Phenology Wheel focused on the Oak Tree, by the artist Janet Moore

When its not about “your best year ever”: planning for 2022 without relying upon false narratives

Sara Jolena Wolcott, M.Div.

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Can we create new ways of approaching a new year?

Right on schedule, I’ve been seeing a lot of correspondence and advertisements for services that will, apparently, help me ‘have the best year ever in 2022’ from a variety of coaching, business, and related services. Given how many people had a difficult 2021, I wonder if I am not the only one feeling skeptical with how we tend to approach the New Year. Far too often, the current approaches to hyper-optimistic planning processes ignore a more grounded approach in reality.

Reading through some of the sales pitches, a few things are really obvious in their underlying approach:

  1. They have a strong focus on achievement and success that is reliant upon a linear notion of progress. I wonder how aware they are that this approach to progress is based on a colonial, extractive, and hyper-individualistic mindset.
  2. They are using a linear calendar approach. Not surprising, really. This has all sorts of problems — if we are actually concerned about regenerative cultures and enhancing the power of individuals to create them.
  3. They assume you are primarily thinking as an individual, instead of as a couple, a family, or a team. Their ideas about the individual do not include that we are ecological and spiritual beings. And most of their approaches do not involve discernment processes that can occur as a collective. As if all that we, (being immensely social creatures) need is — ourselves and a few good questions. Really? What about small groups? And communities?
  4. I have yet to see anything that takes climate change seriously as individuals make critical decisions. Most of the climate change soothsayers focus on the collective — how will organizations navigate increasing climate confusion along with Covid confusions; how will governments respond. I’m all for focusing on climate change at a collective level, more than an individual level, but how people think about 2022 includes how they are thinking about their networks, their potential influence, and themselves as actors in a precious moment in human history. Plus: climate change is impacting people. Right now. So why would you not look at it seriously when thinking about your choices, aspirations, visions, and approaches to health and wealth for 2022?
  5. They are overwhelmingly vision and strategy orientated. This, despite the vast evidence that visioning and thinking backwards are actually quite limited approaches to living in a complex, dynamic world. What works in complex adaptive systems? Working With Emergence.
  6. They rarely include learning from and healing the past. Just — really — what are people thinking here? Oh, right. New year means a whole new you. No, actually, it doesn’t. It means the earth has moved another angle around the sun.
  7. And then there is the whole problem with the terminology around “best year”. How can we frame year — or any unit of time in our life — to be bad?

“Best Year”? What kind of title is that, anyways? What defines “best”? I, actually, had an amazing 2021. 2020 was, for me, a year of healing, wonder, depth, movement, and joy. I had a hella difficult 2014. That was real rough. But — I learned so much in 2014. I don’t think I could have the level of peace, joy, and overarching well-being had it not been for what I learned in 2014. And 2013, for that matter. So was that a “bad” year? No. Tough, yes. Looking back, I can say it might even have been totally necessary. Is this whole, “good”/”bad” duality helping you to live a life that enables you to die with peace?

What’s another way of doing this?

Emergent strategies help a lot. In her book by the same title, Adrienne Marie Brown encourages people to remember things that are so simple and often so community based they are being looked over by money-minded coaches. Things like: Small is good, small is all. Never a failure, always a lesson. Less prep: more presence.

9 principles of emergent strategies

Planning is not the first step. Engaging with the past is.

Yes- I love vision boards. (Probably much of what I love is the craftiness of it — what Oprah refers to as having oneself a “crafternoon”). More importantly, I’ve seen vision boards be very helpful for many of my friends, colleagues and clients.

But let us be honest about something here.

Life is not a blank slate.

The Earth is not a blank slate.

As the notion of blank slates illicit notions of blank land… the Americas were never a blank slate for colonists to come in and do whatever the f* they wanted to and expect there to be no consequences.

Is the future a blank slate?

Difficult to answer that one.

No — because so much is in the present that will be in the next moment.

