Last New Year’s Eve, my sister and I found ourselves sitting across from each other in our coziest pajamas, sipping hot mugs of tea while we awaited the arrival of 2022.
We started sharing our feelings about the previous 364 days of the year when I said, “Wait! Do you want to do my New Year ritual with me?!” We pulled out some paper and pencils and began to go through the questions I use to leave the year in the past and start the next afresh.
As the clock ticked nearer toward midnight, we thoughtfully approached each question one at a time. We talked about our most glorious memories: the things we were proud of, the goals we had accomplished, our very best moments. We took turns celebrating each other’s respective highlight reels, nodding, laughing and saying, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that!”. With each shared memory, we got a little real-er and a little more honest about our feelings surrounding the last twelve months.
We eventually turned to the questions about incompletions (the parts of our lives that are unresolved or causing suffering). Our hearts were tender and our eyes a little wetter as we talked about the challenges we faced and what we wished we had done differently. We openly discussed our regrets and griefs and recounted those precious hopes and dreams that remained unfulfilled, doing so in a spirit of self-compassion and generosity.
We talked until there was nothing else to say - it was a truly cathartic experience. With everything out on the table, nothing left unsaid, we were free to declare that everything that happened and didn’t happen in the last year was perfect. There was a special warmth as we held hands and officially completed the year. We looked at the clock and noticed that we just happened to finish our ritual exactly one minute before midnight. We grabbed pots, pans and things to drum on them with and then, quite literally (though raucously), rang in the new year.
The new year is a natural time of reflection and a convenient moment to take stock of our lives as well as what we’ve experienced in our most recent journey around the sun. Many of us begin to think about what we want for next year. We muster up our willingness to hope and dream again, and some of us may even be as inspired as to declare it “our year”.
When a chapter closes, it’s tempting to flip the page and immediately jump into the next. And while that might work well for a page-tuner of a novel, it doesn’t work as well when it comes to our lives. Humans are meaning-making machines, and with every experience, every success and failure, we are constantly weaving a story about who we are and what’s possible for ourselves and our lives. Think of all the stories we have accumulated over the past several hundred days!
This isn’t a problem when these are empowering stories of our own creation - but when we have disempowering stories that fly under the radar, they have the ability to kill possibility and transformation without our even knowing. That’s why it’s so important to get these things complete - creating the future without completing the past is like trying to build a new home on a cracked and unstable foundation. Reflecting on the last twelve months gives us a valuable opportunity to restore that foundation and learn the very lessons that will be key to our transformation in the future.
I also find that my New Year’s completion exercise is overwhelmingly an opportunity to forgive myself of my frailties, inconsistencies, and out of integrities. The forgiveness section always moves me. It’s what allows me to let go of the disempowering stories I’ve held about myself and make way for belief that I can become the person I long to be.
This entire practice leaves me with a sense of peace, hope and gratitude. I actually don’t even take any time to create new goals until I have cleaned the barrel of the previous year. Only then am I free to discover who I am and who I want to be in the future.
Whether you already have a New Year’s tradition or not, I invite you to take some time to reflect on the whole range of your human experience. I pray you extend the compassion and generosity to yourself that you deserve every day of the year, and I hope you’ll experience ease and relief as you enter into yet another year of this complex and exquisite thing we call life.