Letting go (& holding on)
The end of the year is a time for reflection and reassessment.
And quite a year it has been....
I like to imagine these transition points as a river. We are on one side of the river, and will move to the other side, and in doing so, we have a chance to decide what we'd like to let go of in the rushing water, and what we are determined to hold on to.
This time for endings can parallel the termination process in therapy. (And yes, "termination" is such a clinical term. I've heard others refer to the end of the therapeutic relationship as graduation, commencement, or transition. I'm not sure what word makes the most sense to me, but for the purposes of this post, I'll use termination, which signals a finality, and an ending).
And the process of termination in therapy can parallel how we handle endings in other parts of our lives.
This, universally, is a challenging topic. Endings are difficult, and I have seen the many ways that folks try to minimize, avoid, or escape this challenge.
Here's 3 of the most common ways I've seen:
1- minimize. Acting like saying goodbye isn't a big deal for any reason is one way that we handle the discomfort of termination. "I'll see you again soon!"
2- avoid. A former client of mine told me that she didn't ever really have a proper goodbye with her last therapist- she rescheduled, then cancelled, then...just never had a final session. These sounded to me like each of them were having a hard time coming to an end. Therapist are people, too, of course, and we face the same challenges we all have with endings and goodbyes at times.
3- escape. This can look like just not showing up for a final session, shutting down and emotionally withdrawing in the final sessions, or just "dropping out" once the therapeutic relationship is set to end.
All of these strategize can work...at least for a while. But the truth is, we are constantly having to deal with endings, goodbyes, terminations.
Bringing me back to the end of year reflection. This is an opportunity to sit with the reality of the year coming to an end. To notice the ways that we might typically handle an ending ("It's not that big a deal" or "I'm too busy to acknowledge this transition", or even "ending? what ending?"), and to have an experience that is intentional, acknowledges the significance of what has taken place, let us appreciate all that it has taken to get to this point, and allows us to look ahead thoughtfully to what's next.
Here's a practice that I use for endings:
1- set aside some time where you can devote yourself fully to this activity. An afternoon is ideal, but as someone with 2 toddlers at home, I understand that may not be feasible.
Even an hour is good.
2- Think back to where you were a year ago- what you were feeling, doing, thinking about. Imagine the past year, and what you've experienced, stopping and reflecting on any significant events, relationships, milestones of the past year.
3-Draw an image that represents the past year. This can and should be an intuitive drawing, the focus is on the process of creating, not the product. See if you can start the drawing without having an idea of what you're going to draw or where you'll end up. Allow your hand to move on the paper, and follow what feels right.
4- Reflect on your drawing - what do you notice? what stands out? if you were going to connect this image to the past year, what would you see (this is where we can allow some free association- all of this is important! Whatever comes to mind- whether or not we see it in the drawing, gives us clues as to what is important to us, and worth our attention). Give it a title.
5- Consider what, from the past year, you'd like to let go of. This can be an experience, a predominant feeling (2020 anxiety, anyone?), or an old story that you have come to see doesn't fit anymore.
6- If you're willing, cut up your drawing, and choose what fragment of the completed image represents what you're letting go of.
7- Decide what you'd like to hold on to.
*quick side note here. As someone who's experienced many endings in my life as the daughter of an army doctor who lived in 11 houses by the time I was 18, and who went on to travel to 7 countries after that, and having never lived anywhere longer than 9 years, I have noticed that deciding what to let go of can be much easier that deciding to what to hold on to. Letting go is easy- I know not to get attached because I know the inevitable end is coming. It is much more vulnerable, and therefore challenging, to invest, to hold on, to say "This is important to me, and I'd like to keep it" because I understand that things are much more ephemeral than they seem.
Back to #7- decide what it is that is worth holding on to- lessons learned, relationships nurtured, skills acquired, feelings experienced...then, find a piece of the original drawing that represents this lesson, relationship, skill, feeling, etc.
8- Decide how you'd like to let go of the old. Perhaps you can burn it in a ceremonial fire, or throw the pieces in your favorite body of water, or just put them in the trash
9- Decide what you'll do with the piece (or pieces) you're holding on to. Place the piece somewhere where you'll see it regularly, to remind you of what you'd like to take into the new year.
10- to finish up, spend some time writing about your experience of mindfully recognizing the end of the year.
There you go.
I hope this practice can help you as you navigate the end to a very rocky year. I hope that you feel seen, supported, and safe.
And I hope you find the time, energy, and willingness to offer yourself the opportunity to have a new kind of ending, perhaps one you may not have experienced before...
Acknowledging the significance of what you've experienced, held, and learned. Holding on to what will serve you going forward, and letting go of that which you no longer need.