How to digest the past at the end of the year and make space for intentions that really last.
Let’s be honest: How often have you started into a new year by writing a list of your intentions for the year to come? And how often has it turned out that simply setting your intentions in confident and affirmative language is not a foolproof way to make your goals come true? My answer to this would be many, many times.
So often, when we set good new year’s resolutions, there is an unresolved undercurrent that draws us back into old patterns and ways of being. Mediation and yoga teacher Sally Kempton has the following example for this: Imagine making intention being like pointing your arrow at a target.
“If your intention is clear enough, it gives a focused direction to everything you do, and you find yourself making choices that naturally expedite the journey toward your goal.If hidden reservations or unconscious agendas lurk under the surface of your psyche, they can sabotage the arrow of your intention. Then it won’t fly straight. That’s true whether your intention is to attract the perfect partner, to expand your business, or to go deeper in your yoga practice. So, at the beginning of an intentional process, it’s important to face your own reservations, feelings of not quite deserving what you think you want, or simply unprocessed emotions.”
According to Sally, the key to this is a process called “recapitulation,” or a formal looking back at the greatest hits and flops of your recent past. In this process, you bring to mind any baggage you’re carrying and anything that could subtly stand in the way of your intention.
Recapitulation – cleaning-out your closet.
Especially as yogis or spiritual practitioners we know that letting go, releasing what lies in the past and forgiving ourselves and others, is a universal practice of clearing that creates space to let in the new. Much like cleaning out your closet or your office desk on your last day at work before vacation. When you release things that no longer serve you, you seem to have more space—and the things that are still there look lovelier and more functional.
That’s where the ceremony of recapitulation comes into play. Or the karma cleaning party if you like. It is a consciously way to sum up the (bigger) changes and the emotionally charged moments you can recall from the past year. You can do it all by yourself or with a group of people.
All you need is something to write, a quiet place to sit in mediation, a singing bowl if you like and a safe area to burn a small fire at the end.
Take a few moments to sit and find your center. Take some deep breaths, welcoming all the feelings that might show up. If you like you can come into child’s pose and ground yourself for a while.
Grab your paper and pen, contemplate over the year and write down your emotion-charged highs and lows: The things you’ve accomplished. The changes you’ve gone through. Actions, moments you felt proud, happy, loving. If you’d like to thank someone, note that. Then also write down moments of conflict, actions or words you regret, behaviors that resulted in your own or other people’s suffering. If you think you should apologize for something, write it down, too. Note incidents you felt hurt or angry and memories of times you haven’t lived up to your best self. Be honest with yourself, even if it’s uncomfortable.
When you experience your ceremony with others, you might take turns reading your lists out loud. If you’re working on your own, look at your list and read to yourself what you’ve written down. Take your time to honor the emotions that might come up and take the most compassionate view of this recap that your are able to. For your highs, you might experience a positive energy and gratitude. For the lows, that a closer look at the triggers, the pain and perhaps even the lesson of the event.
Let it burn.
Then it’s time to release the emotions. Let your meditation bowl sing, tear your list into pieces and put them into a fireproof container and let it burn. Sally Kempton uses the following mantra when throwing the list into the fire:
“I offer everything that happened this past year, positive and negative, to the sacred fire. May all that was accomplished bear good fruit. May all my mistakes be forgiven. May the karmas of this past year be dissolved. I offer gratitude for my life.”
Watch the paper dissolve in the flames and sit in meditation for a while. If you like, you can practice Metta Bhavana – Loving Kindness Meditation or simply sit quietly.
With the past left behind, consider your intentions for the year to come with a relieved and positive mindset. Instead of old-fashioned resolutions like “Next year I’ll go to the gym more often” ask yourself the following questions:
- What would I like most to accomplish?
- How do I want to live my life?
- What qualities in myself would I like to bring forth?
Write your answers down again, then look at your list and picture yourself in the new year. Now again, it’s time to let it burn. While burning away our list of past events might feel releasing, watching your new list burn can feel exciting about the the year you’ll get to live.
Taking time to consciously recollect your words and actions is a powerful yogic practice.
The simple act of recollecting, writing, and then destroying what you’ve written will create an experience of having dissolved the negative thought or act that you want to release. And when you work with recapitulation, this can go a long way toward helping you change unconscious patterns and painful habits. By the way, you can practice this not only on New Year’s Eve but anytime you might need some cleaning-out. The karma cleaning party is on all year around, whenever you need it.
Recapitulation – genuinely looking at and releasing the emotionally charged events of your recent past—is a key to change. It’s the secret of creating effective intentions. And it’s one of the most powerful tools in yoga.