New Year’s Resolutions, the Burning Bowl, and Personal Growth
How My Burning Bowl Ritual Began
Years ago, I made New Year’s resolutions. Usually the same ones, every year: lose weight, stop biting my nails, whatever. And after the first month (weeks, days, hours….) of trying really hard, I’d find I’d already failed at my resolution. Yet every year, I made them, even though I was pretty sure when I wrote them down that they’d never happen. Some of my friends and I even joked that all New Year’s resolutions failed. But New Year’s Day was a good time to overturn past bad habits and start fresh. I like fresh starts–I think most people do–and New Year’s Day is generally the biggest fresh start on the calendar. So I wanted fresh starts. I wanted to change things up. I wanted life to be BETTER.
But year after year, I made my resolutions on New Year’s Eve and started fresh the next day and…failed within the month. The longest any resolution ever lasted was until Valentine’s Day. I really never had faith in my resolutions or in myself.
Resolutions Are Still Resolutions
Around 2004, fresh out of a 2-decade relationship–one hell of a fresh start–I turned down invitations to parties where too many people wanted to give me relationship advice, and chose to spend the evening alone, quietly, and contemplate the new year in the presence of a backyard fire pit. It was a quiet night for me, just sitting by a fire and writing down all the things I wanted to say goodbye to and throwing little pieces of paper into the fire. Then I wrote down the things I wanted in my life, and I threw more pieces of paper into the fire. These were my resolutions, but in two piles: what I didn’t want and what I did. Not a lot of difference in previous years, but more contemplation and more of a personal ritual. Several of the things on my list actually happened, though some were far into the next year.
Honoring the Past, Inviting the Future
The next year evolved somewhat. A writer-friend of mine referenced a fire pit ritual as a “burning bowl,” and I loved that. I also decided to “honor” the things I was saying goodbye to and “invite” in the things I wanted. No more resolutions. That word alone had so much consternation in it, such blunt force rather than smooth-flowing allowing. That year, in anticipation of 2006, I honored my past and invited my future.
The idea of “honoring” bad stuff in the past was hard to swallow, even though one of my spiritual teachers spoke often of it. To me, to honor things that had hurt me meant somehow saying those things were good or even “okay.” Yet, through this process, I came to understand that even the bad things had shaped me into who I was or had made me understand better what I really wanted out of life, and so I could honor the results of that experience.
I made another change that year in my New Year’s resolutions. I decided to add an action word for the coming ear and a theme for the coming year. For 2006, it was Manifest and Risk Everything. I chose those words because of the things that had happened in the previous year. Funny thing–that was the year I truly came to understand intention and manifestion, and began to let go and just let wonderful things come into my life. By the end of the year, some of the really important things on my list had happened. Some were hard, like ending long-term friendships with people I had allowed to make too many decisions in my life. They were relationships that had fulfilled their purpose long ago but I’d held onto them until they I sometimes didn’t want to be around those friends because so often with them, I felt bad about myself and my life. It hurt tremendously when those friendships ended but I was living their lives, not mine.
When that year ended and I looked back at my action word and theme, I realized that, while I had certainly not been there when I’d stated them to the stars alone on that New Year’s Eve, I was definitely THERE a year later.
The biggest difference in the next year’s ritual was that I changed from “inviting” in wonderful changes I wanted to “welcoming” in those changes. Can you feel the difference in choice of words? You can invite and it not come, but if you welcome it, it’s there! I also stop referring to them as resolutions and changed the mindset to “intentions.” I was firmly a student of the Law of Attraction at this point and had a much better understanding of it.
In 2008, I made the biggest change and the most successful in terms of seeing my intentions manifest in flesh and blood. That was the year that almost everything I stated I wanted/welcomed/expected did indeed come to me. My new spiritual circle had been going strong for 9 months and I decided to invite everyone over for a Winter Solstice ritual, on the first day of the Winter Solstice. This way, we could support each other in our intentions and boost off of that group energy when setting our intentions for the next year and honoring some of the harder stuff of the previous year. Because I’m a big fan of astrology and celestial cycles, I also decided to do it in the first degree of Capricorn (Winter Solstice), symbolic of setting goals that will become solid. Of course, a New Year’s Burning Bowl ritual doesn’t have to be done then, but it works best for me and so that why I do it then.
As I wrote in a previous article:
The timing of the Burning Bowl ritual is important to me. I prefer to do it on the day of the Winter Solstice because of the symbolism. Not only is this the longest night of the year, but it’s the day many cultures and religions celebrate the “Return of the Light,” as the days begin to lengthen after this night. It’s also the first degree of Capricorn, an astrological symbol of manifestation–and the beginning of the new year of manifestation–whether you call those intentions or resolutions.
