Ancient Wisdom for the New Year

So what are you doing this New Year’s Eve? Watching the ball drop over Times Square on television … again? For many of us, the typical New Year’s celebration can feel like old hat after a while. We start looking for more profound ways of honoring the space between letting go of the old and embracing the new. For those seeking a spiritual connection during times of transition, the world’s wisdom traditions—including Peruvian shamanism, Kabbalah, and yoga—offer rituals rich with meaning.

Shamanic philosophy sees the turning of the year as a time to honor and give back to Mother Earth, and a way of tapping into and acknowledging nature’s cycle of transformation. According to Ray Crist,  founder of the Jaguar Path, which fuses yoga practice and the philosophy of Peruvian shamanism, the Q’ero of Peru believe that we’re all shamans—each of us possesses an intuitive power and wisdom that connects us to both the world around and the world within. Rituals empower people because, he says, “through ritual, we can be the catalysts that bring forth healing and change into our own lives.” To celebrate the power of change that the new year brings, the Q’ero shamans perform rituals such as the despachio, an offering of gratitude to Mother Earth for all she provides.

Rabbi Sigal Brier, creator of Sh’ma Yoga, a contemporary integration of the age-old practices of yoga and Kabbalah (the mystical tradition of Judaism), views New Year’s as a fruitful opportunity to deepen our introspection. “Kabbalah teaches us that there is a primordial, eternal light that transcends ego and is around us and within us,” Sigal says. The start of the new year is an ideal time to access this light, which represents awareness. To call on this awareness, we go within to find new intention as we let go of the old.

“There’s a New Year’s practice called teshuva,” Sigal says, “which means ‘returning to the source and our true awareness.’ It’s a chance to let go of mistakes from the past and reconnect to our souls anew.” Traditionally, the teshuva is a 40-day practice of self-reflection leading up to New Year’s. “Through self-reflection, we’re turning toward the light,” Sigal says. “By going within, reconnecting with our true nature, we have the opportunity to ask ourselves, ‘What is my heart’s purpose? What do I want? What do I love?’”

From a yogic perspective, ritual affects the subtle body—the energetic area where dreams, imagery, and the chakra system reside in our beings, says Shivananda Thomas Amelio, a founding member of Kripalu and managing director of the Open Center in New York City. According to Shivananda, pujas, or rituals, change our consciousness on the subtle level, which in turn shifts our energy. This energetic shift can then yield powerful change in our choices, our physical bodies, and our world. In puja, we focus our attention on an object of devotion—an archetypal symbol that resonates with us, such as a deity.

The fact that symbolism is mostly missing from modern life may be one reason why so many of us are drawn to age-old practices such as shamanism, Kabbalah, and yoga—practices filled with rituals that reflect our inner longings and desire for transformation. “Even with all of our technological capacities, many people still feel disconnected from their deepest selves,” Ray says. “Rituals can help us connect to our innermost being, and give us comfort during times of transition such as the new year.”

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