Facing a New Year: A Map and a Compass

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Engaging the New Year. Read other perspectives here.

I know for many Pagans Samhain is the festival during which they look back at times gone past, and forward to times to come. For me, however, Samhain is more about honoring those who have passed through the veil into the Otherworld. It is the time I call their name into the wind and let them know they are remembered. It is during the secular calendar date of New Year's Eve that I look back over the year about to pass and forward into the unknown of the coming year.

These liminal spaces of change, between land, sea, and sky, between light and shadow, the field and the edge of a forest, are exciting places. The name we have given the first month of the year is perfect — January — after the God Janus who has two faces, one looking to the past and one to the future, standing on the fulcrum of the year itself. Anything can happen.

But before I step forward I like to take some time to look back.

Although it's important not to disturb the roots of a tree, it is important to check them every now and then to see if they are healthy. Each year I make a list of new year goals. I don't call them resolutions as that term has been used too often to describe the diet/habit-ending promises that are so easily broken. I find the term "goal" more useful. So the first thing I do is look at the goals I had set myself a year ago, for the year that is about to end. How did I do? On the whole I do okay but there are always some that fell to the wayside.

A period of reflection is useful here too. Why did they get left out? Were they really that important or is it more that I created some personal barrier that stopped me from focusing on them? Sometimes they were little things that were only important in the moment they were written down and were left for good reason. There are some that have appeared in my list three times and I still haven't managed to get them done. There is one that made it into its fourth year and is on this year's list too. I tick off the things I managed, and it feels good.

Then I look to the coming year. When I get to this point in 2016 what do I want to look back on? What do I want to have achieved? These things can be physical, emotional, creative, or anything really. I never list too many, about ten in all; I know how busy I get so I try to be gentle on myself. However, I always have at least two that are big projects. Last year one was writing and recording my album Sabbat; this year there are different projects.

One of the most difficult things with creating a list like this is making sure it's your list. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to think of the things that we really need in our lives. Sometimes these things take hard decisions that may well affect other people. Writing them down at the beginning of the year as a goal can help with that permission. Maybe you need more time out just for you. That might mean a difficult discussion with your partner. Maybe you know that you need to change jobs. If these things are important, then the language we use for our goals is also important. We can either write: Look for a new job, or by this time next year I will have a new job. The first is a passive action, the second is a goal. So I always try to use this kind of language for the things I want to achieve, even if it's something seemingly small.

Eventually the list is complete and I put it away. I will check it at times during the year to see if I've forgotten something. Like anyone, as the year progresses I can be swept along and need that moment to regroup and remember the things I decided were important for this year. Of course things can change, and they often do, but a list of goals, made on the fulcrum point of the year, are a good map and compass to help keep our ship heading in the right direction.