Updated: Feb 10, 2022
3 Creative Ways to Reflect on This Year & Welcome the Next
2021 has been another exhausting year for many of us. And this thing ain't over yet... So as December draws to a close, now is the time to check in, recognize this year's gifts and challenges, and imagine next year's possibilities.
You all know I'm a journaling junkie. But growing up, I laughed at the idea of keeping a "diary" - that is, until I finished college and moved to Mexico in early 2008. Just before hopping on the plane, my sister gifted me a beautiful little journal. I had no idea how to use it, so I dropped it in my bag and started carrying it with me around town. Whenever I went to a yummy restaurant or an interesting art gallery, I simply noted down the place as a reminder of where I had been. It took a few more weeks to discover I could use the blank pages as a private space for reflection.
For a long time after that, I returned to my journal whenever things got tough, and it gradually became easier to process challenges with a pen. Sometimes I wrote whatever bubbled up in stream-of-consciousness; other times it felt helpful to write a letter to my past or future self. After many years of journaling in this way, my mentor encouraged me to write not only during times of difficulty but also during moments of joy or accomplishment. Suddenly, my journal became a friend reflecting back the "full catastrophe" of all life's ups and downs.
Then, several years ago, I spontaneously instituted what became an annual ritual - on New Year's Day, I go to a local bookstore (it must also have a café) and pick out a new journal.
I order a cappuccino, settle in to a comfy chair, and put pen to paper. I stay as long as needed to contemplate the past year and orient myself to the next. Nothing fancy, but reflecting in this way has helped me each time to get clear about the past and intentional about the future.
Where to Begin?
There are no hard rules about reflecting around the New Year. But allow me to offer some suggestions around when and three ideas for how...
When: Winter Solstice - December 21st in the Northern Hemisphere - New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are equally wonderful days to commit to contemplation. Whatever day you choose for your reflection, the most important factor is to set aside about an hour when you can be in quiet solitude. Honor this time with yourself in the same way you would meet a close friend for a lunch date. If you are distracted by screens or household duties, the quality of your attention will diminish, as will your capacity for clarity.
How: This is the juicy part! Read on for three creative ways you can explore your inner space as we transition from 2021 to 2022. See what calls out to you, and dive in!
1) Journal with Prompts
Put pen to paper as you muse. If you're new to journaling, locate your favorite writing instrument and a couple sheets of good paper. If this is old hat, consider selecting a beautiful new journal for 2022 that you can "break in" with these contemplations. Personally, I go for hardcover journals with lined pages and binding that opens flat. I like a pretty cover that sings to me, "Sit down and stay a while." I also make sure the paper is thick enough to hold all my ink.
Then have at it! As mentioned above, there are no rules. Write a list of gratitudes, a letter of encouragement, a poem of inspiration. Write words, sentences, paragraphs. Don't spellcheck yourself or stress about whether your handwriting is legible. And yes - it is important to write by hand! Dictating and typing don't have quite the same effect on our brains, so unless you cannot hold a pen, avoid digital means.
Even if you are comfortable with free-form writing, using prompts brings focus and purpose to this transitional time of reflection. A quick online search will yield pages of thought-provoking questions to get you going. My dear friend Kelly has a list of prompts she uses each year, and I'm passing it on to you here: "Completing and Creating"
2) Draw Your Inner Garden
This one is for the folks more interested in using colors and images for self-expression. You do not need to have any special skills, though, just the willingness to quiet down your goal-oriented brain for a bit. The idea here is to allow your drawings to serve as symbols or metaphors for your inner experience. Start by doing a short Yoga practice or taking a walk outdoors, to settle body and mind. Then gather a large piece of drawing paper and a variety of colored pencils, pens, or pastels. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and allow the following visualization to unfold:
In your mind, picture a secret garden; it is the garden of your inner self. Imagine all the plants and flowers blossoming in beautiful abundance. These are your passions, relationships, and projects. Allow yourself to revel in the mysteries of Nature - the cycles of seasons, the way a seed sprouts, the transformation from flower to fruit and back to seed.
Then locate the space in your garden where you spent most of this past year. What is growing happily here? Are there any plants that need more water? Are there any that need some pruning? Take some time to observe here.
Now find an empty space in your garden. Carefully prepare the soil and lovingly plant the seeds that you hope will sprout in the New Year. Imagine the sprouts growing roots, blossoming, and bearing sweet fruit. Commit to caring for these precious new plants. Consider how you would like to eventually share the delicious fruits.
Linger in this space as long as you would like. When you are ready to leave, offer your thanks to the sun, the Earth, and all the love that has gone into creating this wonderful garden. Return to your paper, and draw what you've experienced.
(This meditation is adapted from Gertrud Hirschi's book Mudras: Yoga in your Hands.)
3) Collage Your Intentions
Also called a "vision board," this reflective process brings attention to what you would like to cultivate in the year ahead. The words and pictures you choose will create a vision-scape of the feelings, intentions, relationships, and activities that you want to experience. The best part is that you can do this in solitude or with others. So have fun with it!
Prepare your materials ahead of time - gather a variety of magazines or other printed materials with color pictures, a piece of poster board in any size, good scissors, and paste. If you don't have everything on hand, explore what materials you could get for free before running to the store. Stop by the local barber, grocery store, or doctor's office and ask if you can take any old magazines off their hands. Call the craft store to see if they have any odds and ends you could use. Or better yet, gather a few artsy friends and host a collage party!
Once you have the materials together and ample time set aside, do something to clear your mind - breath consciously for a few minutes, or brew and sip your favorite cup of tea. Close your eyes and ask what you want for yourself in 2022. Then open your eyes and begin sifting through the pages of photos and words. Cut or tear out whatever catches your eye. Take as long as you need here, especially if you are doing this with a group.
Whenever you feel ready, begin arranging the pieces on your poster board, pasting them on as you go. If you are with friends, you could all agree to go quiet or find your own little nooks during this time. You don't have to perfectly line up the edges as if you're doing a jigsaw puzzle; simply allow it all to come together in a way that's pleasing to you. Once you feel satisfied, sit back and take in the whole picture. What patterns do you notice? How are you feeling in your body as you look at your board? What are you willing to commit to in order to turn these visions into reality?
If you go with the "collage party" option, close by allowing each person to share about their board and intentions. At home, display your collage so that you can easily reconnect to your vision throughout 2022.
(My thanks go to Lisa, a wonderful friend who helped me get over my anxiety about cutting straight lines at a vision board party a few years ago.)