In nature there are a number of cycles – ways in which the earth find ways to renew itself. The cycle of day to night, the moon cycle, the solstices. In our own bodies the most basic yet vital cycle of breath teaches the lesson of movement being followed by stillness. Notice the pause at the end of the in-breath, before the breath is then exhaled. And then another pause, at the end of the exhale. A short simple and quiet pause, before the breath begins to flow in again. Right there at the end of an inhale and at the end of an exhale, our body demonstrates to us, the need for a pause, before the next cycle begins, before the next action commences. Take a few slow breaths and become aware of this pause, the stillness that follows the in breath and waits at the end of an exhalation.
Lets learn from nature and from our bodies and adopt the notion of taking a break, a pause, a moment of stillness to reflect and be aware of where we are at. To become a little more prepared for the next moment, by being present in the current moment. As we reach the end of the Mayan calendar, a cycle consisting of 5125 years we also approach the end of the cycle of the year 2012 – which seems a bit more comprehensible in our minds. What are we going to do with the end of this cycle? Will we take a pause before we enter the next cycle? If nature chooses to follow that ritual perhaps it will be wise to learn from this and follow the Divine example.
A Ritual of Reflection
A powerful way of making the reflection process real and meaningful is bringing it into a ritual and ceremony. This is a gift of time to yourself which puts a halt to the day-to-day flow of things. For hours, days, years, decades we can keep moving forward, from one thing to the next, with a complete lack of awareness or a thought of where we are, what we’re doing, why we are doing it and what does it all actually mean? So by setting time aside to have a ceremony for reflecting and releasing, you bring yourself fully to a time and a place to focus just on you, what you have done and what you will do next. What you want in your life, and what needs to give. This brings you to the notion of release. What do you need to release from your life now to be able to fully embrace and engage with the next cycle? Everything that is and was part of your life was meant to be there. But not everything is meant to stay there and it is up to you to take the time to realize this…and release that which you don’t need.
It’s a bit like doing a spring clean of your life. Clearing out the behaviours, the thoughts, the limiting beliefs, the guilt, the anger and self-judgments that hold you back.
Looking at ourselves honestly is not always easy. Hence the ongoing avoidance of this type of ritual. We find it hard to focus on and admit our mistakes. We sometimes find it even harder to acknowledge our success. We often identify so closely with how we do things that we find it nearly impossible to believe that things can change or look different in any way. There are often very powerful beliefs that hold is where we are. Letting these go, can be very scary…a huge threat to our comfort zone. If only we knew and felt in our heart and guts the freedom and joy in the release of that which no longer serves us. But our strong powerful minds which specialize in trying to keep things the same, predictable and safe (even if it doesn’t actually bring us any joy anymore), is not going to let us get off that easily.
You are stronger than your mind though and somewhere deep inside you, you know the benefit of taking stock of your life. There is a pure light in all of us, trying to get out and get you to see there is more to you, more to your view and perspective of the world, and more to enjoy. You can hear it now, the little voice inside saying – you know what – I do need to take some time for myself. I don’t particularly love everything the way it has been. Maybe I can begin to make some changes to bring more happiness and joy into my existence.
Listen to that voice, and then make space to practice the following ritual in the next few days, before we enter the new yearly cycle.
Time, Place, Participants
Set aside a particular time for your ceremony. You want to give this exercise the space it deserves so if you clear some time in advance you can make the necessary arrangements to be free and undisturbed during this time. Set aside a good two hours or more. See this as an investment of your time and that you deserve to have that time free. Make sure someone is looking after the children (whether those are actually children or dogs or husbands or parents). Make sure you wont be interrupted.
Create a comfortable space for the ritual and plan how you will set up the room. Have the ceremony in a place that won’t be affected by weather conditions, and in a place where you will feel comfortable and at home. Prepare by having candles, incense, pillows/comfortable chairs, soothing music, and a safe place to burn paper. The atmosphere you are trying to create is that of warm lighting, sweet smells, and comfort. You want to feel loved and cared for in this environment. You want to feel safe to face anything – no matter how difficult. Make sure you have a notebook and pen to at the ceremony. Enough paper and working pens are essential for all participants.
It can be really powerful to have this ceremony with friends or family that you know, love and trust. It creates a sacred space of compassionate witnessing. The people that you choose to share this experience with should be people who will be non-judgmental and loving. People who can be clear mirrors rather than anyone who will judge mistakes or be envious of success. It is equally powerful and often more convenient to do this ritual alone so if that is more accessible go ahead and take the time by yourself. Be honest about your reasons for doing it alone or in a loving group. Do what you feel will have the most benefit for you, rather than what will be ‘easiest’. If you are reluctant to do this in front of others, why is that? Is that perhaps exactly what you need to bring yourself fully into the experience and truly experience the full meaning of what the process has to offer.
