The year is coming to a close – any regrets? How about resentments? Anger? Frustration? I’ve heard people say they regret nothing because it brought them to the place where they are now. But I might argue that sometimes we can’t help but drag around a few toxic memories and emotions that we might be better off without.
A church we once frequented holds an annual burning ceremony on New Year’s Eve. People bring slips of paper to drop in the small flaming chalice. On these papers they’ve written the things they want to leave behind in the old year. I loved this tradition, even if the church was not the one for us.
So I came home and reinvented the tradition at our house. We had a big bonfire and dumped in it all the things we wanted to leave behind. The kids piled old school work into the fire pit. My husband threw in a few broken chairs that he knew he'd never have time to repair. Friends came by, sipped on beers, and dropped in their own secrets scribbled on carefully folded papers. I had pages prepared and when everyone had gone, I slipped a spiralbound notebook on to the fire in which I had poured out all the frustration and doubt that dragged my soul down on a daily basis.
I’d like to say it worked like magic. But life isn’t that simple. It did provide an emotional break- the symbolic destruction of my fears and limitations put another layer between me and them. They were a little less powerful.
What would you like to leave behind in 2014? Write it down. And then find somewhere to burn it – a fireplace is ideal. Please don’t burn your house down. A bonfire could be festive.
What hinders your soul? What keeps you from being the person you want to be?
This Week's Challenge: Symbolically leave any lingering regrets and emotional baggage in the old year so that starting in 2015 you are free to live the life you’ve always wanted.
So breathing is not over-rated. I appreciate this most when my son has need of his rescue-inhaler. This only happens a few times a year, normally in response to close contact with a moldy, musty environment (used books stores are one of his favorite haunts) or a cold. Taking a deep, cleansing breath is underappreciated by the vast majority of us.
Here’s a few other things deep breathing does for you:
I think the best thing deep breathing does for me – is slow me down. It forces me to put an intentional pause in my day. Life is already going by at much too fast of a pace. I don’t want to miss a moment. Deep breathing reminds me to be present.
This week’s Challenge for an Intentional Life:
Breathe. Not just any ole’ gasp, but really breathe. Inhale deeply for 3 counts, hold for 3 counts (this is important) and exhale for 6 counts. Do it ten times every day.
To breathe like this, you’ll have to pay attention. It helps if you close your eyes. I find the best place for my ten intentional breaths is in the shower. I’m always looking for a reason to linger under the warm spray (that’s why I also floss my teeth in the shower!). If the shower isn’t your thing, here’s a few more places to breathe intentionally –
Write a holiday letter. I know, I know, maybe it isn’t your thing. But this life is flying by so fast and a holiday letter will do two things (even if you don’t send it!) –
1. The act of writing about your year will remind you of everything that happened this year. This will make you grateful – perhaps because it really has been a great year or maybe because you can now put this year behind you! Gratefulness is in short supply everywhere, yet research confirms over and over again that gratefulness is a huge contributor to your health and happiness. Get more of it.
2. Writing an annual holiday letter will create a permanent record for the people who come after you. My mother has written a holiday letter for the fifty years. I can look back and track our family’s history by those letters. By writing down a greeting with a few highpoints of your family’s year, you help preserve a heritage. You keep all those memories from being lost in the blur of getting dinner on the table and the kids out the door.
We need to be present. It’s a goal I have had for years but lose track of within minutes of remembering it. We are pressed from all sides with demands, expectations, and sometimes simply basic survival. It is hard not to let these precious minutes, hours, even years slip by unnoticed and uncelebrated. Take a few moments this week to take stock. Write it down. You don’t have to show it to anybody, it doesn’t need to be great writing. It can even be a simple list or a stream-of-consciousness ramble.
Just this week. Stop and reflect before the chaos of Christmas swallows you up. And then send it. Or don’t. (But if you do send it- I’d love to get it! I’ll even send you ours in return. E-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org or snail mail it 1568 Deer Creek Road, New Freedom, PA 17349).
Tis the season of sweets! Right? The couple pound weight gain is inevitable between the holiday parties, the yummy once-a-year-so-it-doesn’t-count cookies, and then there’s the eggnog and champagne and holiday brews.... nothing you can do about it. As my children used to remind me when they bumped up against another of my crazy rules, "Everybody's doing it." (They've long since given up and are counting the days until they can live on Doritos and Mountain Dew will streaming nonstop YouTube in their apartments that they will NEVER clean.)
Of course, you’re going to eat things you don’t normally eat. And that’s okay. Really. But there is something you can do to keep from slipping down that slope of oh-heck-I-might-as-well-eat-the-entire-cheesecake. You can eat intentionally. This week try two things.
First, really enjoy your food. For heaven’s sake if you’re going to beat yourself up over it anyway, you might as well enjoy what you're eating. Eat slowly. Savor the peppermint ice cream. Linger over the fudge. Appreciate every delectable bite of the crab dip. And while you’re at it - sit down and taste what you’re eating. Don't eat standing up or on the run. Pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. Celebrate the exquisite flavors and taste.
Second, cut back on your regular food patterns.You know you’ll be loading up on foods you don’t normally eat, so cut back on a few you do normally eat. Make a decision not to eat snacks this week. Or decide you’ll only have salad at lunch. Instead of two slices of toast in the morning, have one slice. Instead of that mid-afternoon pick-me-up Sickers bar, have a cup of tea. You’ll enjoy all of your food more, if you allow yourself to get hungry between meals. Hunger passes, calories don't. Challenge yourself not to eat habitually. Pay attention and put the fork down. You can do this.
If you can eat intentionally this holiday season, you won’t have to regret anything when it’s over. Except maybe you’re credit card bill.
When people annoy you (the driver in front of you, the cat, your kids, a co-worker), just for this week – let it go.
Intentionally decide not to respond in anger or annoyance.
Smile if you can and remember that nine times out of ten, the other person is not really trying to offend you and the only person who suffers from their behavior is you.
For this week – take a deep breath, count to ten, look away, make an intentional decision to cut people some slack.
What is living intentionally?
Remember when you were a kid and you broke something or took something that wasn’t yours or said something you shouldn’t have said? When your mother pinned you down on it, your knee-jerk reply was, “I didn’t mean to do it!”
If you want to learn more about living intentionally, you can buy my book by the same title. It's full of challanges, in fact, I counted them and there are 270 challenges in all! Click here to get your own copy!