The Problem is the Solution: Honoring the Journey of the New Year

Late fall over the homestead
Sunrise through the mist…the way may be uncertain but the sun will rise again

In Permaculture Design, one of the most challenging principles to enact is “The problem is the solution.” It seems simple on paper: you have a serious problem before you, perhaps seemingly insurmountable or overwhelming.  Instead of reacting negatively to the problem, you look for how the problem presents unique opportunities.  You resee your practices, hone them, make changes, and adapt to the problem so that that adaptation becomes a strength. In other words, you make lemonade from lemons–but more than that, you may actually improve your approach by having to consider new options to overcome obstacles.  A simple example: I have a wet, muddy spot in my yard due to the downspout on my house.  Rather than see this as a problem, I turn it into a lush rain garden, which is not only beautiful but also supports wildlife and pollinators.  The problem becomes an amazing solution.  I think that this principle may offer a great opportunity for us with the passing of 2020, and I wanted to reflect on that and share some thoughts today.

While the end of each year offers opportunities for change and growth, 2020 has been a year unlike any other for most of us. Regardless of where you are in the world, 2020 has created numerous challenges and problems. It has disrupted the normal patterns of life. Being an essential worker, losing your job or having job insecurity, fighting racism and oppression, feeling that your rights are being threatened by the government, being isolated from family and friends, having to deal with new family arrangements, losing loved ones, getting sick, being afraid of getting sick, political unrest–2020 has been incredibly difficult.  While all of us continue to experience different challenges and aspects, as 2021 comes, it is an opportunity for deep changes in our lives.

Here’s the important takeaway: because life has been so incredibly disrupted this is the perfect time to make radical changes in your life. Coming out of this, every one of us has a clean slate, a ticket to change. For perhaps the first time in any of our lives, you can be anything you want to be, make whatever changes you want to make, and emerge from this a new person. Why not take the opportunity for growth?

Planting the seeds of the future
Planting the seeds of the future

For me, 2020 has been utterly brutal, particularly in what was once one of the most stable aspects of my life: my work life. I feel like I’ve been in the muddy, dark, and cold trenches all year when it comes to employment or lack thereof. But those trenches certainly have given me a good opportunity to reflect, to grow, and to change.  This brutal situation has allowed me to look deeply into myself, to see what I value, who I am, and how I respond to the world.  It has allowed me also to question some things that I don’t have a resolution on yet, and perhaps, it’s ok to be in a place of “I don’t really know.” There’s power in that.  And it has allowed me to do some things for myself that I haven’t had a chance to do before.

My suggestion is to spend some time in meditation at the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021.  Make some lists, and reflect on your journey.  Here are some questions that might be useful to you–they were certainly useful to me:

  • Think about what you miss from your life before 2020.
  • Think about the things you are grateful not to have to deal with in 2020.
  • Reflect on your own personal response to the many situations in 2020: How did you feel?  How did that challenge or deepen what you believe?  What do you most value, perhaps unexpectedly, through all of this? What are you unsure of?
  • What “shadow” aspects of yourself did you have to confront or what aspects gave you trouble?
  • What shadow aspects did you see in others, and how did you respond?
  • Who do you want to be? Envision your best life and your best self coming out of this.
Sunrise and hope!

Take the opportunity presented by the challenge of 2020 to rewrite your own story for 2021 and beyond.  Perhaps set some clear principles for yourself for the coming year, things you want to focus on, maintain or achieve.  Put these principles somewhere you can easily see them and be reminded of what you have accomplished through this experience.

I see this kind of spiritual work as the antithesis to the typical New Year’s Resolution.  Here in the US, the New Year’s Resolution is this cliche thing where everyone makes the resolution but nobody actually keeps them.  Within a week or two of the New Year, most resolutions fade away and life as usual continues.  The end of 2020 is not a time for empty resolutions but deep and lasting change.  We’ve all had some serious disruption.  Let’s make lemons from lemonade.

So who are you going to be, moving forward?  What spiritual work might you need to do in order to get there?  I’d love to hear you share.

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (RedFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (RedFeather, 2022), and is the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is a certified permaculture designer and permaculture teacher who teaches sustainable living courses and wild food foraging. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart.

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    1. Thank you for the reblog, Paula!

  1. 2020 brought me to the Druid’s garden and to a realisation of my spirituality. It’s a work still in progress. After finding myself rushing from my house to try and prevent the chopping down of two beautiful pine trees in my neighbour’s front garden I was blind sided by my own reaction of utter sorrow followed by anger. I had not expected to be so moved. I have since been researching the Ogham year cycle and related things and have resolved to do some conservation work with trees. 2020 has been a year of confronting fears and dodging bullets and being deeply disappointed when no one in our neighbourhood bothered to celebrate Halloween. We were the only ones out on a deserted street that would normally be bustling with the Halloween spirit. I wondered why people give in so easily to fear and anxiety. I hope 2021 will bring a spiritual revolution for everyone and courage and strength.

