Reaping What We Sow

Plant CeremonySometimes we have a lousy year or we want a mulligan in life.  There are times we just need to release or start over.  What follows is a story about a clever little ceremony my friend conceived of on my birthday three years ago today to do just that.  Besides a birthday, I also think it would be a really good practice to perform at New Year’s, or I like the idea of fall being a time for renewal, as Victoria Smith blogs about in this post on Corbae Café.  This would also work really well after a break-up, after a recovery, or any time you are committed to turning over a new leaf in life.  In some years, I have decided to consider the Chinese New Year as my time to “start fresh.”  Immediately after the holidays, it can be really hard for us to plan for and implement a change due to the exhaustion that goes along with December.  There are bullets at the bottom detailing how this can be done.  Please feel free to read the meat in the middle about how it worked in my life.

My 31st year had been a tough one.  There was a marriage separation and there was a move.  I wasn’t myself – I was feeling physically and mentally exhausted and mildly depressed. I didn’t know how my career was going to suit my new life.  I was lonely.  I was set to pass in to my 32nd year with no real plans.  After this year of seclusion and putting up walls in an attempt to go within and “find myself,” and shed some things from my past, my friend base was scarce and I had no family in town.  Just as I was beginning to anticipate the birthday blues, I found out a friend of mine, Karoun, was going to come in to town and was wondering if she could crash with me.

I knew her from a previous oil company we worked at together.  She had been an inspiration to me.  She independently remodeled and flipped her house for a profit before quitting her job as a geoscientist in Corporate America.  She had determined that it wasn’t the true path her life was destined to take at that time.  She returned to Massachusetts, her home, to pursue her dreams of opening her own yoga studio, Karoun Yoga, and photography business – she was following her heart.  She had supported me in every move I made as I questioned my life.  She was always encouraging me to listen to my inner voice.

She was back in town to mind some things with her house and said she would set up something special for my birthday.  I arrived home from work and she had dimmed the lights and lit candles and had some things set out on my table.  I approached, intrigued.  On the table sat a beautiful little plant, potted in a subtle green pot.  She had stacks of high quality paper cut in to strips and artist’s pens laid out on the table.  She then said that our plan was to release any negative things from my previous year that were burdening me.  Then we would look ahead after we released them, and discuss goals for my new year and determine how I planned to nurture them.

We began by taking a few deep breaths and she guided me in to a comfortable and relaxed inner space.  The next step was to write down each thing that had been weighing heavily on me on a small piece of paper.  The subjects often centered on guilt…guilt for not being honest with myself or good to myself in too long.  I needed to release heavy things I was dragging around with me.  I can’t really remember so many of the things because we truly released them that night.  After I wrote each one down and expressed it aloud, I would start the corner on fire with a lighter and allow it to burn nearly to my fingers before dropping it in to a pot of water to extinguish it.

After I had released these burdens from the previous year, it was time to focus on the things I hoped and planned for my next year.  She had me write each of my goals twice.  I grouped them in to themes.  In my case, the themes were Writing, Volunteering, and Spiritual Growth.  I wrote each of my hopes/goals on a strip of paper.  Once I had them all assembled, I rewrote them on their respective “master” sheets.  The goals I had written on my strips, I rolled up and planted in the soil of my new plant and then watered, a symbolic gesture that I was going to nurture these goals.  I knew that like the plant, my dreams and goals already had every thing they needed to flourish and blossom.

She then had me write five specific actions I was going to do in the next week in order to follow through on those goals.  And I’m proud to admit I did accomplish them that week.  I was also able to pull the master sheets out and periodically review them as the year went on.  I was surprised at how many I accomplished and also found it striking to see which ones I had slacked on.  It was quite straightforward to discern the reasons for the lack of attention to these goals, whether it was a change in heart/interests, or whether it was not making time for the things that were important to me.   It was a good reminder for me to return my attention and care to these things that were so important to me.

