“Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges
The modern Gregorian calendar recognizes today, Jan. 1, as the beginning of a new 12-month cycle or the “New Year.” It is my favorite holiday (even when I go to bed at 8:30pm which I may or may not have done last night.) But not before I took the time to reflect upon the year and my aspirations for 2016 with a ritual I like to use instead of the overplayed and notoriously ineffective New Year’s resolutions people commonly make, not unlike tossing coins into a fountain with fingers crossed for well-intended wishes.
Ritual is arguably a universal feature of human social existence. Though our life’s are full of daily ritual, we wake at a certain time, we ready for the workday in the same way perhaps, there is a certain order to our activities. But typical American culture is bereft of much of the intentional, meaningful ritual that have been integral to societies in the past and plenty of other cultures around the world today. Ritual is an important part of who we are. It is how we mark the passage of time, honor our history, our roots, big transitions and the sacred cycle of life. Maybe you were lucky and grew up with a cultural or religious heritage that offered special customs and if you are really lucky religion didn’t totally ruin it for you. Recently I have been seeking to bring more ritual into my life. I loved the rituals of my family growing up and have always been drawn to ceremony, magic, rites and sacrament as a way of honoring The Mystery. God. Gaia. Spirit. The Divine. The Great Mother. What Moves in You that Moves in Me. What Connects us All.
I want to be clear about why I think ritual is important and why I believe it works. (Here is some data by some behavior scientists, by the way.) This is very different than the religious attitude of persuading God to act or our behalf or assuaging guilt for our sins by engaging ritual as a formula for accessing the Divine. The Divine is here all the time, in every moment and laughs at our contrived idea of sanctity and holiness. The Holy Spirit is not finally convinced to grace us transcendent experience or forgiveness upon the 108th recitation of a holy mantra or the final Hail Mary. And there are plenty of examples throughout history that the Divine does not require a perfect vessel for transmission of profound truth!
No, ritual is for our own hearts. Ritual “brings life to intention” (Nancy Napier, Sacred Practices for Conscious Living.) It engages the imagination which is what animates the soul. Ritual is a way of tending the soil of our hearts, of calling forth what is already there, reminding us that we are connected to something greater, something sacred. We may perform ritual before meditation practice or prayer in order to create a feeling of sanctuary. Simple symbolic action, burning incense, lighting a candle, or a pilgrimage to a special sitting spot may help us find a way into the inner temple. Rituals can punctuate birth and death, honor loss, help with healing, express gratitude and celebration and demarcate transitions in our lives. They can involve any natural or material object, substance, food, art, music, water, fire or any other natural element. It isn’t the action or the ingredients but the meaning and intention we bring to ritual that make them sacred.
There is something really powerful that happens when we ritualize our intentions. It is translating our ephemeral soul desires into something our brain can comprehend. Essentially integrating the mammalian brain (emotion and learning) with our reptilian brain (the action-oriented) and the neo-cortex (logical or “thinking” brain.)
“Ritual returns you to what matters. The very act of beginning a ritual puts us in a state of mind where we can break with the routine patterns of the mundane and remember the sacred.” (Katie Silcox, The Importance of Ritual.) In 2015 I began creating rituals around the New and Full Moon, around my monthly bleeding cycle and the Solstices and Equinoxes. For the Winter Solstice, we filled the house full of candles and my partner, my son and I read through our jar full of gratitudes for 2015. Then we ate soup by candle light and watched the fire in the wood stove. Aside from all the technical and scientific stuff, ritual just makes life more special and fun. Do we really need a more spiritual or intellectual reason than that? I don’t.
Here is my ritual for new beginnings. Of course, it doesn’t much matter what the date is. Whenever you feel like ritualizing the passing of an era and the dawn of a new season or ushering in a new chapter in your life, you can use this visioning technique or something similar. These are the things you will need:
A chunk of quiet, alone time where you can get still and present
4 sheets of journal or notebook paper and a writing instrument
A place to safely play with fire (a fireplace or fire pit is the easiest, but an abalone shell, metal kitchen sink or fire-safe bowl will do.)
- Get your body grounded and bring your mind to stillness. Begin to envision what you want to create in this next season of your life. What projects, ideas, endeavors you want to bring forth in your personal life and into the greater world. How do you want to feel? What roles do you see yourself playing? Write all of this down on one of the pieces of paper. Take as much time as you need.
- On the second piece of paper, write all of the ways you might sabotage yourself from your current vision. Habits, self-talk, limiting beliefs, etc.
- On the next piece of paper list the things you need in order to cultivate and support your vision. Include other people, relationships, new habits, practical, financial and emotional resources.
- Lastly, on the final piece of paper list what needs to go in order to make space for this new vision. This may be commitments that no longer serve you, time and energy zappers, relationships with someone or a job that is not moving you toward your goals, or with ideas (letting go of body-obsession or seeking the perfect mate or house.)
Once you have your four lists you will prepare for the burning part of the ritual. The first list you are going to bring to flame is your list of self-sabotage. Find your own words but be clear. “I release now these means of sabotaging my vision for this coming year. I am grateful for the lessons they have offered me and the ways they have protected me in the past. I know release them from their service in my life.” You can read aloud some of the specific things you wrote down if it feels right. Then, watch it burn! Make your commitment to not return for these things but receive the support from the Universe (God, Spirit, your name for Her) to move forward in a new pattern.
Next, the list of what needs to go in order to create space. Surrender it to the fire. Speak what feels true: “I release these holds on my time, energy, attention and resources. I any lingering attachment to things things that no longer support the highest vision for my life.” Deep breath in, deep breath out. Feeling lighter?
So now you are left with two lists: The one that holds the vision you want to manifest and the list of what you need to cultivate it. The first list you made – the inspired, passionate vision of your future – you will bury in the earth. Go on a walk or a hike and find a special place beneath the roots of a tree or just in your yard somewhere. Like a seed, surrendering it to the dark, to the alchemy of germination.
The last list you will keep close by – in a journal, tacked to a bulletin board, tucked in your journal. These are your instructions. This list is your reminder of the things to seek out on a daily basis that align with the greater vision of what you want, who you want to be and how you want to feel.
I encourage you to find a variation that feels authentic. Get creative and playful with your way to honor your intentions. The most important part is that is feels organic, heartfelt and true to you. No recitation or formulaic process is going to serve the work of the soul anymore than tossing a penny in a pond. The key is to find what feel meaningful to you.
So! here is to new beginnings.
More resources on how to incorporate ritual in your life: