I celebrated the New Year Zen style at a small Zen temple in a rural corner of Vermont. The evening consisted of meditation (zazen) starting at 5 PM. It’s always a good idea to start with meditation to settle into the form and intention of being awake (or at least aspiring in that direction).
Following zazen, we were asked to reflect on the previous year, month-by-month, writing down events that stood out in memory. And as we wrote these events down we were also asked to look for patterns — things that reflected events, feelings, and behaviors that were skillful; that led to good outcomes for ourselves and others. Likewise, we looked at events, feelings, and behaviors that represented patterns that were not so skillful — that led to poor outcomes for ourselves and others. For the New Year, we make an intention to maximize the former and minimize the latter. Once completed we purified the folded slips of paper in incense and then took them out to the fire pit and one by one placed these papers in the fire, burning them in the flames of intention.
A little party followed. After the social gather, more zazen. At 10:13, 108 minutes before midnight, a bell-ringing ceremony began. Each participant had a bell to ring and at the dawn of minute each of the bells would be rung in sequences (this took about 30 seconds). The purpose is to mark time and to reveal the subjective nature of time. The entire evening is a meditation on time and our relationship to it. The sounds emanating into the dark night were ethereal and dynamic, like a minimalist composition. At midnight all the bells were rung at once.
Then out to the fire pit once again where the Heart Sutra was chanted with great vigor, joy, and volume. The sounds of Heart Sutra mingled in the air with more conventional revelers shooting of fireworks and hopping and and hollering.
Then another party! This time, traditional noodles with tempura. It’s hard to believe how such a simple bowl of noodles with shitakes, seaweed, and some fritters could taste so good, but it did!
To add to the excitement, it started to rain on this balmy night and iced the roads. So driving home was a continuation of zazen practice — being awake, being fearless, being safe.
While New Year’s Eve may be an auspicious time to reflect on the past year, you can do the exercise described any time. Do it today and place your written down reflections in the fire of becoming and dissolving.
Enjoy this first day of the New Year.