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Burning in the New Year

I don’t make New Years Resolutions. It’s not that I don’t believe in them; I think that making a list of goals for change is a great tool and a healthy way to plan a new beginning that coincides with a new calendar. I simply don’t list all the things I want to do differently once January 1 comes around and post it on my refrigerator as a daily reminder. To me, this seems like a great way to fail as the meaning of the list can too easily change from hope to guilt. Like rules, resolutions seem to be made to be broken. 

I do appreciate goal setting. I am a goal oriented person and so can see the value of knowing there is a deadline on its way. Yet, it is not a tradition I have bought into easily over the years, although I have tried. Like most people I knew in my twenties, I swore I would start a new diet or exercise regime after that last glass of champagne had finally worn off. Also like most people I knew in my twenties, I didn’t really need to lose weight. A bit more exercise would have helped, but I never did join a gym back then and so didn’t learn the value of that form of exercise until later in life.

The problem between myself and resolutions is that once I decide I want to change something, it needs to begin immediately. I am not one for delayed gratification when it comes to feeling better. I want it now; I want to begin whatever new routine will get me to my goal as soon as possible instead of waiting weeks or months. About five years ago I finally decided it was time to try a gym membership; I signed up almost immediately instead of waiting the two months for the calendar change. When it was time to find a more challenging atmosphere seven months later, I cancelled my membership the same week I completed the tour of the new gym. When that gym’s closed doors nearly two years later, the hubby and I had chosen one and signed up before I lost more than a few days of exercise.

I have been tweaking my eating habits since the birth of my second child and have had some real success. In fact when I decided to give up gluten products six months ago, it wasn’t difficult at all. I had become so dependent on other forms of nutrition, like fruits and vegetables, that giving up the bread was easy to do.

I realize that making dietary changes is really the cliché resolution, and that the important things that have to do with work habits and career changes and relationship issues are more often the focus for many folks.

So while I don’t really believe in making New Years Resolutions, I do believe in an end of year cleansing. My friend Celia told me that each year she writes on a piece of paper the things she wants to do differently on one side, and the things that she wants to continue to do on the other. She then burns the paper. My hubby and I have taken that concept a few steps further. We gather round a fire pit in our backyard and write the things to let go of and the things to hold onto on blocks of wood before throwing them into the fire. The fire grows as it consumes the good and the bad, releasing all into the open air of possibility.

We began this ritual the year everyone died. We lost four family members in the span of four months and so were delighted that the year of death was ending. We said goodbye to loved ones on that wood. We planned for a happier future. We attempted to let go of negatives and make promises for positive. We wrote our hopes and dreams and desires on piece after piece of wood. We invited friends and family over to do the same. It was a lovely ritual complete with tears and laughter and silence. And the warmth of the fire growing stronger symbolized our survival of a difficult year and the need to look forward to a brighter one.

Some of what we wrote looked far beyond one calendar year. Some was meant for the short term yet took more than a year to begin to manifest. Some of the pain loosened its grip a bit and allowed us to take in a few cleansing breaths. Some of the pain actually dissipated and flew away with the smoke.

I believe that New Years Resolutions are meant to be a kind of cleansing, of planning for the future.  I do these things each year, but not with promises to myself made in the form of a list stuck to the refrigerator that has the great capacity to make me feel guilty. Instead the attempt is to reach beyond today and allow the new to grow into something more permanent and the old to fade away.

I don’t resolve; I burn.