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A New Year’s ritual at a Buddhist retreat

We started at 8pm with a procession to the shrine room, chanting a mantra to the sound of a drum, rhythmical but not loud, as if we wanted to keep the sound for ourselves and give it a mythical air. Incense welcomed us at the door of the shrine room.

Once sat down, we performed a ceremony to honour the Buddha, with poems, meditation and offerings. During the offerings, each of us put a piece of paper into a bowl. We had written down what we wanted to let go from the past (for example a habit, a thought or a behaviour). It was a symbolic act to let go of what we would like to change in our life.

When we finished our ceremony it was dark outside, only the moon gave its light and some bright stars were twinkling. It took us a while to walk up the hill to the stupa (monument). The view from the top was amazing. It was one of those nights where the black sky is full of thousands of stars and a bird gave an occasionally sound. At this moment I felt one with the universe.

We arrived at the stupa in silence, and one by one we entered the sacred space around it. When we are surrounding it, all facing inwards, we spoke loudly or silently our intentions for ourselves for the new year. Then we turned around and looked outwards, down the valley towards the sea. One after the other we expressed our wishes for the world.

I was very touched by this ritual. I felt connected with myself through my reflections and these moments of silence. I felt connected with the people through sharing this rituals and through the spirit of Buddha. I felt connected with nature and the universe.

In the last two years I have become more aware of how important rituals are for me for a sense of community and belonging. Rituals have taken on a different meaning for me than before. Is it because I have given them a different meaning?

I’ve learned that ritual is shared action. It can be irrational or rational. In my understanding ritual can meet different needs, for example celebration, mourning, gratitude, respect, building community, connection with myself/ others/with nature, belonging, awareness, etc. Spirituality can be part of it, however it’s not necessarily.

A ritual is something which I can create with others or for myself. I love the creativity and the richness of different ideas. It could be something which happens regularly or it happens spontaneously. I would say the importance is what kind of meaning we give our actions and which needs we are trying to meet. Rituals helps us to become aware of and acknowledge what is important to us.

We also have rituals in our daily life, for example to welcome the day (shower, tea in bed, meditation, exercise, etc…). Or when we end a day, for example Shantigarbha and I express gratitude/mourning in relation to the day.

Coming back to the night at the hill on New Year’s Eve it was a deep experience of connection and belonging. I was sensing inner peace. I still feel satisfied and grateful with meaning of the ritual. I could imagine this feeling will stay with me for a while in 2020.