About nine years ago now, I spent the seven days surrounding New Year’s Eve on a yoga retreat at a massive old plantation house in the hills of Jamaica. It was the first time in my life that I had taken a yoga retreat, and at the outset I wasn’t at all sure of what to expect. Despite the fact that the retreat was packed with amazing people—some of whom remain my closest friends to this day—I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about spending such a significant holiday doing something so unfamiliar.
Everything about that retreat pushed my limits, from the daily three-to-five-hour yoga practices, to the evening experience of meditating on a platform overlooking a papaya orchard as the sun was setting, to the still unknown critter that woke me up in the middle of the night racing along the ceiling beams in my room. There were several times during the retreat when I found myself provoked to the point of tears for no reason I could exactly put my finger on. What I knew as the days progressed on that retreat, however, was that the process of just being there was resulting in serious changes within me.
It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve that I realized the origin of what was going on. That day, our extraordinary yoga teacher invited us all to spend some time in solitude writing down all those things that we wanted to be completely done with in the New Year: the relationships we knew were no longer good for us, the habits or thoughts that kept us from achieving our potential, the grief or anger that we had been unable to let go of but knew we needed to release. This was not an easy process, for the year or so before had been arduous for me on both personal and professional levels. The list I wrote was long and painful to draft, as it forced me to acknowledge how much I was carrying around with me that needed to be left behind.
Just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, we were all invited to join our teachers around a bonfire outside the plantation house with our drafted lists of what we were finished with for the New Year. One by one, we threw those lists into the fire, and watched as others did the same: some joyously, some with tears, some with rage, some at peace.
And then something magical happened: at the moment we were finished, the sky opened up, and in the darkness of that seam in time, it began to rain—pure and light, and just enough to wash away what had come before. I stood in that garden, and rather than choosing to run inside and away from what I was feeling, I simply turned my face to the heavens, closed my eyes and smiled. All at once, I knew that all that had taken place in my life—good, bad and ugly—was exactly as it was supposed to be, and for perhaps the first time ever, I felt at peace.
It was a life-altering moment, one that I still recognize after all this time as having changed the trajectory of my own path. I realized at that moment that I was learning a profound lesson: the lesson of letting go.
We all give lip service at this time of year to the idea of New Year’s resolutions. As those of you who have taken my workshops on year-end planning in the last few weeks are already aware, however, I don’t really like the word “resolution.” I believe that this boundary of time instead offers us an opening to reflect on what is no longer working for us, and to release it in favor of a different, more significant kind of design.
As we stand on the boundary of time that is the New Year, here are the questions I am interested in asking: What are you finished with in your life, as of right now? What do you choose to release forever as you prepare to cross that line into 2012? What is present in your life that you no longer need or want, that no longer serves your highest vision for yourself? How will you choose to release those things—to set a boundary that says “no more”—so as to change your life for the better?
And most importantly, what inspired, magnificent things do you choose to invite into your life instead?
On the morning of New Year’s Day on that yoga retreat nine years ago, after our evening of burning and releasing that which no longer served us, we gathered on our meditation platform to write another list. This time, the list was populated with all that which we welcomed for ourselves in the New Year. This list was even harder to write than the last, because it required me to consider what really set my heart on fire, what I truly wanted and what I longed for in my life that until then had been lacking. It was a list that contained the deepest desires of my being—for my life, my work, my relationships and my family.
And then, we walked to the river that ran through the bottom of the property, and one by one, in silence and with a great deal of gratitude, set those desires into the flow of the river, and out into the world.
A day later, we boarded our planes back home. And though the start of the next year brought many changes with it—not all of them expected, but all exactly what was needed—the year that followed also brought with it a newfound sense of understanding, because I knew what I was finished with forever, and I knew where I was going at long last.
That, my friends, is in my view the point of this boundary, this seam in time into which we all now have the opportunity to dive. As you look back on 2011, what do you choose to let go of, now and forever? As you look toward 2012, what do you choose for yourself and your life instead? How will you execute the design of your life on a daily basis, so that it is all that you hope it will be?
Like all good boundaries, I encourage you to mark this one, and to find your own way to respect its power—with ritual, with gratitude and with grace.
Happy New Year, everyone. May 2012 bring you safe and strong boundaries around that which you value and choose for your life, may those boundaries allow you to grow further into your highest vision, and may you honor those boundaries by knowing your worth at every step along the path.
See you in the New Year.
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