    1. Hi Mandy! Thanks for reading and your comments! Here is to a wonderful 2021! 🙂

    2. As of 12:00 pm, 357,000 won’t get to celebrate Halloween ever again. That didn’t feel selfish to say that? I’m so done with fighting with ignorance. Sorry Dana.

      1. Hi Edward, you are absolutely right. This situation isn’t about fear and anxiety, its about a public health emergency that too many are choosing to ignore. Like you, I’m not even responding to people who don’t see our 350,000 dead, and millions infected, as a non issue. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I think a good reminder for myself as far as resolutions go, instead of stating what is wrong, state what is right. I find it changes the energy tremendously!

    1. Yes, absolutely! 🙂

  3. Hello Dana,

    My name is Anne, I have been contacting you via Etsy for the plant oracle ;-). But my question in this email concerns something else. I am studying to be a herbalist, and this year, I must do a student project that I feel will help me on this journey of learning on plant medicine, and I would like to choose a topic that I feel will make me a better healer on this path that is mine. I am contacting you because I recently came upon your blog and the work you do as a Druidess, an artist, a herbalist and I felt a connection to your wisdom. Even though I have been working with plants and studying herbalism for almost 25 years now, my heart has opened to the need of finding a more deeper connection to the plants as well as nature and its rythms. Like you, I have a garden with permaculture in mind, I have chickens and soon will have ducks, and I love this life close to nature. That being said, something has grown in my heart latley, an intention of coming back to my deapest roots. I have long felt as being some sort of witch lol and now know I come from the Celtic/Druid lands in Northern Europe. So I feel I must explore deeper in theses roots of why I feel this very deep rooting/connection to my ancestors and to trees… I must say I am very serious about being a Herbalist with modern skills, blending ancient traditions, scientific info, but I also feel the need to learn more about Celtic medecine. I know Dana that the knowledge has maybe been lost as there were no writings, but there seems to be things that exist that maybe are worth speaking about. So I don’t know in what ways you will be able to help me out in finding incredible things to talk about, other than books found on the subject on internet… I don’t know if you know more things on the Celtic ways of herbal medicine uses that could be fascinating to mention.

    I thank you greatly for your thoughts,

    Anne Selseotes

    Le dim. 27 déc. 2020 à 08:34, The Druid’s Garden a écrit :

    > Dana posted: ” In Permaculture Design, one of the most challenging > principles to enact is “The problem is the solution.” It seems simple on > paper: you have a serious problem before you, perhaps seemingly > insurmountable or overwhelming. Instead of reacting negativel” >

    1. Hi Anne,
      While there were not written records of the ancient druids teachings, plenty of lore and plant lore did survive from that time. I would suggest that you look into the Ogham (Erynn Rowan Laurie’s book is particularly good) and Angela Pane has a book out about the healing plants of the Ancient Druids (I haven’t read that one yet). I also think it is worth considering the approaches of people like Jim McDonald and Matthew Wood, both of whom use traditional western herbalism (energetics, actions, temperments) which can be extremely aligned with Celtic style systems (I studied with Jim McDonald for a number of years and he now has some teachings online; Matthew Wood’s The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism is a great start). Blessings to you on this path!

  4. Thank you Dana.


    1. You are welcome! Thank you for reading 🙂

  5. I am so pleased to have stumbled across your blog. I find it, and the links included very enjoyable and informative to read , all giving much food for thought. Thank you

    1. You are most welcome! 🙂

  6. Reblogged this on litebeing chronicles and commented:
    Another insightful reflection on 2020 and beyond from Dana. Working with what is and using it as a foundation is practical and wise medicine.

  7. If this year has taught me anything its been how much I appreciate being outdoors with nature in all weathers, it has opened my eyes to so much beauty and peacefulness I hug trees now more than ever before I know birdsong off by heart, I’ve stood barefoot on muddy grounds and it feels wonderful I have started to feel at home with Mother Earth more so this year than ever.

    1. Yes, I totally agree. I spent more time on my direct land as well than probably ever before. The parks around here were pretty crowded, and so I took to learning our local land as much as possible. It was a really great experience. Blessings to you on the new year, James! 🙂

  8. 2020 revealed to me my future as a compassionate human being, getting closer to nature and propagating social justice and as much harmony that i can muster. Many wrongs in the world have been laid bare for all to see. More light, we need more light, more fresh air and water, and lots of plants and critters. My goal is to make that feeling grow in people, that feeling of vitality living in the now.

    1. I’ve been thinking a lot about this same issue and fully agree. Compassion is one of the key qualities that seems to be missing from the response here in the US, even from some of my own friends and loved ones. Its hard to deal with when people you love are getting sick, dying, of something that could have been prevented with simple steps. But I also realize that the only person I can control is myself, and so I start there and try to spread the ethics of care to others. Blessings.

      1. I guess I should have said, help them realize, not make them realize. Yes. Teach by example. Thank you Dana.

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