One of my favorite parts about being a kid was going back to school in the fall. The new notebooks and pencils. The school bags waiting to be filled. The excitement of a fresh clean slate for the year. The wonder and surprise about the lessons and learning ahead.
For adults, that hankering for a fresh start often comes a bit later, right around this time of year as we naturally draw inward around the time of the winter solstice.
New Year’s Resolutions are our attempt at getting a fresh start.
A clean slate. A brand new notebook on which to write the tales of our lives for the upcoming year.
And while there is a great deal of talk about the excitement about something new, what I have often seen is a resistance to looking back, to consciously looking at where we have come from in the past year, what we already have accomplished and achieved, and the challenges we have already faced.
This was pointed out graphically to me when I was going through a particular growth spurt in my personal development years ago.
I was reading every spiritual and self-help book, going to every class, trying every healing modality and really pushing full throttle at self-improvement.
One day, I had a talk with Kathy, an incredibly insightful and intuitive woman I knew.
She had seen me over the past two months bingeing on self-improvement, falling into what Tara Bach calls the “trance of unworthiness” as I tried to whip myself into shape and, despite my exhaustion, march right up the next peak on the mountain ahead.
Instead, what was offered to me was a totally different type of guidance.
As gently as she could, she suggested that rather than plowing ahead to the next achievement, task and accomplishment, that I take a look back and see where I had already come from in such a short period of time.
What had seemed impossible to me just a few months earlier (like camping in a tent alone, something that caused me to feel sheer terror) had now become an integrated part of me. She suggested that I sit down, set up a metaphoric basecamp to mirror the tent I was actually camping in as I volunteered, and look at how far I had come.
Rather than obsessing about the next peak I saw ahead (“Lose 20 pounds! Write a book! Become an enlightened guru with great abs!”), I was invited to celebrate the progress and journey already made.
I was, in that moment, given permission to breathe, to relax, to enjoy the process of transformation and to begin to trust my own inner guidance a bit more.
In the years since, I have found that the end of the year is a marvelous time for this kind of stock-taking, and encourage my one-on-one coaching clients, students, friends and anyone else who will listen to do the same.
The exercise is quite simple.
Sometime in December, I begin to write The List of 100 for the year.
This is a list of things I am grateful for, such as: the new group of friends I made in March, that my best friend’s cancer is gone, the incredibly brilliant and courageous men and women who have allowed me to serve them as their coach over the past year, going to the Cloisters in New York in the spring with my beloved partner, spending time with my godson and so much more.
And it also includes a second part which many of us find far more challenging: things that I did or facilitated, am proud of and want to celebrate.
For me, this includes saying yes when asked to lead a couple of retreats in Greece in 2016, getting out of my own comfort zone and finding a great office in Palm Springs that I share with wonderful, empowering and inspiring professionals, being of service and present to a sick family member, endeavoring to maintain a work-life balance with mindfulness and my highest values at the forefront of my mind each day, continuing to show up for my own personal deep transformational work that I might be a better instrument through which to serve others, not once buying a package of doughnuts this past year, etc.
I could go on and on (brevity is not the wit of my soul, alas).
But you get the idea and I want you to stop reading and start writing.
Writing this list can be done in one sitting, or it can be done in multiple short spurts.
One client of mine who has had a truly incredible year, thriving in her personal life and taking her business to the next level, decided to take on this exercise I suggested, make it her own and post her list on Facebook as she was doing it. I love the authenticity, vulnerability and courage that are wrapped up in that gesture.
It is in owning and celebrating our own lives and our own progress that we actually begin to build the internal momentum, confidence and inner resources required to take us to the next place in the journey of personal development, growth and transformation.
Taking the time to celebrate gratitude for what we already have -- and what we have already been and achieved -- is an incredibly important part of building our spiritual fitness muscles and growing in humility. The more internal resources we have and can access, the stronger our spiritual fitness and the more exciting, fun and fulfilling challenges we can take on.
We don’t celebrate ourselves to puff up our egos. We celebrate ourselves with the kindness and gentleness we would use to encourage a young girl performing in her first school play. To own her strengths as well as her weaknesses, something that challenges even the most mindful adults, but which creates a beautiful humility and authentic sense of power.
For even more power to this exercise, share it with a trusted friend, family member, therapist or coach (or on social media if you desire). Maybe you want to invite your spouse or children to join in and create their own list, to be celebrated as year-end ritual.
Whatever it is, before you think about crafting those New Year’s Resolutions, I invite you to be present to what you have already been, done, achieved and overcome in the past year. The smaller it seems to you – like getting your twin boys fed daily, or creating a schedule for yourself that you stick to, painting your bedroom dresser or starting your own meditation practice even if just 2 minutes – the more important it is to celebrate.
The Buddha said, “I prostrate to the New Moon,” meaning he understood the need for celebration of what seems small and insignificant, but that is actually incredibly important to honor, celebrate and cultivate.
There can be no full moon, after all, without a New Moon.
Happy holidays, dear ones!