Grateful and awake, ask what you need to know now. Say what you feel now. Love what you love now.
~ Mark Nepo
For years I attended a church that offered an annual end of year ritual, a burning bowl ceremony. The event invited participants to release anything that felt important to let go of – unhealthy thought patterns, limiting beliefs, ego stories of limitation and lack – from the previous year. Each of us would release our stories by writing them out onto small pieces of paper and one by one we would give them over to a flame that would burn away our individual, perceived limitations as part of a collective experience. As we left the burning bowl, while witnessing the flame and smoke carry our words toward the heavens, we were handed new words… an affirmation for the new year. It was astonishing how appropriate, personal and powerful those seemingly random words could be. The ceremony always left me with a feeling of lightness and hopefulness for a fresh start.
With all that we’ve all been through this particular year, and as 2020 comes to an end, I invite you, dear reader, to engage in your own burning bowl ceremony (safely, of course).
And I’d like to suggest including an additional step to the letting go process I described above. Before writing anything down, take some time in private to sit quietly and center yourself. Become present and open, and cultivate a spirit of kind heartedness and compassion for yourself as you begin to reflect on the last twelve months. What was your unique journey over the course of 2020 like for you? What did you lose, what did you gain, what did you learn, what surprised you, what challenged you, what felt easy and okay, what felt impossible, what made you laugh and what made you cry? Allow yourself to grieve the disappointments, frustrations, uncertainties and sadness that you might be carrying as a part of the unprecedented events of the last year.
Grieving is a process and grief rituals have been relied on throughout human history to help us manage and navigate the weight of loss in our lives. Author David Richo, in his book How to Be an Adult in Relationships, recommends these four steps as part of creating a grief ritual; acknowledging, abolishing, renewing and giving back. We might incorporate these steps in our end of year mindful grieving ritual like this:
1. Acknowledge what happened this past year, pandemic and all, and allow yourself, with the same kindness and compassion you would offer a friend in pain, the opportunity to write about your experience and how you were impacted by the past year. Without judgment, use your own words to describe what the year was like for you.
2. When you’re ready and feel complete, abolish your words by burning the pages that you’ve written, perhaps even gathering the ashes and sprinkling them into the wind or onto your garden. Do this mindfully, by being fully present to what you are letting go of and why and how it no longer serves you.
3. Renew your commitment to the now by being present to any expanding awareness or healing release you notice in this process. Notice anything positive that emerges too. Is there something you learned or a strength that surfaced that you want to carry forward with you into the new year? If so, have an intention to tend to it and build on it.
4. Look ahead and decide how you want to give back and make your own healing a part of our collective healing. For me, the energy of a new year feels like a blank canvas or a box of brand-new crayons or even a tiny seed… all filled with potential and creative possibilities. What seeds will you plant in this newly tilled garden? What do you want to grow and expand in you? What do you want to come alive in your life? What will you choose for yourself and offer with love to the world?
Words have power… Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements teaches us that “the word is a force, it is the power you have to communicate, to think, and thereby to create the events in your life”. Working with your words, with the stories that you tell yourself about the things that have happened to you actually gives your brain and body instructions on how to operate physiologically. Current research in the field of self-compassion shows us that the brain does not know the difference between our negative internal dialogue and a triggering conversation with another person. BOTH elicit our threat response and release stress hormones. Letting go of words that limit and embracing words that empower and inspire is part of the science AND magic of the grieving process and the burning bowl ceremony. These practices offer us the chance to choose how we want to move forward into a new year… what we can release and let go of and what we want to carry with us.
Nepo, M. (2000). The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. San Francisco: Conari Press.
Richo, D. (2002). How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving (1st ed.). Shambhala.
Ruiz, D. M. (2018). The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book). Amber-Allen Publishing, Incorporated.
Michelle is a mother, a partner, a friend, a spiritual seeker, a psychotherapist and someone who enjoys connecting with herself within a mindfulness meditation practice. She has a BA in Communications and Humanities from the University of Colorado and an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a concentration in Mindfulness-based Transpersonal Psychology from Naropa University. Michelle’s practice, Soul Care Counseling, offers mindfulness-based practices that support clients seeking to become less anxious, less stressed, less reactive and more grounded, present and connected with their own inner ally. As a result of their work together, clients are able to communicate with themselves and others with greater clarity, care and compassion. https://soulcaredenver.com/