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Bringing this Year to a Close and Launching the Next

Updated: Jan 2

By Fleet Maull, Ph.D.

Here we are… December already!

With the calendar year drawing to a close, we find ourselves entering a season that holds many wonders and traditions. In the Northern Hemisphere, winter is settling in, accompanied by what is commonly referred to as the holiday season, or perhaps more appropriately, the holy day season. This time is marked by the observance of significant religious festivals and holy days, including Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, and in the Buddhist tradition, a celebration of the enlightenment of the Buddha—all converging in the month of December.

Amidst the diversity of religious observances, a common thread emerges—the celebration of light. Homes are adorned with festive decorations, and in Hatfield, Massachusetts, where I live, we have this tradition of a "luminarium” where the streets are illuminated by candles flickering inside paper bags placed on the sidewalks and entryways, and casting a warm glow across the community. It's a visual testimony to the shared spirit of celebration that extends beyond individual traditions. It also serves as a collective reminder that even in the darkest times, there is potential for illumination, both externally and within ourselves. Embracing the light becomes a universal metaphor for resilience, hope, and the continuous renewal of life.

As we revel in this enchanting time, the harvest season concludes, and our gardens, having served us well, are tenderly laid to rest for the winter. My wife and I have carefully prepared our garden beds, covering them with compost and straw to shield them from the winter chill. This shift from autumn to winter is not merely a whimsical turn of the calendar; it aligns with cosmological realities. The Western world follows a solar calendar with lunar corrections, while Eastern calendars, such as those in China and Tibet, follow a lunar calendar with solar corrections, echoing the rhythm of the seasons.

Approaching the year's end, we naturally reflect on the passage of time, contemplating our lives in yearly cycles. As we stand on the brink of January and the dawn of a new year, the prospect of a fresh start beckons—an invitation to explore the tremendous possibilities that await us in the uncharted territory of the coming year. So, with the year drawing to a close, I invite you to reflect with me on the significance of this transitional period and the potential for a fresh start that lies ahead. In the midst of the holiday season's chaos and frenzy, why not intentionally carve out a time for an end-of-year reflection ritual—an opportunity to review the past year and embrace a new chapter of our lives with positive energy and inspiration?

Celebrating the Journey

As we bid farewell to the current year, let's do so consciously. And let’s begin by celebrating our journey as the current year nears its end. We can appreciate the fact that we are here, alive and relatively well, and that we have survived through another year, which is no small feat given the challenging and transitory realities of this life. We could focus on positive things that happened during the year: achievements, successes, signs of progress. We can also reflect on and celebrate all the seemingly mundane activities that we don’t normally notice but are foundational for a life well-lived… the simple but powerful acts of kindness, generosity, and service—showing up for work, contributing to our families, workplaces, and communities in lots of little ways, every day.

We could contemplate how we are part of this vast, miraculous, evolutionary process called life, along with our fellow species and all the life forms. We partake in this mysterious unfolding that may be groundless and filled with suffering, but at the same time, is endowed with tremendous beauty, magic, and power. Now is a good time to slow down and honor the miracle of life and our participation in it.


I would encourage all of us to get a journal and write down all the things that we can celebrate in our life--the relationships, the achievements, the learning experiences (even the painful ones), the blessings, the things we might be taking for granted, like our health, our home, our family. All the ordinary daily things too… We could give ourselves a few moments to feel grateful for our lives and realize how fortunate we are. We all have a limited amount of time on this planet, in this lifetime anyway. None of us knows how long. And so it seems important to be with our experience of life, and to spend time contemplating and honoring it.

We could also reflect on whether we feel life is something happening to us or rather something happening for us and with us, in which we are active participants. If we do feel like life is something happening to us, we might at least consider that we always have a choice in how we respond to the unfolding events. When we recognize ourselves as active participants, we open the door to empowerment and conscious living. Each moment becomes an opportunity for choice, a chance to navigate the currents of life with intention and purpose.

Not Giving Up

In a society that often fosters feelings of inadequacy, shame, and discontent, I urge you to resist the tide. There are mornings when we would just like to pull the covers over our heads and stay in bed, but we don't. We get out of bed and do our best to engage in life, take care of our responsibilities, and participate with others to continue this grand experiment of being a human on planet Earth. Isn’t that commendable and worth celebrating?

Of course, we are not perfect, no one is. We often fall on our faces and make mistakes. But we start over and keep going. We continue to learn, evolve, and grow, and do so with self-compassion, being patient with our failures and weaknesses, and recognizing our resilience.

Many among us are grappling with extraordinary challenges—illness, loss, and personal struggles. Yet, we persist. We haven't given up on ourselves or this life. In a world divided by differences, let us also not give up on each other. Our shared journey, fraught with pitfalls and imperfections, is a testament to our collective striving toward the good.

Reflecting on this Past Year

Then, having spent some time focusing on the good and positive and focusing on what we are grateful for, we could, with objectivity and loving-kindness, turn our gaze inward and engage in honest self-assessment, not from a place of self-judgment but from a sincere desire to grow. We can summon aspects of the past year we are not so proud of. Maybe we haven't followed through on some of our commitments, haven't accomplished some of the things we had planned to do, or got off track with some of our goals. The point is not to feel bad about ourselves or experience shame or guilt but to recognize where we may have faltered, understand the roots of those missteps, and commit to realigning with our values and principles. Commitments can always be refreshed and re-affirmed. We can also identify areas where we could redouble our efforts to live in alignment with our values and commitments. This isn't about fixing what's broken; it's about evolving and thriving as a human being.

Welcoming the Coming Year

Having brought the year to a close in this mindful manner—celebrating successes and blessings, mourning losses, and acknowledging failings—we can make peace with it. Whatever happened, we learned something, and now is time to let it go and move on. We can turn our attention to the coming year.

In many ways, entering this new year is like opening up a new book, facing a blank page, or contemplating an open landscape of complete possibility. Why not pause a little and give ourselves some time to reflect? We could ask ourselves: “ What do I want to create this year? What would be most fulfilling and life-enhancing? What would bring me the most joy and delight? How can I really serve life and serve others? How can I continue to improve the quality of my relationships, my health, and well-being, and make a contribution to my community and the larger society?

This reflective pause allows us to set intentions for the coming year, envisioning the kind of story we want to write, the experiences we wish to cultivate, and the positive impact we aspire to make. It's a moment to tap into our deepest desires and aspirations, aligning them with a sense of purpose that includes personal fulfillment and also encompasses the well-being of those around us.

Being Intentional

The holiday season being such a demanding and stressful time for many, this exercise requires intentionality and discipline. I would suggest you deliberately carve out time for this ritual. You could schedule a little bit of time every day throughout December, or a bigger block of time once a week, but really schedule it out and make the effort to stick to your plan. Personally, I think it's important to do some of it alone, as a personal contemplation, but then, it can also be done in the context of your relationships, with a partner or spouse or your family—having some conversations with them about how the past year has gone can be very enriching.

In Conclusion

Let us not succumb to the allure of New Year's Eve parties that leave us empty and nursing hangovers. Instead, let’s step into the new year with clarity, purpose, and a profound understanding of our innate goodness and worthiness.

As we stand at the threshold of the new year, with the days starting their ascent toward more light, let us use this opportunity to consciously shape our trajectory.

Let us embrace the journey not as a response to inadequacy but as a commitment to meet life's challenges with skill and wisdom while meeting life’s natural flow of change, growth, renewal, and thriving.

Let us welcome the new year as a blank canvas—an opportunity to craft the masterpiece of our lives with intention, purpose, and unwavering compassion.

Best wishes to you!

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