Letting Go of the Past: A New Year’s Ritual for Renewal

01/02/2018 10:35 am ET Updated Jan 02, 2018

Ritual has been a part of our lives since the beginning of time. They can be as intricate as a wedding ceremony or rite of passage, or as simple as a morning cup of coffee while reading the newspaper. Some are very specific, and passed down through the generations, while others are self-made. Personally, the most effective in my life are ones where I take what I’ve learned from varied people and cultures and make it my own – thereby creating my own ritual. And while these little rituals take place throughout the year (e.g. taking a bath or shower to “wash away a stressful day”), one of the more important ones happens during the New Year.

The New Year can be time of remarkable rebirth, an opportunity to review the past year, let go of what no longer serves us, and invite more of the good into our lives. By “no longer serving us,” I include physical illness, emotional distress, relationships, habits and thought patterns. By “inviting the good,” I am referring to abundance, joy, like-minded friendships that help us grow, and thoughts and behaviors that promote a happier and healthier life.

I’d like to share my New Year’s burning ritual with you, and invite you to change it and personalize it in any way that fits you. This process can be repeated throughout the year as part of a mindfulness practice.

Welcoming in the New Year

1. Create Space for Mindfulness. Find a quiet space where you will be undisturbed for at least 20 minutes (I try to allow for at least an hour). Set it with anything that has meaning for you and brings you a sense of peace. For me, it’s instrumental music, natural light (or soft lighting at night), a favorite gemstone or two, my yoga mat and bolster. For the purposes of a burning ritual, I also bring with me an abalone shell, Palo Santo stick (or white sage smudge stick), lighter, notepad and pen.*

For all practices, I typically open with a prayer for protection and guidance. I clear my space by smudging, and do yoga stretches to open up my body for meditation. I then do a short meditation. Everyone’s belief is different. For this, I would say, open your practice in a way that is in alignment with your beliefs. I will tell you that both sage and Palo Santo have antibacterial properties, so clearing your space is good practice, on a very practical level, as well.

* Note: Please use extreme caution with fire, and make sure all flames are fully extinguished at the close of your practice.

2. Call Up Everything That You Want to Release This Year. This year, I chose to focus on emotions.

a. Anger – Allow memories to float up that cause anger. They can be recent or from the past. Don’t try to direct the thoughts, just be aware ... allow yourself to feel them and then let them go.

b. Fear – Ask to be shown fears that hinder progress at this time in your life. Notice what thoughts come to the surface and then move on.

c. Shame/Embarrassment – This involves more than just embarrassing situations, but times in the past where your behavior was less than ideal. Remember them and own them. Then, forgive yourself.

d. Sorrow/Sadness – These are the losses that we have no control over, be it the loss of loved ones or parts of our life that we enjoyed but can no longer experience.

e. Jealousy – This last one is personal, and you may choose to substitute a different emotion. I know I have a difficult time feeling happiness for someone who seems to “have it all” when they are mean spirited and I feel as if they didn’t earn their success. However, if I push away thinking about their success, then I am also distancing myself from my own abundance. Bring to mind instances of jealousy. After acknowledging these feelings ... release them.

Variation: While I mentally bring these feelings to the surface, some people choose to write specific situations down. Pick what works for you.

3. Burn Those Emotions and Situations. I light the Palo Santo stick for cleansing. I choose Palo Santo because I tend to be sensitive to smoke and find it very mild. With it I say, “I now let go of anger, fear, shame and embarrassment, sorrow and sadness, and jealousy. I forgive myself for my mistakes, and I forgive others who I feel have wronged me. In invite joy and happiness, abundance, health, peace and protection into my life.” Either repeat these words or substitute your own.

Variation: If you’ve written down your thoughts, you may choose to burn them in a fire-safe bowl. If you prefer not to burn, you can also shred the paper or bury it.

4. Set Intentions for the New Year. Meditate on everything you wish for the New Year, typically a combination of actionable items and goals, along with positive emotions. For example, if you are seeking more peace in your life, call up that emotion and ask yourself, “where does peace reside in my body? What does is feel like?” Sit with that feeling. Create a written list of intentions for the year ahead.

5. Close Your Space. Close by expressing gratitude for what you have and for the guidance you’ve received (from a person or from the Divine), and follow with a cleansing bath (with either bath salts or essential oil).

Variation: If you chose to burn the pages of what you’ve written, you may want to close your space by smudging at the end of your ritual instead of at the beginning.

Wishing you much joy and happiness, abundance, health, peace and protection in the New Year!

* Note: Please use extreme caution with fire, and make sure all flames are fully extinguished at the close of your practice.

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