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Tuesday 27 December 2011

New Year's: Not Just for Getting Drunk Any More

Someone has to steer.

End of the year. Christmas has passed, and it’s time to think about the next holiday. So what do you do?

One option, indulged in by millions, is a drunken blowout with champagne and cardboard horns. What better way of beginning the new year than being unable to recall the last night of the previous one?

New Years parties have a thread of dissatisfaction that goes beyond the overconsumption. It’s possible to detect more than a hint of artificiality in the date, and if it truly is the end of one year and the beginning of the next, then surely something of greater import should take place.

It’s like standing in a crowded, tinsel-filled room, chatting about the weather, our jobs, our last holiday - and attempting to stave off the boredom that such conversations eventually bring. We look down and see that the floor is made of thick glass; and in the depths beneath there are more significant events taking place, interesting currents, candlelight, silence, clarity. But at this party there doesn’t seem to be a staircase leading down there. It’s inaccessible.

Perhaps rather than a loud, shouting revel, we should spend at least part of the time thinking. We should sit quietly on the border, gazing back over the year just finished, then swing our legs over the fence and look forward at the year to come.

Many such rituals are best done with paper and pen, and time to think, and solitude. Find a quiet space where you will be undisturbed for at least half an hour, preferably more. But if all you have is half an hour, you can still spend it well.

First, the year just past. Write the year at the top. Answer these questions:

  1. What were the most personally significant events of the year? Emphasize the things you chose to do, not just the things that happened to you.
  2. How satisfying a year was that? Would you rate it as one of your life’s best years? One of the worst?
  3. If an observer sat watching your actions for the entire year, what would he or she say were your top priorities – regardless of what you think they should have been?
  4. If there are dissatisfactions with how you spent the year, what are they and what would you like to have done instead?

Next, on a separate sheet, write the number of the year to come. Spend most of your time on a single task.

  • What do I want to do this year?  What would make me look back at the end of the year and rate it as one of my best?

Let your mind roam freely, and don’t edit. Don’t try to categorize or, if you do, have only two or three headings (like “Work” and “Life”).  Don’t worry if your ideas seem to be of various magnitudes (“Visit India”, “Finally watch ‘The Seven Samurai’”, “Clean out hall closet”).  Emphasize things that are under your control; that you might be able to bring about.  “Buy pencils” is better than “Win the lottery” or “Have a more romantic spouse.”

If you find yourself running dry, sit back. Consciously relax. Breathe deeply. Repeat the word “Anything” as you exhale. Don’t grab at ideas; let them come to you.

When the flow slows again, place your mind gently in the various rooms, or realms, of your life.  Some common ones include: Work, Family, Social, Romantic, Avocation/Hobbies, Creative, Learning, Home, Read/Watch/Buy, Daily Routine, Health, Finances, and Spiritual. There are others. Even if a room seems empty, stay there with the emptiness for at least a few minutes. Ideas may begin to emerge from the walls.

Give it time, and consider carrying your page around with you for a few days. Having stirred up your mind, new thoughts will pop into your head when you are on the bus, or in the bath, or waking up. Add them to your list.

Finally, remind yourself that the new year has begun. Ask yourself what you will do this week to begin the process of living the year you want. Don’t wait for the impulse. Don’t wait to want to exercise, or to call your estranged sibling, or to clean out the attic. The goal is to do these things, not to wait until they seem fun. You won’t act on everything on your list this week, but if you don’t act on any of them ask yourself why not. What are you waiting for? Who are you hoping will take charge of your life, if not you?

Our lives are like sailboats. It’s fun to sit back and look up at the sky, chat with friends, and even break out some wine (or a cardboard horn). But every now and then, we need to put a hand back on the tiller and steer.

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