One of my fondest memories of the year I spent teaching English in rural Japan back in the 1980s was New Years. I was a recent College graduate with minimal preparation for being dropped into a part of Japan that was still quite traditional in mores and cultural patterns. My first New Year’s surprise happened when I showed up at my workplace in very late December.
Now my office was not a cubicle, it was not even a shared desk or office with one or two others. It was a large room with a circle of about seven or eight (maybe more) desks all pushed together and facing one another in the middle of the room. Except for me, all the others were long term Japanese educational administrators, and all were male.
At the head of the group of tables sat the boss, a mild mannered, avuncular man who stood several inches below me and I only measure five feet four. They had explained to me that in Japan they select their leaders based on their ability to bring the group together and not try to dominate. That was why my direct boss, the head of English, had not been selected several years running. “He’s too pushy,” they explained.
But this morning, December 31st, our gentle boss was uncharacteristically afire as he led the end of the year cleaning brigade. He directed us as if it was a military operation, providing us all with the necessary tools of dusting wands and cleaning supplies.
We worked together all day to clean ever nook and cranny of our desks, drawers, and general office area. The windows were given special attention. It was quite cold that day and there must have been several inches of snow on the ground. Still, we had to open widely all the windows and clean each one with care: inside and out. All these years later, I can still bring up this image in my mind.
My direct boss, the English teacher, explained to me as I tried to follow the men in their cleaning zeal, that it was most important to clear out all the dust and grime and old things on New Years Eve so that new and clean energy can come in for a fresh start for the next year.
For New Year’s Eve, I had been invited to a small hamlet of a town high in the mountains whose kanji name, they explained to me, also meant happiness. I was put up in a guest house just a few feet from my host’s main house, and in that snowy and serene solitude I almost felt as if I could feel the happiness of the place infuse me.
As midnight approached, my hosts walked with me to the center of the town where an enormous brass bell hung. A line of people wound around the area waiting their turn to ring in the New Year with an enormous log-like mallet used to gong that bell. Each person was to make their New Year’s wishes when that log mallet made contact with the brass bell. 101 was the lucky number of gongs.
All these years later, I still have great appreciation and respect for that simple yet profound New Year’s ceremony I was lucky enough to partake of decades ago. Of course, there are many ways we can choose to celebrate New Year as well as different dates attributed to when the new year actually begins. Nonetheless, what I most took away from that New Year’s time in Japan is the importance of cleaning up and clearing out before setting any new intentions for the future.
Energetically speaking, this is congruent with how energy moves within us and in the world and we can understand this at several levels. First of all, in our houses and offices, if we want to eradicate a repetitive pattern that is not productive or try to get to a higher level of positivity and compassion and love in our immediate physical environment, this can be much harder if we are still living amidst objects and even dust and dirt from the past. Especially if we are surrounded by clutter.
To truly bring in more light, we need to lighten up our surroundings. This can mean going through those old files or digging into the back of your closet where you have boxes stored whose contents you don’t even recall. This can also mean getting rid of objects you once appreciated but now do not elicit the same feeling for you. That is okay. We all change, we are supposed to change and the apparently simple act of getting rid of things you no longer need or use or want can help open up new and yet unforeseen possibilities for you.
Even more important than getting rid of physical objects and cleaning up our physical spaces is carrying out a similar cleaning process within ourselves. Just like our houses or office spaces, how can we become more abundant in our mindset if we are still clinging to fear of job loss, scarcity, and doubts about tomorrow? How can we bring more love into our lives if we are still ruminating over long ago hurts and sorrows?
Of course, such personal cleaning is an ongoing, never ending process for all of us throughout the course of our lives. We do not need and should not wait for the New Year period to do such work. And yet having a specific date or time to reflect on what we want to both leave behind as well as bring in can be helpful in our busy lives.
Ritual and ceremony can be helpful energetic cleaning tools. I find that envisioning an issue or situation that I am trying to move beyond as an energetic band that is binding me and can be cut with my envisioned sword of light and love works well for me. There are many other techniques you can use.
Here are some words from the Toltec healing tradition I often employ and want to share with you with a thanks to Grace Sesma. She recommends saying each of these phrases three times out loud, mindfully and with feeling.
“I now return any energy that I may have taken from someone or something, knowingly or unknowingly, to its source, with blessings of love and peace.”
“I call back any of my own personal power or energy that I have given away, knowingly or unknowingly, that I may be restored to wholeness and balance.”
Wishing you and your loved ones love and peace and greater wholeness and balance in 2021.