Reviewing the Year: The Value of Looking Back to Move Ahead

I set aside time and space annually to look back, evaluate and set intentions for the new year. Having a clear mind and open heart is a gift to myself and all who are close to me.

by Karen Lanier
PHOTO: Pixabay

Working with the cycles of the seasons is among the greatest gifts of farming, gardening and homesteading. Reflecting on the past year and imagining what the next year holds is as important as sharpening the tools in the shed or rotating crops from one bed to the next. At the end of each year, I have a regular practice to review the past 12 months and set some intentions as I step into what’s next.

Choose a Method

As I’ve grown to understand my own process of learning and growth, I’ve adapted several methods from different teachers and belief systems. I recommend basing the practice of your yearly review in what’s meaningful for you. Connect your practice to your value system. For me, it’s a combination of permaculture principles, scripture, wise elders’ teachings, feng shui, yoga and indigenous medicine wheel elements. That might sound weird to others, and that’s OK. This is a private ritual of drawing inward and spending time alone.

Create Space

Stepping out of the busy holiday season, I carve out time to be alone. Every year, I accept housesitting invitations as a practical way to escape (and it’s way cheaper than a hotel). My focus improves when I get away from my familiar surroundings and the ongoing distractions of my home. Hiding away for a few hours or a few days is key to seeing my year clearly.

Creating the space begins before I leave my house. I stuff my backpack with all my journals, calendars, notes and meaningful messages that remind me what the past year has been like. Then I turn my attention to select a few inspirational books or articles that I feel drawn to, for guiding me in the next year. I spend no more than 15 to 20 minutes on collecting my things, or otherwise I could end up with too much baggage.

Categorize the Past

In my retreat space, I make some herbal tea, get comfortable and spread out all my stuff. Journaling is usually my way of keeping my thoughts neat and tidy, hidden from scrutiny. Opening up those pages and laying it all out on the table, literally, is really fun for me, like a great unveiling. It shows me visual evidence of a year well lived. Even if the past year didn’t seem so great, I know that I was present and showing up because I have the diaries to prove it.

I rarely take time to read my journals until this moment. I might skim through, randomly flip to a page and read wherever my finger lands, or just read the first line from each entry. It doesn’t take long to get a sense of the themes that emerge. Even looking at my digital calendars can do this for me. I see patterns, and I try to work from an outside observer’s point of view. I don’t allow myself to get tangled up in reliving any heartbreaks or dramas. I seek the facts of the past year, and I make several lists that put them into perspective.

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One way to make sense of the past year is to map it with the grid of feng shui, the Chinese art of spatial orientation that harmonizes the flow of energy. Don’t worry, I’m not rearranging furniture at this point. For me, feng shui is simply a useful tool to check in with all aspects of a balanced life: wealth, health, prosperity, wisdom, knowledge, relationship, creativity, global connection and home. If I have notes about the past year in each of these areas, I can see what’s been challenging, satisfying, abundant or depleted.

Feel Into It

Taking a big picture, aerial view of the past year helps me be objective about what has transpired, and yet I need my heart to talk to my head about all of this. I’ve borrowed techniques from one teacher in particular, Connie Milligan, that guide me through this aspect of my yearly review. For this example, I’ll focus on my outdoors experiences. I’ve listed them separately as GTP Garden, RDH Garden, home garden, hikes with friends, learning experiences and vacation. One at a time, I reflect on the sensations of being in the experiences.

The first three—the gardens I worked in—each bring up different feelings and memories. One was difficult to make progress in, and I learned to focus on just taking care of one plant that I really loved. Another was a complete mess that I loved physically diving into and whipping into shape. A third was a retreat I escaped to, and I only minimally disturbed the plants while I just enjoyed being in their presence. I weigh each of these experiences by asking what was the most life-giving and what was the most life-draining in each scenario. It helps to put away all books and writing and just sit in meditation with each of these and remember the feelings of being there. For a more tangible connection, Connie suggests choosing an object that represents each situation.

The physical exertion, sweating and camaraderie, as well as quiet contemplation and nature observation, are the aspects that I come away with as life-giving. They might seem contradictory, but all of it helped me feel alive while I worked in the gardens. What was life-draining to me was planning, coordinating and worrying about expectations of others.

Gardening is not the only aspect of my life that I run through this feeling process. Checking in with where I placed aspects on my feng shui grid helps me identify what needs more attention. If I only have one afternoon for my year review, I will jump right into the area I feel the most unsettled about (such as wealth) and take a closer look and deeper feel at the events surrounding it (such as changing jobs). If I take a couple of hours every day for a week, I can give each aspect its time.

Apply It Forward

Now the fun really starts. I get to look at what possibilities are ahead next year. I can choose to find a balance between what I consider the nourishing part of gardening (exercise, friends, nature) and the draining part (coordination and expectations). There might be other areas of my life where coordination is enjoyable, such as running my own business. In fact, I look at all the coordination energy that I put into my job, and it’s obvious why I dislike bringing that with me to the garden. That knowledge points the way to setting this intention for the coming year: I will make choices around gardening that boost my energy and feed my soul. Garden time will be free-flowing and unstructured.

Make Your Review an Annual Holiday

No matter what method you practice, reflection and contemplation deserves to be a yearly tradition. It doesn’t have to be on new year’s eve. Consider what season allows time for taking a breather and suits your own lifestyle. It could be at the end of the fall harvest, or just before spring buds appear, or a weekend nearest your birthday. I have made my retreat time a promise to myself. I can’t think of a better gift that will serve all who are close to me than having a clear mind and open heart as I step into the new year.

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