Yes — because every present moment can dramatically alter the future moment.

Engaging with the past enables us to plan more for the future. What might be possible if …. people took several weeks in January to look at 2021 and their last few years in greater depth, taking into account ecological shifts and spiritual insights, actually pausing long enough to spot patterns and trends…. and then worked on self forgiveness, and other forms of forgiveness, clearing old debts, and actually working on healing what we’ve not had time to pause and heal… and then start ‘new’ in February — wow, that would give folks enough time to do what nature already does: slow down enough (especially, in the ecosystem I live in in the Hudson Valley, in the winter) to go fast (especially, in this hemisphere, in the summer).

Circular Calendars: very helpful

I’ve been working with and teaching circular time calendar systems for several years. It’s amazing for connecting the dots. You can do a lot with a bullet journal — but if you want to connect your dots, try using circular calendars.

Of course, the reflection process we use helps. Especially the concept of creating your own categories. Really: you don’t have to use the categories that society gives you, dividing “work” and “play” and “family” and “physical health.” I’m sure those categories are helpful for some people, but for most (spiritual) entrepreneurs and cultural innovators — they barely begin to capture lived experiences.

I’ve started supporting my clients in planning for 2022 using circular calendars (after years of using them primarily as reflection tools and guidance). We work with questions of money, time, health, space, spirituality, relationships, and ecology. I’ve been impressed with the power of delving into our intuition for sensing into the future. I think our ancestors did it a lot more. I’m not a divination expert (by a long shot), but even I, with my own senses, have noticed that we can sense often more — or at least differently - than we can see.

The first question is — how do you know something? What are your strongest form of epistemologies? Where does your own inner knowledge reside?

Discernment Circles

Most of us are going to face some BIG choices in 2022. Maybe you know what they are, now. Maybe you can’t yet see them.

I’m as confident as I am about this because that is just the nature of the time we are in. The choices we make have big implications. Therefore: your choices are big right now. Competing theories of change — wherein we ask, what actions will really make the most difference when — abound.

Simultaneously, no one individual bears it all herself. We can use discernment circles — where, in small groups, we seek collective wisdom — in powerful ways. And we need to.

Expanding your sense of time: Attend to the timelessness

We are, as humans, simultaneously spiritual, ecological and social creatures. We need to engage with those moments that are outside of time. With the timeless. We need that to stay in time: here, now, in this world, this planet, this pain, this grief, this joy, this love. We can’t always create these experiences, but we can create the condition for them to arise.

We can engage with the timelessness to sense into crafting our year. Taking away expectations of “best” and “greatest” can alleviate some pressure and listen to what is trying to be born through you.

When direction arises from the whole, not the small self

What if we ask shift some of the assumptions. Not, what enables you to be “your best self,”

But —

What is the earth asking of you at this time….

keeping in mind Howard Thurman’s old truism: “What the world most needs is people who have come alive”.

Both aspects: what is being asked of me, and what enables me to come fully alive.

That is an approach that integrates senses of direction that arise from both the inner and the outer: recognizing that we are part of nature, and part of our social world.

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Integration… of the (stereotypically) masculine (action/doing orientated) and the feminine (receptive orientated). Of vision and emergence. Of outward focus and inward focus. Of mourning, grief, and compassion for what has been lost, as well as joy and celebration. Of rest, naps, and quiet healing… as well as systemic transformation, crafting new ecological family histories, and building future institutions.

At the end of the world as we know it, why not explore some new ways of engaging with reflecting — and planning?

Can we ask these questions not out of a place of “good” or “bad”? That’s a hard one, because our culture is so deeply hard-wired to think in terms of good/bad dichotomies. But — why not try?

I bristle from much of the assumptions in common approaches to New Years planning because they are based on notions of reality and the formation

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Sara Jolena Wolcott, M.Div.

ReMembering and ReEnchanting our world. Retelling Origin Stories and other myths and truths. Entrepreneur, legacy advisor, and unconventional minister. Healing.