It snuck up on us again – December 31st, I mean. Sure, Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year) was back in September and I celebrated then, but since I didn’t grow up Jewish (and also just as an American), my instinctual calendar new year is January 1st, which means the new year is literally two days away. What?! Crazy. I’ve got a little exercise for us today that’ll get the creative juices flowing and allow us to really reflect on how far we’ve come this past year and to get ourselves oriented in the direction we want the new year to take us.
We are bombarded with so many posts and questions about resolutions that for a lot of us, the coming year can seem stressful before it’s even begun! For others, though, using the first day of the calendar year as a clearly marked starting point for change is incredibly motivating. Whichever camp you fall into, though, our exercise today isn’t about resolutions. There are the two parts to it; for the first part, you’ll need a sheet of paper and something to write with, and for the second you’ll need just yourself and a quiet place to sit without interruption. Ready? Let’s get to it.
You’ve all got your pencil and paper, right? The first thing I want you to do (and I’m doing this along with you) is to think back over the course of the whole past year and think about what changes occurred in your life. They can be big, tiny, super significant, or not so important. If it made a difference to you, write it. Here are some of my personal examples to get you started:
- started teaching at Lotus House of Yoga and Juniper Spa & Yoga
- got certified to teach POP Pilates
- went through a break-up
- got fired
- moved to Israel and became a citizen
Your list can have as few or as many items on it as you want. Now that you’ve got your list, take a look at it and think through each of those changes. At the time, did they seem like good changes or bad ones? Were they pleasant or painful? Do you see any of them differently now that you are standing beyond them? For example, getting fired was pretty scary for me and not exactly a great time, but I see now that it allowed me much more time to spend with my family and loved ones before moving. You may have a similar story with one of your painful changes, or you may not. Sometimes change is simply that – painful – but we can look back and realize that we had the strength to survive.
Take a look at your list again, and think about other events that shaped your 2017. What did you learn? I’m talking about all kinds of learning – academic, emotional, spiritual, practical, everything! You can think this through in your head if you want, but sometimes it’s nice to write it all down so you can really see some of the achievements and growth from the past year. Because I chose to write mine down, I’ll share a couple examples with you. Keep in mind that your list may be entirely different and that is perfectly okay!
- Since making aliyah, I’ve learned how to be patient and stick with myself.
- Through my break up, I learned what it meant to truly love another person and how to stay vulnerable.
The last section of the writing exercises involves shifting our focus to the coming year. Based on your reflections, what values or intentions would you like to cultivate going forward? These can be tangible or intangible, simple or profound, pragmatic or more abstract. You can make this part as detailed (or minimal) as you want it to be, and there is absolutely no way you can do it wrong. Just so you have some direction, I’ll provide a few of my own examples:
- Standing up for myself
- Patience with others
- Mindfulness of the present moment
Remember that quiet spot I said you were going to need? That part is now! Grab your list, find a comfortable seat wherever you choose, and really make it feel cozy. You can sit on a cushion if your knees or back bother you; a blanket might feel nice as well.
Once you’re all set, close your eyes gently, and allow yourself to settle in. There’s no need to try and push all thoughts out of your head. Instead, simply start to follow your inhales and exhales, noticing the way they feel in your body. Allow yourself to sit like this, calm and aware, for a few moments and then, once your mind has begun to settle a bit, bring your first intention to mind. It may be an abstract feeling or it may be something tangible, but envision in your mind what that thing would look like taking shape in your own life. What would it feel like in your body? Hold those images and sensations there for a few breaths, and then on the exhale let them go. The next inhale brings with it the next intention, and you’ll repeat this simple meditative practice with each item on your third list.
Allow yourself to remain seated, eyes closed, for a couple more minutes of stillness. Remind yourself that no matter what changes the new year brings, growth and healing will come along with them. Instead of fearing changes, we can look forward to the progress and opportunities that G-d (or whatever or whomever you believe in) is ready to bless us with.
Happy New Year!