Happy New Year. 2019 feels so fresh, so full of possibility. Like new spiral notebooks on the first day of school—clean and open to creativity. You’d think with all our practice at New Year’s self-improvement, we’d be practically perfect by now. But as I remind my kids, perfection is for God alone. It’s a new year, so we mortals get another crack at a reboot. Statistically, most of us either didn’t set a New Year’s resolution or have already managed to break it. Since those didn’t work, again, let’s look at the new year from another angle.
It’s been five years since Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up morphed into more than a moment. She tapped into a profoundly American reality: we have more stuff than we know, need or want. The accumulation of stuff affects our lives; an overstuffed closet can make mornings feel overwhelming. The simplicity of a few, well loved and cared for outfits can indeed spark joy. Walking into a spare kitchen with the necessities can generate more creativity than a kitchen jammed with specialty gadgets galore. Last year, the Insta-pot was the must-have kitchen appliance. I’m guessing a few of you also have stashed a panini maker, bread maker, maybe a Kitchen Aid, immersion blender, rice cooker, food processor, dehydrator, microwave, coffee maker or Soda Stream. Did I miss anything? A regular blender, hand mixer, or smoothie blender?
Kondo’s focus on stuff hits a sweet spot; we do feel freer and more creative when we are less encumbered. Her practice involves touching our possessions, choosing those that spark joy to keep and giving the rest away. But we don’t simply toss the remainders. We thank each item we let go of; we express our gratitude for each ratty T shirt that ends up in the black trash bag.
This process can become a meditation at the beginning of the new year: what do we choose to take into the future, and what do we plan to let go of? The meditation can go way beyond stuff. What brings us joy in our families, our work, our homes, our communities? Are we living out other people’s dreams for our lives, hanging on to stuff or ideas that no longer serve us well? It’s 2019; what will you let go of?
Each year, we reflect on our lives and recognize that not all we’ve carried with us, either our ideas or our possessions, still reflect the best of who we want to be. Letting go is hard. I hung on to a raincoat for years that was no longer waterproof. I loved the color, but never wore it for obvious reasons. I’ve hung onto relationships long after they have become toxic, stymied by the combination of fear and hope: fear of looking objectively at a relationship I desperately wanted to (or thought I should) keep, and a naïve hope that magically the relationship would become more mutual and life-giving. I have a mindless phone game habit that does not serve me well—I’d venture to bet you have a mindless habit doesn’t serve you either.
Endings as a practice of gratitude.
How about intentionally leaving a few things behind in 2018? I have plenty of stuff, thoughts and habits that can be left in my past and not brought into the pristine future of 2019.
The psalmist says be thankful in all things. If you embrace 2019 as a year of letting go, here’s a practice to acknowledge and honor the endings: Imagine being grateful for everything that ends in your life. Everything, not just the big endings like a job change. We experience thousands of endings in every day. Meals, phone cars, errands, daily commute, dog walks, brushing our teeth. We cannot start something new without ending something else. As you begin something, pause, be mindful of what ended, and give thanks for what is ending.
As a practice, we finish dinner and express our gratitude for the meal, company, and food. We wake, grateful for a night’s sleep. Turn off the shower and say thanks for warm water. C.S. Lewis said, “a pleasure is not full grown until it is remembered.” Remembering is a natural outgrowth of mindfulness. We can’t express gratitude for the warm shower if we mindlessly moved from shower to coffee to our daily commute.
As a Minnesotan, I’m a pro at the long goodbye. Goodbyes can involve numerous discussions as we slowly head to the door. We know it’s time to go, but we linger, savoring the fellowship of good company just a moment longer. In that ending, that goodbye, give thanks—for the visit, for the food and ideas shared, for the fellowship of friends and the welcome to walk in and out their door.
Everything ends. 2018 is history. Still looking for a new practice for the new year? Reflect on what you choose to bring into 2019 and give thanks for all that you choose to leave behind. Give thanks for your endings. Embrace them, knowing that no beginning happens without a proper ending.