There is no individual preparation! You want to try to stay out of your rational mind as much as possible for this one. When you are engaged in the ceremony you want to be talking and responding from your ‘centre’: The pure bit of light that lives in your soul. The real you. NOT the product of your life experiences, perceptions, and judgments that live in your mind. So get out of your head and into your heart. Every time you think of the ritual lying ahead, stop. Then take a deep inhalation through your nose and feel the air flow all the way down into your stomach, expanding your belly like a big balloon. Allow the breath to flow out of your belly and out through your nose as you relax your shoulders away from your ears. Then take another deep breath into your belly, this time paying attention to your spine, lengthening your spine so you grow visibly taller, and then exhaling again, slowly fully, relaxing your shoulders. In those moments of deep breath you begin to engage with your centre. When you act from that place, you act with integrity and with love and joy. Because that is what you essentially are – integrity, love and joy.
There are four parts to the ritual:
1. Once the space has been fully prepared and you (with your close group of friends or other individual participants) are settled in the beautiful space. Take some time to sit comfortably with closed eyes, breathing deeply connecting to your centre. Once you feel fully relaxed and connected to your centre (i.e. your mind is quiet and calm) begin to summons a feeling of love and acceptance. You can do this by recalling a moment in which you felt truly loved and accepted. Remember what that felt like and experience those feelings again right here and now. Create a feeling that where you are sitting right now, you are fully loved and accepted no mater what you share in this ceremony. Enjoy the sensation of being fully accepted for all that you are. Expand this feeling of acceptance to the universe by acknowledging that you are fully accepted by the universe of which you are a part of. Feeling comfortable in the fact that you are loved and accepted you create courage for the next step:
2. Cast your mind to the year gone by and start to write down words, events, experiences, ideas that carry an emotional charge for you. If you struggle to get going, come back to your breath…let your centre guide you to what you need to be addressing in this moment.
Some of the words you write may be emotionally charged in an uncomfortable or painful way. Other may feel more positive and evoke a sense of celebration. These are important too but for this exercise the progress will come in identifying and acknowledging those things in your life that brings out a real charge – often negative. Write a few words or write the full story of the event, including what you and another person did or said. Do this as objectively as possible. Include your feelings about the event – did you feel proud, embarrassed, hurt, guilty, angry, ashamed, scared.
Gradually build up a list of the events of the year that is prominent in your mind for the impact they had on you – for the feelings the events brought out in you. Include positive and negative experiences, things that made you feel loved, accepted and grateful. Things that left you feeling hurt, ashamed, angry. Include those times when you were hard on yourself, the blame, pressure, and negativity that you place on yourself. Take your time doing this exercise by yourself, being completely honest.
3. Read through your list and note events or experiences where perhaps you need to go back and make amends or apologize to correct what had happened. Resolve to take the necessary action to dissolve the negative energy bottled up by that event. Share your list with those in the ceremony with you. Listeners are not there to offer comfort, or resolutions. The process is your own. The participants are there to create a space of witnessing, true listening – a space in which you share what has happened for you in the last year – good and bad – and where what you are sharing is met with deep love and acceptance. In front of your friends/witnesses, you acknowledge the negative energy involved in some of the events over the last year, and you resolve to release those energies. Allow them to dissolve with the closing of the current cycle. You acknowledge the mistakes you made and set an intention not to repeat them. You acknowledge those things that brought positive energy into your life and vow to create more of those experiences.
During the process of going through your list you may get emotional and here it is important again to stay with your breath – stay in your centre as this will give you a new perspective on your emotional charge. Generally we get emotional from the perspective of our mind. While you can feel emotional when fully in your centre, the emotion you feel here is authentic, felt from the heart, not from the ego. Releasing emotions from your centre means true release.
4. Now that you (and your friends) have written down and contemplated your lists of the year, it is time to release the negative emotions, experiences, energy and beliefs from the last cycle. This is a very important part of the ritual. Release the negative energy represented by the events written down on the paper, by ripping up the paper and placing the pieces of paper into the fire. In doing so you offer what is written on the paper to the wisdom of fire – the wisdom of destruction and transformation. Know and appreciate the sacred nature of the fire element, which by destroying allows transformation.
When you place your pieces of paper in the fire, consciously think ‘may these negative events, feelings and actions be dissolved and cause no harm to any being’. Have a conscious wish for the positives written on the piece of paper that those accomplishments and positive acts will benefit people and will continue to be in and around your life.
5. Once all participants have burned their writings, take a few more moments in silence with your breath, and notice if there are issues, feelings or events that do not feel resolved. Write them down again and repeat the process. Do this until you feel you can let that energy go.
The above ritual is powerful both in that you bring yourself to actively focus on the events in the past year that impacted on you. It brings you to face the difficult bits and appreciate the positives. It allows you to face up to whatever is – alone or in front of witnesses and allows you to release what is bogging you down. It creates space for new fresh, more appropriate and relevant beliefs and ideas going forward. It also assists in new neural pathways being formed in the brain – associating the fire and destruction with those negative emotions so your brain supports the letting go process.
The beginning of a new cycle is the opportunity to renew yourself. Be kind to yourself at the end of this cycle and give up those things that weigh you down and drain the joyfulness and celebration from your life. Like the cycle of breath on the inhale takes the life force that your body needs and the exhale releases what has already served its purpose and now need to move on – take what you want and need into your life – and let the rest go.
Ref: Yoga Journal December 2012