I used to have a ritual I performed every new year’s eve and new year’s day. I’ve written about it before, but I haven’t practiced this ritual for some years now. Basically, I used to burn my regrets before the stroke of midnight sometime on new year’s eve, and on new year’s day I would release my hope into the world. How did I do this? By writing regrets and hopes on little slips of paper.

Back when I had a functioning (and real) fireplace, I used to build a nice fire and toss the regrets into it. It was quite satisfying to watch them burn. The burning didn’t “cure” the negative voices that brought up those recriminations and regrets, but at least I left them behind in the old year, turned to ash, forcing them to rise again from their immolation. The ritual was all about facing up to the things I didn’t like about the year and about myself and my behavior. I’m not just talking about “I regret not exercising more” or ” I regret not finishing my novel.” Those things made the list, too, but it was important to face myself squarely and list things like, “I regret envying X” or “I regret judging Y” or “I regret the shoddy thing I did to Z.” Although mostly the items on the list were less specific and more general like, “I regret taking things for granted.” Didn’t matter, as long as I took the time to make the list. And seriously? Burning them and thinking about them turn to ash was really quite fun. That’s why I did it for as long as I did.

After I moved from a place with a fireplace, burning these little suckers got more problematic. There was a memorable occasion when I lit bits of paper by candle and dropped them into a glass bowl to burn. After about twenty minutes of that (it’s a lonnnng list) the glass cracked. I’ve also been known to set off smoke detectors, which does rather take the shine off the meditative state I strive for in this ritual. So, like I said, many years since I’ve done this. I could use the fire pit out back, I suppose, but little bits of burning paper have a tendency to go airborne and, seriously, I like my neighbors too much to burn their houses down. Talk about regrets.

The other part of this ritual, the hopeful part, got equally problematic with time. I used to go for a drive January 1 to one of the local piers and throw my hopes into the ocean. Some sank, some drifted out to sea, some drifted to shore—but setting them loose into the world was the idea. Of course, I had to do this surreptitiously because throwing things into the ocean is illegal and the fines are pretty stiff. I got to feeling like it wasn’t auspicious to begin the year committing a crime and polluting the ocean, so I stopped doing it. Instead, as I drove around town, I’d take little handfuls of hopes and throw them out the car window to drift in my wake. As liberating as both these rituals felt, I also got to feeling bad about littering other peoples’ neighborhoods and stopped that, too.

I was thinking yesterday that we have a nice paper shredder that might like to eat up some regrets. Having them chewed to bits is not as effective a metaphor as burning them and reducing them to ash. Not as clean. But I suppose it will do.

And the hopes? Well, I’m going to visualize tucking them into the wings of doves and letting them fly away. It could take many, many doves to cover them all. I don’t want to weigh any one dove down with too much hope. It makes it hard for them to fly free. But fly free they will, come new year’s day.

Happy New Year, everyone! May all your regrets turn to ash in 2011 and not rise again in 2012. May all your doves fly free with hope and find wonderful places to roost.