A few years ago on New Year's Eve, I did my first ceremony of recapitulation. It had been a big year, and I wanted both to take stock of the big changes I'd made in the past twelve months, then bring vibrant energy to my intentions for the new year. I invited a few close friends to come over for dinner and then sit by the fire and contemplate our lives.
We made lists of all the emotionally charged moments we could recall from the past year. The things we'd accomplished. The changes we'd gone through. We recalled actions about which we felt proud or happy, moments that had felt close and loving.
Then we wrote down actions or words we regretted. We thought of moments of conflict. We thought of hurtful words we'd spoken. We recollected behavior that had led to suffering—our own or other people's. And we recalled incidents when we'd felt hurt or angry because of another person's actions, or because of something they'd said to us. We dredged up memories of times we hadn't lived up to our best selves.
Listing my accomplishments felt great. I was kind of amazed to realize that I'd managed to get so much done that past year. But the other part—well, the more I contemplated the times I'd acted unskillfully, or hurt someone else, the heavier I felt. Clearly, there was a reason I didn't usually spend time recalling my own negative actions! I much preferred to think of myself as always kind, compassionate, and socially adroit, rather than remembering when I'd lost my center, spoken harshly, failed to consider others.
Looking around the room, I asked if anyone else was feeling this same heaviness. The others nodded. We laughed ruefully, and kept at it. We wrote down a few words for each of the notable events or moments.
Someone suggested that we read through the list and give ourselves a moment to feel happy and proud about the positive things and regretful about the mistakes. Everyone read out one of their accomplishments. They ranged from "I did a 50-mile bike ride" to "I forgave my mother."
And then, somewhat more haltingly, we each shared one thing we regretted. Mine was speaking negatively about people. Someone suggested that we be specific, so I recalled an incident and repeated what I'd actually said. It actually felt freeing to confess it, especially because the others in the group seemed to receive what I shared without judgment.
By the time we'd finished sharing, we were all feeling a little raw and vulnerable, but curiously intimate. One by one, we threw our lists into the fire, and as we did, we said out loud, "I offer everything that happened this past year, positive and negative, to the fire of transformation. May all that was accomplished bear good fruit. May all my mistakes be forgiven. May the karmas of this past year be dissolved. I offer gratitude for my life." Then we watched the paper dissolve in the flames.
At the end, we sat in meditation for a few minutes. Then we talked about the process. We shared what it had felt like to face into our negative actions, or the things we had done that felt just plain stupid.
One woman, Jenny, said she definitely felt lighter. Derek said he didn't, so he tore off some strips of paper, wrote down the events that still felt burdensome, and dropped them one by one into the fire.
Afterward, we considered our intentions for the year to come. We did it according to a formula: "What would I most like to accomplish? How do I want to live my life? What qualities in myself would I like to bring forth?" We shared them with each other. Then we each threw that list in the fire. As I watched my list burn, I felt a deep sense of excitement about the year I'd get to live.
One of my intentions for that year was to get a clear sense of what I was meant to offer as a teacher. As the year went on, I found myself creating events and programs at a level I hadn't experienced before. I have no doubt that the clarity had a lot to do with having spent that time recognizing both my accomplishments and the things I regretted. The recapitulation process seemed to free me—literally, clearing karmic residues that might otherwise have created confusion or hidden regrets.
Ever since, I've spent time on New Year's Eve recollecting the events of the year gone by. Sometimes I do it with friends. Sometimes I do it alone. It's become one of the key ceremonies of my life. I've found it so effective that I now do it several times a year, especially during times when my life is in flux, or when I'm winding up old projects or starting new ones.
Taking time to consciously recollect your own words and actions is a powerful spiritual practice. Many traditional teachers consider it a crucial requirement for real personal growth, and some teachers suggest you do it at least once a week, or even once a day! Recapitulation is actually the precursor to letting go of the negativity and self-judgment embedded in memories of actions you regret.