The Practice of Using December for Retreat, Reflection & Letting Go
By Leo Babauta
December can be a cold and dark month for many people, a time of lowered energy while still being very busy.
For that reason, I find that’s an amazing time for:
- Retreat: Take a little time out of my busy year for a little quiet solitude and turning inward, creating space for silence, contemplation and mindfulness.
- Reflection: This quiet time is a time to reflect on how the year has gone, and how I’d like to move into the new year. We don’t often give ourselves enough time for reflection, as we’re always busy in activity.
- Letting go: What have we become burdened with over the past year? Over the past decade? This time of turning inward is also a great time to let go of burdens, resentments, etc.
It’s a season for retreat and reflection, for me. Let’s talk about how that can look.
Creating Space for Retreat
Imagine that you were to sign up for a retreat this month … you put aside your daily life, all your busywork, all your projects and errands and emails and messages … and you travel to another place.
In this place, you remove yourself from the busy world and find space for quiet. For reflection. For contemplation, setting intentions, reviewing how things have gone. For gratitude and appreciation for life.
You might meditate, relax, read, journal. You might take a walk in nature, or find solitude. You might just mindfully enjoy the space.
You can do all of this without traveling, right where you are. It takes intention and taking action to create the space.
- Intention: You simply have to create the intention to create space for retreat. It’s as simple as saying, “I am going to create some space for reflection, mindfulness, gratitude, intention and letting go this month.” It’s the same as when you create the intention to sign up for a retreat, but instead of paying someone else to create the space for you … you do it yourself. Set the intention, even write it down.
- Create the space: This takes a little more work, but it’s absolutely doable. When can you create space for retreat? Can you carve out 30-60 minutes a day? A couple hours? Can you take every Saturday off for this month? Or a full three days this weekend, or a full five days? It’s a matter of blocking off the time in your calendar, and then getting things done so that you can have that space — clearing out urgent messages and tasks, rescheduling appointments and talking to people in your life so that you can have this space. It might mean renegotiating deadlines or project timelines. If you were going to travel to a retreat, you’d do all of this — this will just cost you less.
Now, you can actually go to a different place during your retreat — take a walk in a park or forest, rent a hotel room in your city or an AirBnb just outside the city. Or you can do it at home, if you can resist distractions.
But the key thing is not to get caught up in your usual tasks and routines. Retreat from life, so that you can contemplate and reflect. Find solitude. Practice gratitude and mindfulness. Use a paper notebook and practice journaling.
Let’s talk about using the time for reflection.
Using This Time for Reflection
So you have a little space — maybe 30-60 minutes a day, maybe a day or two a week, maybe more.
This space can be considered sacred. It’s devotional time, where you can devote yourself completely to:
- 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 (more in the next section).
- 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.
You don’t have to do all of these, but you can consider which feel right to you. The idea is to use this sacred time for reflection, gratitude, mindfulness, contemplation, solitude.
Let this time in solitude be replenishing. Let it heal you. Let it be a beautiful time in your life.
The Practice of Letting Go at the End of the Year
Spend this time making a list of the things you might let go of:
- Too many commitments — can you let go of some to narrow your focus?
- Too man goals and aspirations
- Pleasing everyone, comparing yourself
- Worrying about everything
- Grudges, resentments, anger, past injuries
- Judging yourself or others
- Old negative habits
- Attachments to things that are not helping you
- Hiding, playing a smaller game, doubting yourself
- Trying to control everything
Which of these are affecting you?
Which can you let go of, so you can be free in the coming year?
The practice of letting go, once you’re clear on what you’re holding onto and what’s weighing you down … is simple but takes practice:
- Notice what you’re holding onto, and why. You can feel the attachment as a tightness in your body. Notice the tightness. Notice that you really want something to be a certain way, or wish it wasn’t the way it is. What is the benefit of holding onto this ideal, expectation, fantasy, wish? The benefit might be a feeling of comfort, control, protection. Needing things to be the way you want them to be.
- Realize that you don’t need that benefit. You are more powerful than you give yourself credit for. You can survive and even thrive without the protection and comfort of the thing you’re holding onto. You don’t need it anymore!
- Let yourself feel the pain, anger, frustration, grief. If you’re holding onto something, it’s often because you haven’t fully allowed yourself to feel. If you’re feeling resentment towards someone, you probably haven’t let yourself fully feel anger at them — let yourself feel it fully in your body. Often it’s pain or grief that we have avoided feeling. Or a feeling of loss of control — deep uncertainty. Let yourself fully express and feel it!
- Accept things the way they are. The way things are … we often don’t want them to be the way they are. We don’t want this bellyfat, this stressful situation, this person to be the way they are. But we can’t control it the world. If we accept that things are the way they are, we can become at peace with it. That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything — we can still work to help people and make situations better. But we don’t have to be in agony about it. Relax yourself a bit and let things be the way they are.
- Feel some gratitude for them being the way they are. This is about seeing something in the situation or person (or yourself) to be grateful for. Is the house a mess? At least you have a house. Is it cold and rainy outside? There is a beautiful world that you get to inhabit. Is your partner frustrating? At least you have someone who loves you in your life. (Btw, if they’re abusive, you can get out while still feeling gratitude for their love. Make sure you’re safe.) Do you have bellyfat? It’s wonderful to have a body. Find a way to be grateful for things as they are.
- Relax into the reality of things, and love it. This is really just a continuation of the previous two items, but relax into how things really are. Let them be the way they are. Find a way to love reality just as it is. Love yourself and others, just as you are.
This is one way to let go, but you can play with it, bring curiosity to the letting go. The attachments don’t just go away, but they can slowly relax as you learn to trust that you don’t need them.
Sacred Bow Challenge: Review Your Year & Set Intentions for Next Year
- Access to the materials for the Sacred Bow Challenge
- Access to the supportive Sea Change community for weekly check-ins and discussion
- The ability to join a small team for greater accountability
- A live webinar where I’ll talk about creating intentions for next year, and you can ask questions
- A library of challenges, including the Beginner’s Habit Challenge to help you get better at forming new habits