“Now let us welcome the New Year, full of things that have never been.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Recently I gathered for the last time with a group of eight eccentric, interesting, and insightful men and women who have been my circle of support for the past 18 months. We have gather together every Thursday evening at the home of Paul Levy, a spiritual teacher and author in Portland, OR who led our group in extreme consciousness-raising, or as he calls it, “Awakening in the dream.”
This was a group based on honesty, confrontation, encouragement, and celebration, all with the goal to deepen our awareness of our own process in life. The group was unusual in its ability to create an environment where anything could be shared and complete authenticity was encouraged.
I had made the decision to leave the group because of an intention I have for the New Year to create space in my life for more commitment and dedication to my writing practice. I felt vulnerable knowing that when group-members leave there is always sadness and sometimes a great disappointment. Members become very close and some stay for years.
Yes, disappointment was expressed honestly and complete support was offered from each group member. They acknowledged the necessity of this sacrifice to honor my commitment to my own path. They expressed their belief in me and honored the personal work I had done in the group. As I drove home I felt empowered, and that the completion of my intention was indeed possible.
Now my intention is to invite each of you to create a circle of support for your intentions for the New Year. Parties have their place, but purpose can get lost in this important transitional time of year.
Nearly twenty years ago our family adopted an amazing New Year’s ceremony from author Sarah Ban Breathnatch, author of Simple Abundance. It offered us a meaningful tradition to honor what has passed and gave breath to our creative powers of change.
Ban Brathnatch wrote, “I knew in my heart that in order to go forward, I needed to come to a full stop.”
Here are the instructions for the ceremony she outlines:
Gather together with family or a small group of friends. The group sits in a half-circle facing a table, fireplace hearth, or alter that holds twelve white taper candles in candle holders. If you have a fireplace and can have a fire lit, that is perfect. Each person is given four blank sheets of paper, an envelope, and a pen. One person leads the ceremony.
It begins with this declaration: “Make room in your heart for all the good waiting for you this year.” The first task is for each person to write down everything from the past year they would like to forget and forgive. “Let go of all the hurts – real and imagined,” the group leader instructs. “Forgive yourself for all the unfinished tasks, unmet goals and mistakes.”
Sally Kempton, an internationally recognized author and meditation teacher says that a “ritual of release” clears the space necessary to reach goals and intentions in the New Year. “You can’t step consciously into the next phase of your life unless you bring consciousness to your past,” she writes.
Once the group members have finished writing down the things from the past year they want to release, they each throw their list into the fire or tear it up and throw it away while saying, “Good riddance, go in peace.”
Next each person makes a list of their major blessings from the past year and then shares one or two with the group.
Then everyone writes down one or two lessons they learned in life in the past year and what they could do differently because of that lesson. Each person shares one thing they learned.
This sharing portion of the ceremony is often deeply meaningful, especially if people are willing to allow themselves to be vulnerable and honest. The group is given the gift of learning not only from their own lessons, but also others. Respectful listening offers validation as each person shares.
Now it is time for the candle lighting. All twelve candles are lit to represent each month of the year and to welcome in the New Year. In our family each of our daughters got to light the candle of her birth month.
While the candles are burning and perhaps some soft music quietly playing the in the background, the group members spend some time writing what they would like their life to be like in the New Year. This can take the form of goals or intentions they would like to pursue or it can be written as a letter to self, describing our hopes and dreams and committing to a few new practices.
Each person shares with the group something they want to create in their life in the New Year.
After the end of the ceremony each letter is sealed in an envelope. It can be kept by the group leader or each person, and saved in a place where they can find it one year later, open it, and see how the year unfolded, preferably during the next New Year ceremony.
If the group would like they can end with a prayer for the New Year and refreshments. If necessary we can do this ceremony alone, but even including one other person we create a circle of support which adds accountability, encouragement, and a witness to our journey.
This beautiful ceremony has given our family a powerful and meaningful way to usher out “the old” with a tangible way of letting go of old hurts, mistakes, and wounds; it also “welcomes in the new,” by creating a sense of anticipation and hope. And it gives us each a gentle launch into a new beginning, the opportunity to try a little harder, do a little better, live a little more consciously, and create more peace, joy, love and empowerment in our lives.
Happy New Year!