This is a week full of time markers: Winter Solstice, Christmas, and the countdown to New Year’s. We are at the heart of winter darkness but about to turn the corner towards the light that emerges in a new year. No matter how bare the trees today, they are already working deep inside to bring buds to the surface, with foliage to follow.
In the tradition of New Year’s, we come to the year’s review. An end-of-year review is both a private tradition I do with my personal reflection and a shared one that my husband and I enjoy. In effect, I do two reviews – one that takes me into my inner world, and one that examines the events and experiences of daily life. And because I do reviews over several days, even a “single” review can end up having multiple branches.
So as I invite you to do a review, don’t feel that it has to be defined and limited, constrained by a title or category (even though I offer categories below). The process of review can be all the ways you want to reflect on the year, in all the modes you care to bring – writing, dreaming, meditating, drawing, talking. We have nine days until New Year’s Day, and each day offers a new chance to look backwards and ahead.
So how will you do your review? Here are some suggestions, with links to posts that give more detail about each approach.
Option 1: The Basic Review: What’s Going Well? What’s Going Poorly? This has been my standard for many years, my way of examining my life and taking stock over time. I’ve done it often — not just at New Year’s — and it gives me a chance to see what goals or life issues are stuck at the “poor” or “middling” category and which are in the happy “going well” category. Of course we must hold the intention to review with curiosity rather than criticism. To put something into the “going poorly” category should be an invitation to contemplate change rather than introduce punishment or shame.
Option 2: The Question Reflection: Ask Questions. Questions are at the heart of reflection. We can ask questions without expecting answers, trusting that the very act of asking questions opens us up to possibilities. Imagine that you don’t know what the message of 2013 is for you. Ask questions about the year, about what you need to learn from it, about what is incomplete or about what needs to be laid to rest. You may find that simply allowing yourself to ask question after question — and to listen to whatever comes in response (whether answers or more questions) — will provide the energy you need to connect more deeply within yourself.
Option 3: The Fun Category: Vegetables, Movies/Books, High or Low Cultural Moments, and Memorable Events (for better or worse). My fun category this year includes the sadly underappreciated book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks (absolutely nothing like the tepid movie of the same name), making brisket soup, the movies Lincoln and Amour, and the new show Orphan Black. This category is open for whatever events you judge worthy of inclusion — no justification required! — and it’s a particularly enjoyable review to do with a partner. Other possibilities to include: best and worst purchases, happy surprises, ridiculous moments, and surprising serendipity or turns of events.
Option 4: The Serious Category: What touched you this year? Challenged you? Inspired you? Every year holds life-changing experiences, whether personal illness/injury, death of a family member or friend, or world events that hold meaning for you. We can reflect on these experiences to absorb whatever message or lesson they hold, or to find the peace that comes with drawing a difficult period to a close. Of course, just because the calendar changes does not mean we leave these experiences behind, but reflection can be a way to discover how our experiences will fit with our life as we move ahead.
In the end, the reviews offer us a chance to stop and create space: to remember ourselves and the past year; to consider the ways we are changing and the ways we still wish to grow; to be mindful of the pleasures of our life as well as the sadnesses or disappointments. We become conscious of ourselves and of time passing, and we become ready for our own new buds to begin working their way to the surface for the new year.
Questions for Reflection: In what ways have reviews been part of your New Year’s tradition? Which of the review options appeals to you? What events come to mind right away as memorable from 2013? What would be the best way for you to begin the review process?
Writing Prompts: “When I look back on 2013, the first thing I notice is ______” (then keep writing); “My favorite way of reviewing the year is to ______” (then keep writing); “I know that this year it will be important for me to spend time reflecting on ______” (then keep writing); “I am going to start my review by ______” (then keep writing).