The Actual Ritual
Since Winter Solstice 2008, I’ve been doing the same ritual with friends, developing our resolutions/intentions, creating action words and themes for the coming year, and celebrating and supporting each other. I serve a “feast” of roasted chicken and beef, and lots of vegetables and fruits, prepared as simply as possible so that they are are close to nature as possible. We begin the feast with a “never hunger/never thirst” blessing and a passing and breaking of bread (those of us who are gluten-free partake symbolically and then give the bread to the birds the next day).
Here’s a reiteration of a previous article on the process and what makes my resolution parties so special:
For this year’s Burning Bowl ritual, once our feast was complete, I handed out sheets of paper to each guest and asked them to draw a big T on the paper. This was their personal list to take home, so they can put away their list and review it later in the year. On the left column, they were to write down the things they want to honor and bid farewell to in the coming year. Saying goodbye to these things will make room for better things to come. I gave examples from my own list for the year:
Fretting over the lack of ——– in my life
Any insecurity or jealousy over ——–
Worry about ——-
Most of my dinner guests chose things like bad health habits, obsessions over certain people, money worries, unfulfilling jobs, and long-carried emotional pain.
Once they were done with the things they wanted to say goodbye to, I had them turn their attention to the right column and write down things that they welcomed in for the next year. Not things they resolved to do. Not things they “invited” in, but may not come. Rather, things they “welcomed” in because that implies that these things are definitely coming to them and they’ll be happy to have these things in their lives. In my experience, the majority of things in this list arrive effortlessly throughout the course of the coming year. I gave a few examples from my own very long list for 2009, beginning on Winter Solstice 2008:
Continue and expand my social circle and spiritual circle of friends and students, with wonderful lessons coming to me and from me
More loving relationships with family, friends, and daughters
An amazing, fun, intimate, creative, and intense sex life –and for my partner to be able to keep up with me
Learning new things and meeting new people, including things like knife-throwing, archery, and motorcycles
Business opportunities that bring me many different streams of abundantly flowing income and allow me to be mobile in my workspace and hours
My dinner guests welcomed in a huge variety of things that were very personal to each. I thought that was funny that we tended to want to get rid of the same things that weighed us down but what we wish to come into our lives was quite diverse. I loved some of the younger guests’ desires for good mentors, career guidance, confidence, and many of the things that my older guests didn’t consider until they heard these later. I was amazed at the maturity of some of the youngest guests when it came to participating in this exercise.
When everyone finally had their list completed, I asked them to consider a verb for the next year and a simple phrase or mantra. These are, in effect, my themes for the next year, and usually go hand in hand. I have to pick the exact words, and that sometimes means digging out the thesaurus to make sure each word has exactly the connotation I’m looking for. My themes for the past few years and for the coming year?
2006: Manifest and Risk Everything
2007: Enjoy and Allow Miracles
2008: Thrive and Celebrate Everything
2009: Enchant and Be Delighted
My guests began to think of their themes for the next year, some brainstorming with others to come up with the perfect word. Once they had their themes, they committed them to memory for later in the evening. They chose words like Relax, Recalibrate, Have Fun, Be Adventurous, Succeed, Liberate Myself, Accept, Live Life to the Fullest.
For the next part of the evening, I brought out wine glass goblets that I’d bought for 50 cents each from a local pottery store. I could have gone with plastic champagne glasses but I wanted something that my guests could take away with them. I’d also tried to find those little rings–wine glass jewelry–that dangle from the stem, but couldn’t find them anywhere in town. While walking through a discount store after a sushi lunch with my eldest child, I happened on an earring display and found not what I was looking for but something better. I picked out about 10 pairs of deeply discounted gemstone and shell hoop earrings that closed the hoop with a clasp. Each fit perfectly around the stem of a wine glass and made a nice souvenir to be imbued with the energies of the evening and taken away as a souvenir, to be worn later, attached to a car mirror or lamp pull, etc.
Next, I handed out little inventory tags to my guests. These were purchased at the local Office Max in the section where they sell tags and stickers for garage sales. Each tag was about 2 inches long, with a string attached. My guests wrote a symbol, picture, or word on the tags to represent what they wanted to say goodbye to and placed the tags in the goblet’s bowl. These were placed inside the glass because their cups are already full of these things.
My guests then wrote symbols, pictures, and words on the tags to represent things they wanted to welcome for the coming year. They tied these tags to the stem of the glass and let them dangle.
