect us to the world around us. The whole logic of seasons flows from observing our ecological environment.
During 2020, when our sense of time and its passing feels so messed up, maybe we need something to hold onto that gives us more meaning and greater focus. Noticing the passing of seasons slows us down, forces us to take stock, and encourages us to pay attention to the changes in the world around us. It stops the passing of time from feeling like a blur.
So name the season and ask it to give you one small, but meaningful, gift.