How to Ritualize the Passing of the Year and Usher in a New Beginning

As the year draws to a close and the dawn of 2017 emerges, it is time to reflect. I recently looked back at my goals for the year and was surprised to find I had not achieved most of them. Interestingly, none of the amazing and beautiful things that I was blessed to be a part of in 2016 were even on the list!

There is a lesson in this, and it might not be what you’d expect. Had I been operating under the popular paradigm of success, I would have felt disappointed and discouraged that I hadn’t reached my goals. In the past, I certainly felt that way.

But one of the gifts of forgiveness is faith in the unfoldment of life as it is.

The non-forgiveness stems from the same judgment: There is something wrong right now. When we become truly forgiving, however, what we come to see is that this is not possible. If something was supposed to be different, it would be.

Does that mean we have to be content with current circumstances no matter what they are? No. It means we begin from a place of acceptance and gratitude for the gifts that are present now, and we move forward with purpose from there.

Had my originally envisioned goals manifested, I would not be writing this today. Had I single-mindedly focused on what I thought I needed, I would have missed a powerful process of creation blossoming before me.

At the end of this year, I encourage you to honor 2016 and welcome the next chapter of the unknown through ritual and celebration. Rituals have been practiced for all of human history and enhance our sense of connection to the divine, as well as our ability to step into the unknown with ease and hopefulness. Rituals help us memorialize where we have been and eagerly welcome what is still to come. They are powerful ways of marking rites of passage and, even, of moving into forgiveness: of ourselves, of the dreams that may not have come to fruition, and of our fear in the face of uncertainty.

Rituals demarcate transitions. With compassion, we can consider how much we have grown as human beings. We can think of our perceived challenges and our successes as one part of an ongoing continuum. New Year rituals don’t have to be about merely setting goal-oriented resolutions. They can also be about visualizing what we wish for ourselves, with less attachment to the specifics (that corner office, that dream partner, a certain number of zeroes connected to our bank account). In fact, the New Year can be a very good time to reckon with ourselves by asking the questions: What do we want the coming year to feel like? How do we want to show up day to day? Who do we intend to be? How can we best align with what we value?

The following is a ritual known as the “burning bowl ceremony” in most Unity Church communities. You can do this ritual in community or by yourself, but greater transformation can be possible when you are witnessing and being witnessed by others who hold the same intention of release, renewal, and awareness as you do.

The burning bowl ceremony honors your intention to let go of the things that you have outgrown so you can embrace the delights of an unknown future. First, find a place to meditate. Write in your journal about your thoughts and feelings about the last year. What worked for you? What didn’t? What are you grateful for? What gifts, expected and unexpected, graced you? And what are you ready to release? Reflect on your emotions, thoughts, and limiting beliefs. Dare to welcome new possibilities.

Write down what you wish to release on strips of paper; place them in a fire-safe bowl, and set them on fire with matches or a lighter. When the ashes have cooled, scatter them or bury them. As you do, say aloud, “I release you.”

Now, you are ready to bring in what you want. On New Year’s Day, consider doing this by using the powerful metaphor of the white stone.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying…I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.” Revelations 2:17

What is forgiveness but understanding? We listened and now have a deeper consciousness than we did when the year began. The white stone symbolizes this. Simply quiet your mind and wait for a single word to enter your consciousness. Write it on the stone and carry it with you throughout the year as a reminder of who are today and who you intend to be.  

The rituals mentioned above are practiced in New Thought churches around the world. It is little wonder that so many find solace in them, as they are powerful tools we can use to gently say goodbye to all that no longer serves us, and hello to the person who is waiting to be born from that release.

No matter how you ritualize or celebrate the ushering-in of the New Year, do it with a sense of purpose, meaning, and utmost compassion for the person you have been, as well as the one you are yet to become and the gifts that the coming days and months are sure to bring.

Happy New Year!