A unique project for a well-balanced year

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

ReflectionsLast year, as the year ended, I shared a special mandala prompt for reflecting on the passing year before you invite in the new year. In that prompt, you were invited to divide your circle into 4 quadrants, with the words “grace, grief, growth, and gratitude” in each of the four quadrants. Then, with some reflection of the year that had passed, you filled each of the four quadrants with the things that happened that were connected to those four words.

The process of filling those four quadrants helps you see the year for ALL that it was, not just the happy things and not just the hard things. Sometimes we get stuck in only one story and we assume that that story defines us, but each of us walks through many stories and each of those stories teaches us something. Life is never a perfect balance, but it’s also never only one of those four things.

That reflection mandala is now a part of A Soulful Year: A Mandala Workbook for Ending one Year and Welcoming Another. Before you begin the process of planning for what’s ahead, it’s valuable to reflect on what has passed and on what those events have taught you.

The Reflection Mandala is a useful process to do every year at this time. Take some time this week to create your own simple four quadrant mandala for 2014. Many of us have kept gratitude journals, and that is a beautiful practice that has been transformational in my own past, but sometimes that’s not enough. This practice offers an extension of that, where focusing not only on the gratitude, but on the grief and growth and what may have been really hard to walk through helps us recognize all of the complexity of our lives and all of the things that change us and stretch us.

Here’s an idea for extending the practice of reflecting on grace, growth, gratitude, and grief throughout the year…

Reflection Jars

Find, buy, or make four containers that you can keep on your desk, bookshelf, or nightstand. (I purchased 4 small jars at the dollar store for $2.)

Write (or print stickers, as I did) the words grace, grief, gratitude, and growth on each of the containers. Embellish the containers however you wish.

grace-grief-gratitude-growth jars

Cut up small pieces of paper that you can keep in an envelope close to your containers.

On a regular basis throughout the year (daily or weekly), reflect on how grace, grief, gratitude, and growth have been present for you. Write notes on slips of paper and slip them into which ever jar that reflection belongs in. You can do all four each day, or just do the ones that most apply to that day. Try to maintain a reasonable balance, filling each jar instead of focusing on only one.

Here are some prompts for the four categories:


This one is simple – what are you grateful for today? What made you happy? Who showed love or compassion? What did you have fun doing?


A simple definition of grace is “anything that shows up freely and unexpectedly that you did nothing to earn”. It can be a beautiful sunset that catches you by surprise as you’re driving home, an unexpected kind gesture from a friend, or forgiveness that you don’t feel like you deserve. What was unexpected and unearned? How did the beauty of the world stop you in your tracks? How did friends extend undeserved forgiveness or offers of help?


What made you sad? Who do you miss? What feels broken? What old wounds are showing up? What did you lose? What disappointed you?


What stretched you? What did you learn? What were your a-ha moments? Who served as your teacher? How did you turn hard things into opportunity for growth?

Fill your jars with meaning throughout the year.

grief jarIt’s quite possible that some items will show up in multiple jars. For example, something that causes grief will probably also offer you opportunities to grow. And sometimes (like when friends show up to support you) grace shows up in the darkest of moments.

Keep the containers in a place where they’ll be visible and easy to access and where you’ll remember to fill them up. You might want to do this as a morning practice before you start your day or an evening practice as you reflect on the day that passed.

At the end of the year, create a new four-quadrant mandala, take all of the pieces out of the jars and write or glue them onto the mandala. Reflect on your well-balanced year.

Start filling the jars again next year.


Once you’ve reflected on the year that passed, you may want to continue with a variety of other processes that will help you welcome and plan for what wants to unfold in 2015. A Soulful Year may help.

If you’d like to receive a mandala prompt every day in January 2015, consider signing up for Mandala Discovery.

Reflection: A Mandala Journal Prompt to help you end 2013 well

ReflectionsI’ve just opened registration for Mandala Discovery for the January 2014 session. In the lead-up to that, I’m going to offer a few prompts here on the blog that will help you in this transition time between one year and the next.

The first mandala is a reflection on 2013.

We can’t control the past, nor is it healthy to let it control us. Growth pulls us forward into the future, and if we cling too tightly to the baggage of the past, the weight of it keeps us trapped.

That being said… the past has much to teach us, and the most healthy way to honour the past is to reflect on it, ask what it wishes to teach us, and then choose the stories we wish to carry forward.

As you reflect on 2013, ask yourself a few questions:
– What do I need to learn from 2013?
– What do I wish to release as I move forward into 2014?
– What has been offered to me as gifts this year?
– What struggles have served as my teachers?
– What am I grateful for?

To begin your reflection mandala, draw a large circle, with a smaller circle in the centre. In the small circle at the centre, write “Reflections on 2013”.

Divide the large circle into 4 quadrants.

Choose four words or phrases that will help you reflect on what the past year has been. The words “Grace, Gratitude, Growth, and Grief” worked well for me, because they helped me focus on the struggles and the joy, the learning and the gifts. The four words should have some balance to them, reflecting the positives and the negatives, the shadows and the light. Another suggestion might be the phrases “What made me happy, what made me sad, what stretched me, and what I succeeded in”.

Write one of those words or phrases in each of the quadrants. These four quadrants help you see the year as one of balance. Often we get stuck in a certain story for the year. For example, I spent a lot of time in grief this year, having lost my mom just before the end of 2012. I can get lost in that grief and assume that it is the only story of the year, or I can choose to see the grace, gratitude and growth that are also part of the story. That doesn’t diminish the grief or brush it aside, but it gives me hope and purpose that helps me move forward.

Starting in one of the quadrants, write one sentence or phrase that represents how that theme showed up for you in 2013. Turn the page and write one in the next, and so on. Writing one at a time in each quadrant rather than filling each quadrant before moving to the next helps you move through the cycles of emotions and not get stuck in one space. (You could also do this as a collage exercise, finding images that represent each of the quadrants.)

You may find that one story shows up in multiple quadrants. For example, my husband had a heart attack in 2013, and that showed up in my grief quadrant, but the fact that he is still alive showed up in my gratitude quadrant.

After you have filled all of the quadrants, spend some quiet contemplative time colouring the space, honouring the stories that filled your year, and releasing them as you step forward into 2014. You may wish to spend time in meditation or prayer, reflecting on the year and being intentional about what you wish to carry forward.

This exercise is now part of A Soulful Year: a mandala workbook for ending one year and welcoming another.

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