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. That is, until this year. Even though I’ve never wanted to move on from a year more, I’m having a hard time finding the energy for New Year’s resolutions.
The more I’ve chatted with friends about this, the more I realize I’m not alone. 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—and all with less access to the support systems of friends and family.
In other words, as grownups, we can’t make space for resolutions until we let go of 2020 a little. Even though what we’ve lost will continue to hurt, there is some hope—taking time to try a simple letting go ritual may give us the nudge we need to get out of the 2020 rut and move on 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 of 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 how to 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 letting-go rituals at the full moon. And, as luck would have it, the next full moon is December 29th, right in time for the new year.
Many people feel that the full 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 moonlight will enhance the sensory experience, too.
Here are a few more insights that may help you get your 2021 groove back!
- From Psychology Today: The Art of Letting Go
- From Forbes: 10 Things to Let Go of in 2020
- From Scholastic: New Year Traditions Around the World
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.