Maybe it’s the educator in me, or maybe I’m just an eternal optimist. I love fresh starts and setting new intentions, especially around the new year. And yet, I'm a bit tired—from holidays and just in general. How can I get geared up for a new year?
The more I’ve chatted with friends about this, the more I realize we're all feeling a little bit stuck. And, as I poked around to better understand why, I stumbled up on a really good reason: we are carrying a whole bunch of baggage that we’ve picked up as we’ve each tried to manage parenting, work, family, loss and security in the past two years.
In other words, as grownups, we can’t make space for resolutions until we let go of 2021 a little. Taking time to try a simple letting go ritual may give us the nudge we need to get out of the 2021 rut, create some space and move mindfully and heartfully into to a new year.
Why are we so stuck?
As creatures, we’re drawn to what is familiar, whether or not it is pleasant or particularly good for us (like the ex boyfriend we stayed too long with). Over the months, the Groundhog-Day-style challenges of this year have become really familiar, so it stands to reason that we have trouble letting them go. We need something to interrupt the strong pull we feel towards our routine and push us out of our rut.
“Courage is the power to let go of what is familiar.” —Raymond Lindquist
Enter rituals. Since the pull to what is familiar is so strong, we need an experience that is infused with strong feeling and sensory stimulation to set us on a new course. And, what better type of ritual than one designed to let hard things go?
Use Nature to Release
Since this tendency to hold onto things is so universally human, there are many different rituals people have developed to support letting things go. No surprise, the ones that drew me in most involve natural elements like water, wind and fire and take place in natural settings.
Here’s a few ways you could use nature to physically release, forgive yourself or others and replace some of the heavy feelings with gratitude.
Using fire to release the past is what I’m leaning towards for my release ritual. In short, you write down the things you’d most want to let go, then light them on fire and use breath, images, words and thoughts to cultivate forgiveness and gratitude.
First, you can set up a space you’ll use to make your fire. This can be a fire pit, fireplace or even just a candle in the kitchen sink.
Next, create a soothing and reflective environment by finding a spot where you can be alone and quiet with your thoughts (tricky for parents these days, but worth a try!). Light a candle to set the mood, then focus on breathing for a minute or two. When you feel calm and ready, get a piece of paper and write or say a prompt like “If I could let go of something from 2020…” Then, let your thoughts flow onto paper.
When you feel like you’re done releasing your thoughts and feelings onto paper, move to your fire space to light the paper on fire. Use every sense—watch, smell, listen, feel—in order to experience the flames taking over the paper and, more importantly, whatever has been burdening you.
It can also help to repeat words like, “release” or “let go” or even “farewell” as you watch the paper burn. Stay still and feel the space you’ve created. You can also think about all that you are grateful for to fill the space you’ve created with light and gratitude. This simple ritual also leaves you plenty of space to weave in related or special prayers or rituals if you have a faith practice.
Just as fire transforms our burdens into dust, water can wash them away. If water is more appealing or doable for you, you can take a bath and imagine the worries washing through your skin and into the water. Or, you can write ideas or speak ideas onto stones and wash them in a pool or bowl of water, just like you wrote them on paper and released them into fire.
"Make like a tree and let the dead leaves drop.” – Rumi
You can also harness the wind to help you release whatever you want to let go. For example, you can gather a handful of fallen leaves and either write or whisper a worry onto each leaf. Head outside and take a walk to any spot in which you can be alone and feel peaceful. Take a few breaths, then, release the leaves into the wind.
When should I time my ritual?
“The sun sees your body. The moon sees your soul.”—Unknown
Consider that, throughout time, people have practiced renewal and fresh start rituals at the new moon. And, as luck would have it, the next new (Wolf) moon is January 2nd, right around the new year.
Many people feel that the moon provides uniquely inspiring energy to support the work of letting go. Plus, practically speaking, night may be the most quiet and peaceful time during your day (certainly true in my house) and any candles, lights or fire will be even more bright with the darkened sky of the new moon—what a way to enhance the sensory experience, too.
Here are a few more insights that may help you get your 2022 groove back!
- From Psychology Today: The Art of Letting Go
- From Scholastic: New Year Traditions Around the World
- Like inspirational quotes? Some of these New Years musings on Real Simple spoke to me.
As I researched letting go rituals, I stumbled on a fair amount of appropriation and over-generalization about from whom various letting go rituals originated. I was part of a fire-based ritual in my teenage years after the loss of a classmate, and it forever impacted me, so I encourage it from that first-hand experience. That said, I am still continuing to learn about the cultural roots of many traditions, and I humbly express gratitude to all of the people who have learned and taught to use nature, reflection and release to help us make more space in our minds and hearts. Happy New Year to all!