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Reflecting on Your Life for the New Year

Reflecting on Your Life for the New Year
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“Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk, in which she might indulge in all the delight of unpleasant recollections.” –Jane Austen

New Year’s Eve is upon us and again many of us will spend time making resolutions, easily made and hardly ever kept. Many of us dash off our resolution list cobbled out with the most immediate things that are bothering us like, “I really must lose 10 pounds” or “I should take time to read each day” or “I’ve got to be nicer to my husband this year.”

We reach these decisions with only the briefest of mental scans and never stop to truly reflect on our lives. In fact, what does reflection really mean? The dictionary defines it as “Careful thought about your own behavior and beliefs,” and Socrates put it baldly when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” but how, exactly, do you undertake such an examination?

Here are some suggestions for your New Year’s period of reflection:

Walking: Take a solitary walk (sans distracting dog) preferably in the woods or beach or elsewhere in nature. Observe your surroundings quietly for a while and then begin a backward chronological journey in your mind, starting at last New Year’s Day. Remember not just what happened, but how you felt about each experience.

Journaling: If you keep a calendar of events (even a business one), have it at hand as you write down what happened during the past year and what your part was in all that happened. Watch yourself as though you were watching a stranger across the room at a party.

Photos: Flip through family photo albums or the digital archive on your computer. Have tissues ready and recall how everyone sounded on the occasion the photos were taken. Hear the voices, particular of anyone lost to you through distance or death.

Meditation: If you are new to the practice of meditation, don’t expect to be able to do it for any real length of time. You might have to break up the session over several days. First, relax in loose clothing and concentrate on breathing in and out. After centering yourself this way, let your mind drift backward over the year. Don’t judge what happened, just observe.

Candle or water: Sit facing a candle in a darkened room. Put your eyes slightly out of focus (almost crossing them) as you stare at the candle. Tell your mind you wish to think back over the year (much like setting a mental alarm when you really need to get up in the morning), then relax and let the journey begin. The same can be done with the candle behind you, reflected in a dark bowl of water. Stir the water with your finger and see what recollections the ripples conjure up in your mind’s eye.

Friends: Call a few trusted friends and ask them what they remember of you and your actions over the previous year. No fair getting mad or arguing about what they recollect. They are only acting as your trusted observers and answering your request.

Clouds: Just like you did as a kid, stare up at the passing clouds and see what shapes they make and how those images help you achieve your stated intention–examining your actions and beliefs about the past year.

Hot Bath & Aromatherapy: Smell is the sense that makes the deepest and longest-lasting impression on our brains. Take in a selection of essential oils and breathe deeply of each in turn while taking a hot bath. The water temperature will relax you and the smells may recall certain forgotten scenes to mind. Summoning images of past loves or lost loved ones can be aided by smelling their brand of cologne or perfume, too.

Art: Facing a blank canvas or sheet of paper with nothing but paint or pencil can be a daunting experience until you allow yourself permission to just let the picture flow with no preconception. You may end up with a depiction of one important event or find you have created an abstract design you will need to study in order to find the meanings.

–Have a list of questions: Ask yourself leading questions, like “What am I afraid of and why?”

–“Who have I helped in the past year?”

–“Who have I harmed?”

–“Who has harmed me and am I ready to forgive them?”

–“What actions of others have I admired and can I duplicate them in my own life?”

–“Of what have I been ashamed?”

Take your inventory dispassionately—what is on the shelves of your life and what is missing? Then plan accordingly to restock in 2018.

Write down the revelations and important recollections and date the note. Next year, after your solitary period of reflection on New Years, look back at last year’s note to see how far you have come. You will find, as Robert Browning did upon reflection, “How sad and bad and mad it was … but then, how it was sweet.”

Happy New Year.



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