For the actual ritual, I’d hoped to gather in my backyard, but the below-freezing weather made it impractical, so we moved my grandmother’s aged cauldron into my open garage and started a very small fire in the cauldron, which served as our burning bowl instead of the usual barbecue fire pit in the backyard.
We formed a circle around the burning bowl, each of us holding a candle. I lit mine and then then person’s next to me, she lit her neighbor’s on the left, and so forth until the circle was complete. Because our guests were of varying spiritual backgrounds, we asked the Archangels–something common to most belief systems present–to witness our intentions.
After some brief explanations about the symbolism of the ritual, each guest tossed tags from inside their glasses into the fire, saying goodbye to the things that no longer serve them and that they wish to get rid of in the coming year. Some called out these things proudly. Most performed this part of the ritual silently, as was their perogative.
Then, one by one, and in no particular order, the guests allowed me to cut the tags from the stems, leaving evidence of their desires in place around the stem, and offered the tags representing things to be welcomed in into the fire, with our intentions carried away by the smoke to come to fruition over the next year. Some of the guests were exhuberant at this point and it was so much fun to see them enjoying this and feeling so much lighter and more hopeful.
When all the tags were gone, I then offered each guest a choice of grape juice or champagne and filled their glasses. We each called out our themes for the new year and toasted to them, clinking our glasses. Then we closed our evening with thanks to the Archangels for bearing witness.
The biggest difference, I think, in this Burning Bowl ritual filled with intentions toward what we welcome in and the usual resolving to do a host of things that will get rid of bad habits to that so many of our intentions are not things we actually have to go do (and fail at) ourselves. These are more like a wish list to God, the Universe, Goddess, or whatever belief system you follow so that we allow Deity to bring these to us and we simply welcome them when they get here. Since I’ve been doing these Burning Bowl rituals, about 90% of my desires are fulfilled within the first 8 months of the year–and some are ones I just never thought would have happened, and certainly not on my own.
What Was Different this Year
Not everything went perfectly for this year’s Burning Bowl, but we didnt’ sweat the small stuff. The stormy weather and other obligations meant some guests couldn’t make it. We had to move the ritual into the garage again because of the rain, and even my Christmas lights on the front of the house had shorted out before we began. And yet, it was a very serene ritual with an almost giddy energy (for me) at the end. We’d started in a wide circle, murmuring as we cast old problems into the fire and by the end, the circle had moved in very close. There were funny moments when someone cast “stress, anxiety, and drama” into the fire and suddenly another 5 or 6 people rushed forward with “me, too!” and cast off their problems, too.
This year, 2012, for most of my circle will be another year of big turning points. Some have had horrendous years and are ready for that fresh start.
Signs of Personal Growth
Long after everyone had gone home (it was a weeknight), my elder daughter and I sat up and talked. I’m glad she did because I’d been thinking I was the only one who’d had a problem earlier in the day with what to honor from the past and what to invite in. I’d taken a long walk to ground myself and contemplate, and yet, I’d come home almost empty-handed. You see, for all the stress and rollercoasters she and I have had in our separate lives this last year, it’s also been a phenomenal year for us both filled with lots of productivity, creativity, love, and happiness.
My 2011 word was Bask and my theme was Enjoy Bliss! For 2012, it’s Frolic and Stay Radiant!
Like my daughter, I’d had an awfully hard time coming up with awful things to say goodbye to. I didn’t have an awful year of user boyfriends or drama queen stalkers (just some echoes from the past). My list was half-hearted at best. Sure, I could say goodbye to those last extra pounds, but I’m not unhappy with where I am now, and being down about 30 pounds since the last ritual means fine-tuning at this point. I’m already in the dress size I welcomed in last year, and less. I said goodbye to bills, but that was in reference to my daughters being out of my house and on their own. I said goodbye to rollercoasters because some of my friendships and relationships have had a lot of ups and downs, and I want that to smooth out nicely to just some exhilarating curves and none of the bottom-dropping-out-from-under spins through mid-air. I said goodbye to something at work that I already know is going away in the big reorganization that’s coming, but it needed to be honored. I said goodbye to a health concern that I feel will go away just as the others from last year have…the last of the bunch. I had to stretch to find my goodbye list. Why? Because to me, they seem like they’re already gone.
For the things I am welcoming in, those were just as difficult to name. There is no one great big thing I want to welcome into my life in the next year that I don’t already have. I got everything I wanted from last year, so this year, I simply asked for more of each or the next step up and forward with each.
That’s when it hit me that yes, I had an amazing year. I want for nothing. I have all the things that stir my emotions and make me happy and I don’t have any of the things in my life that push me down. The only thing I can ask for… is more of the joy.