Making December a Time of Reflection and Retreat

When my husband showed me the email from Zen Habits in his inbox titled, “The Practice of Using December for Retreat, Reflection, & Letting Go”…I was like I LOVE THIS IDEA!!! SEND IT TO ME!!

What struck me most about this article was how it spoke to the exact opposite of the way most of us approach the last month of the year. How many times have I heard people say, “Let’s not schedule that for December…that’s the busiest month of the year…” Instead of winding up like a crazed spinning top, what if we used this month of the year to slow down, re-center, and reconnect with ourselves and our life purpose?

It seemed so rebellious, so revolutionary…I fell in love with the concept immediately. I guess I’m a rebel at heart.

I certainly have felt my share of holiday busy-ness this year, and every year. Not only is there the usual treadmill of regular life, but there are concerts, recitals, birthdays (at my house)…not to mention the time and effort it takes to put together the decorating, shopping, wrapping, baking, traveling to family, and holiday traditions.

But is there a way to make all of this craziness more nourishing and less depleting? I certainly hope so. If working the 12 Steps can restore my traumatized brain and body to sanity, I would think it has the power to bring more sanity to my December too.

Here are 3 recovery-based tips for bringing more sanity to your holiday, one day at a time:

  1. Ask: “Is this nourishing me or is this depleting me?” one moment at a time.

I found this question in a book recently and it has brought a lot of peace and awareness to my everyday living. Whatever I am doing, I can do it mindfully and ask this question: “Is this nourishing me or is this depleting me?” When I find that my mind and body are tight, anxious, and I feel the weight of burdens or resentment on my shoulders, I can pause and make a choice.

Is there a way for me to make this activity more nourishing?

For example, if I can turn on the fireplace, play soft Christmas music, wrap myself in a warm blanket, and pull on my fuzzy socks, wrapping Christmas presents can be a necessary obligation that nourishes my soul and makes me feel loved, cared for, and grateful. I can take time to reflect on each gift’s recipient and the love I feel for them.  No matter what I am doing, I can make simple adjustments to make each necessary task something that nourishes my soul.

2. Make time for Reflection.

As part of the Zen Habits article, Leo Babauta suggests the following reflection questions:

Reflecting on your past year — how has it gone? What went well? What did you struggle with? What can you learn from all of that?

Reflecting on what you’re grateful for, and what you’d like to appreciate more of in your life.

Reflecting on what you might be holding onto — grudges, frustrations, resentments, emotional baggage, attachment — that you can let go of.

Contemplating what’s most meaningful to you in your life.

Contemplating what kind of meaningful work or purpose you’d like to pursue, or how to better pursue that.

Contemplating what you’d like to put your focus on.

Being mindful of each moment, and allowing yourself to appreciate the moment in silence.

I have loved these reflection questions, and have journaled on each one as part of my Step work each day. Taking this extra time (maybe an extra 10 minutes each day) has brought me a sense of reflection and closure to the past year. It has also brought me a quiet sense of anticipation and energy for the year ahead. For me, so much of working the 12 Steps is about taking time for regular reflection–the very essence of Step 10. Taking this concept deeper in the month of December feels natural and right.

3. Ask: “What do I feel right now? What do I need to let go of to feel serenity?”

I have loved this question ever since I read it in Rhyll Croshaw’s book What Can I Do About Me? almost 6 years ago. This question brings peace in every situation. This question helps me put my priorities in order to help me realize the gifts of the program in my life, as this Step 12 question suggests:

“…practicing these principles in all our affairs implies that we put our spiritual development ahead of our drives for emotional and financial security, personal prestige and power, romance and family satisfaction. That is, that ‘the satisfaction of these instincts cannot be the sole end and aim of our lives.’ What priority does spiritual development have in my life?”   -S-Anon Twelve Steps, p.154

When I let go of what the neighbors think, what my in-laws think, what my children think, how my Christmas decorations or traditions or cookies or pile of presents under the tree measure up to anybody else’s, I create the space to feel God at my center. I create space for serenity.

I hope you can find some space in your life for Retreat, Reflection, and Letting Go as you experience the holidays this year.

Maybe just do one small thing to invite this space today–it’s never too late to start and even the smallest effort will not be wasted.

No matter where you are at in your journey to healing, there is room for serenity, growth, and gratitude in Christmas. You are not alone. Your pain will not be wasted. It will be transformed into progress, one day at a time, as you take the time to retreat, reflect, and surrender whatever is holding you back from the gifts He longs to give you.

Keep working it. It works. Even at Christmastime.

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