I don’t have the greenest thumb but that plant has thrived for three years and brings me happiness and feelings of commitment to being my best self every time I see it.  The plant quickly wilts if it has gone too long without a watering but immediately perks back up once it receives it.  I know that when I pay more attention to myself, I can notice the same thing happening.  Like the plant, I occasionally need some loving self-care and nurturing.  I also need to occasionally remove the dead or damaged parts of the plant so that it can thrive.  Pruning requires selectivity and it requires tough love, but the plant always prospers because of it.

Then we went out and got appropriately inebriated and it was a fabulous birthday!

To perform this ceremony, you will need the following items:

  • A potted plant
  • 3-5 master sheets of large paper (about 5” x 8”).  Splurge a bit and buy some fancy paper at a stationary or art supply store.  Shopping for the supplies always puts me in a thoughtful mood
  • 15 small strips of paper (about 1” x 2”) for new goals that can be rolled and placed in to the plant.  Just use a scissor to cut from the master sheets
  • 10 strips of medium paper (about 3” by 4”) to be burned
  • A pen (again – maybe splurge on an archival quality or scrapbooking pen)
  • A lighter or matches
  • A bowl of water in which to extinguish the “release papers” or sit by a crackling fire
  • Soothing music
  • Candles, incense or dimmed lights
  • A close friend

To do the ceremony, begin by relaxing and taking some deep breaths.  Say a prayer or mantra if that helps you get in to the right headspace.  Then do the following steps:

  1. Write down each thing you want to release from your previous year on the medium size paper– bad experiences, bad reactions, bad events, embarrassments, upsetting outcomes, guilt, etc.
  2. Say each one aloud before starting the corner on fire, unless it is too private to say aloud.
  3. Drop it in to the water or fire to extinguish it and allow it to unburden you.
  4. Write down five goals or aspirations each on three different main categories you have chosen for the direction you want your life to take on the large paper.  Rewrite each of these goals separately on one of the small strips of paper.
  5. Use a separate master sheet to list five small steps you will take within the next week to make these a reality (e.g. take a yoga class, sign up for photography class, call someone and forgive them, register a domain name, etc.)
  6. Plant each of the small strips.
  7. Water the plant to symbolize how you will nurture these goals.
  8. Go out and have a drink! (optional)
  9. Complete your five actions within the week.
  10. Re-visit your master lists frequently to assess your progress.
  11. Take care of your plant. Take care of yourself.



  1. Erick December 3, 2012 at 1:51 am · Reply

    Em! I really enjoy your writings! The way you express and share along your experiences. Even though years have passed and we are miles away I am happy to say we are friends 😉 What a nice and enlightened way to celebrate your birthday, by burring the old, the burdens and fears and carefully planting the new, the exciting and thriving. Life is eternal and its meant to be fun, joyful and good for us. Death is just the opposite of birth a simple transformation. 😉

    • Emily December 3, 2012 at 4:21 am · Reply

      What a lovely thing to say, Erick. I really appreciate the sentiment and am glad you are enjoying the posts. I feel blessed to have you in my life too! The way you express your joy for living and taking time to enjoy the beautiful things life has to offer is truly an inspiration! xoxo

  2. Karoun December 5, 2012 at 3:03 am · Reply

    So, originally in Emily’s first draft, #3 in this sequence was this, and I found it so insightful (I was running the show here and didn’t even think of this) I thought I’d add her words in here as a comment “Drop it in to the water or fire to extinguish it and allow it to unburden you. Don’t miss the irony in realizing how close these things came to burning you.”

    Nice job Emily! We had fun that night. I’m so deeply touched at how much it meant to you.

    • Emily December 5, 2012 at 3:49 am · Reply

      Ha! I’m glad you added that part of the post back in again if it stuck with you, Karoun. Hopefully it will give others something to reflect on too. I was worried it sounded corny ;). The thought about nearly being burned by these things only struck me as I was writing it. It’s a very interesting metaphor and life is funny like that…looking at it in hindsight makes it all so much clearer! Thanks again for that special night! xoxo

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