The month of December is one of reflection in many spiritual traditions, but here in the West it is perhaps most commonly thought of as the season of Advent. This is the period in which Christians anticipate the advent (which means, the coming into being) of Christ. It is a time of celebrating the birth of Christ, which is said to have taken place over two thousand years ago, but it is also a time of looking forward – either to the ‘Second Coming’ or to a much more personal realisation of Christ Consciousness, according to the school of thought that one belongs to.
Of course, in a wider cultural context, midwinter celebrations can also be thought of as ones in which we celebrate the near completion of one seasonal cycle and look forward to the next. Celebrating the prospect of bright new beginnings in the dark depths of winter is something that can encourage all of us, and one of the best ways of doing that is by spending some time reflecting on the last twelve months and making plans for the year ahead.
Making continued progress in your spiritual life could be likened to making continued progress at the gym, because you need to shake things up every once in a while in order to succeed. Although you could follow the same routine year after year, such a repetitive and habitual approach will eventually lead to things becoming increasingly stagnant – perhaps even to the point where you actually begin to lose interest in the endeavour.
That being the case, now is a very good time of year to reflect on the progress you have made and to consider how you will shake things up in the year ahead. If you would like to do this then I suggest that you take your spiritual journal and note down your responses to the following questions:
What progress have I made in my spiritual journey in 2018?
What are the key things that I have learned about myself, the universe and the people around me?
What mistakes have I made?
What successes have I achieved?
What lessons have I learned?
What do you consider to be your greatest spiritual strengths?
What do you consider to be your greatest spiritual weaknesses?
What are you thankful for?
When you have reflected on the previous year for a while (and you should take however long you need to do that, be it an hour or even a few days) then you may then turn your attention to the year ahead. Ask yourself:
What new activities or interests am I being drawn to at this time?
What new activities or interests would enable me to make progress in my areas of greatest spiritual weakness?
How might I be able to incorporate those activities or interests into my spiritual practice?
What have I always wanted to study in more depth, or incorporate into my daily spiritual practice?
What new activity or interest would renew my enthusiasm for the spiritual life in 2019 and beyond?
Having reflected on these more future-oriented questions, you can begin to make plans for your spiritual practice for the year ahead. Some of you may want to simply tweak your existing daily spiritual practice to keep it fresh and alive, whilst others among you may prefer to completely redesign your spiritual practice in light of your experience over the last twelve months.
In my own case, I recently realised that I have not taken an in-depth look at the Bible for almost two decades, and so I have committed myself to journeying through all sixty-six books, starting on 1 January (see A Seeker’s Journey Through the Bible). Looking further ahead, it is my intention to do something similar by revisiting the Dhammapada, the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita, but for now my scripture of choice for daily study purposes will be the Bible.
You might decide that you would like to learn a different form of meditation to the one you are most familiar with. Or that you would like to begin a physical practice which has spiritual roots, such as Tai Chi or yoga. Perhaps, like me, you would like to explore a classic spiritual text from the intuitive perspective of an open-minded and non-dogmatic Seeker.
Whatever the case, taking some time to pause and reflect on your spiritual progress and the way ahead can be a very rewarding thing to do during the Advent season. It can certainly help to keep your focus on the important things as you navigate the potentially stressful hustle and bustle of December.
Enjoy the weeks ahead and I wish you happy holidays.