The first day of the new year, and it has been a beautiful sunny day here.
Cold, but sunny. Lovely blue sky above. Many cups of steamy hot herbal tea to enjoy.
I’ve spent the day alone, happily sequestered.
I enjoyed a wonderful New Year’s celebration last night.
Since some readers have asked, here’s a bit of how I celebrate the New Year.
It’s how I’ve celebrated every year since my youth.
Simply put, I have my usual daily late afternoon-evening meditation session, followed by an evening meal. Last night, I meditated and dined alone at home. Then I did some reading and writing, watched some videos of talks by traditional spiritual elders I admire, ending with some by my late principal teacher, Maharishi. Then I performed a traditional Sanskrit puja ceremony of gratitude to my main lineage of Vedic teachers. Finally, I ended the night with a session of silent meditation during which the calendar year shifted over from 2015 to 2016.
Then I went to bed. That’s the core of it.
Of course, being a bit of a Hindu-Buddhist-Baul-Taoist-Jewish-Christian-Sufi-Native American camp follower, there were also some additional spiritual practices and prayers from various traditions offered for peace and health and welfare and security and enlightenment and harmonious prosperity and abundance of goodwill for all humankind and for all beings everywhere in all worlds.
I didn’t go to any New Year’s Eve parti(es) — I hardly ever do, and I didn’t go out earlier in the day to meet with friends, as I fairly often do. I just stayed in and had a lovely day of solitude and silence.
During the many years my now-late wife and I were together, we sometimes would take each other out on a lunch &/or dinner date somewhere on the last day of the year, sometimes also meeting a few friends for lunch or dinner. But usually on New Year’s Eve, if we weren’t on group retreat, we dined alone together, usually at home. Only rarely in my life, before and during my wonderful marriage, would I/we go to a New Year’s party, and if so, always left early in order to be home, perform our traditional puja, and meditate-in the new year with silence.
One reason I’ve almost never gone to New Year’s Eve parties, is that I don’t like to be out on the streets when many people have been drinking extra excessively.
Also, as I myself have never had any wish to approach a state of drunkenness, and in fact have zero personal interest even in light social drinking, it is usually not really very much fun to attend parties where many other people will indulge their tendency to drink to some excessive degree or another. I certainly like conviviality and jollity, I enjoy chatting with friends and strangers, and I sometimes like to dance in my own goofy way. But New Year’s parties are usually not my favourite atmosphere. On rare occasions throughout my life when I have attended a party on New Year’s Eve, I’ve always made sure to leave early to welcome the new year in my own preferred way.
This preferred way is a tradition I was introduced to by my principal teacher, His Holiness Maharishi.
For many years, when it came to the ending of one calendar year and the beginning of the next, I was lucky enough to be with Maharishi, often on a meditation group retreat as part of his annual series of 3-to-9-months-long international teacher training courses which he conducted for so much of his career.
Sometimes, the New Year holiday would find His Holiness gathered with a rather small intimate circle of his personal students and staff, anywhere from five or ten, to twenty or forty people or so. But most often we would be a group of internationals of anywhere from one hundred to three hundred. