And 2011 has been a year of tumultuous change.
Celebrations of one year ending and another beginning tend to be filled with hope, sometimes relief, a sense of promise. Hope is wonderful. It helps us to reach for the satisfaction in our lives. But hope is not the only emotion that arises at this time of year. The end of the year can also be a time of sorrow and disappointment. When we look at the year just passed and face the results of the choices we have made, positive or negative, we may find that we are not so pleased with what we see.
New Year's Day is an arbitrary mark on the calendar, but it's a useful symbol that reminds us to pause and reflect. Transitions are actually continuous, not bound by numbers on a calendar or clock. One thing leads to another. Our lives, whether we like it or not, are constantly changing - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Nothing is static. Nothing is truly predictable. As the past twelve months with their abundance of natural and man-made disasters so aptly illustrate, we can only guess what might happen next.
And yet in the midst of that unpredictability, every day we must and we do make decisions and choices. Sometimes a choice that appears very small can create an enormous and immediate impact. Sometimes the results of our choices take a long time to become evident to us. A recent news story described the consequences of what appeared to be a small choice. A fireplace was cleared and some embers were put in a sack by the back door for later removal. The embers looked cold but were apparently not quite extinguished. They caused a fire that brought the death of five family members. Putting the embers by the back door was a simple choice, one undoubtedly made countless times before without hazard. This time the consequences of that choice were catastrophic.
While we may not make this particular choice or have consequences this swift and terrible, not all choices we make will have outcomes that we like. Sooner or later, being human, we will make choices we regret and we may berate ourselves.
Regret and recrimination are stories I hear a lot when I talk with people facing challenges. People often blame themselves for whatever difficulty they are facing. Retrospection-run-amok leaves us trying to imagine how we would undo the decisions we made and create a different present situation. "If only" I hadn't done this or that or the other thing, then I would not be suffering now. Somehow, now knowing the consequences of a choice we made, in our self-blame we forget that it's nearly impossible to predict those consequences at the time we are making the choice. And even if we could predict the consequences, we are human, under stress, with limited time, energy and attention, and we make mistakes.
Regret and recrimination look backwards. They focus attention on the past, not on the choices available to us now. If we become stuck looking backwards, we further limit our already limited time, energy and attention for making today's choices and increase our likelihood of more regret. Perhaps we even become somewhat frozen, so caught up in self recrimination that we try not to make choices for fear that we won't like what we choose. Not choosing is a choice and often not a skillful one. We benefit from as much attention and awareness as we can bring to face what appears to be a mistake and make the best choices we can in response to what is true now.
So what can we do at this time of year as we take stock of what 2011 has brought us and turn a hopeful heart to 2012 and what it might bring?
A practice that I find useful is to intentionally acknowledge the choices we have made. We can celebrate or grieve, depending on how we feel about a choice, and forgive ourselves if we are caught up in regret and recrimination. Sometimes a simple ritual can make this easier. Collecting a small pile of pebbles or pine cones or whatever is available, then picking up the objects one at a time as we name the choice and gently tossing the object away is one possibility. Writing the choices down and marking through them is another. Naming them aloud with the intention of moving on is yet another. We can invent whatever works for us.
Whether or not we choose a ritual, if we are stuck in recrimination and regret, self-forgiveness is essential. We all have done the best we could with our fallible abilities in an uncertain and unpredictable world. Berating ourselves only complicates the problems we face. On a regular basis it's useful to say to ourselves, "I forgive myself for the choices I have made." Even if at first we don't believe this, once we begin, the regular practice of self-forgiveness has an effect. Over the long term, repeatedly voicing this intention helps us let go of the past and work skillfully with the present, increasing the likelihood that we will find and benefit from the good coming our way in 2012.
Article Source: psychologytoday.com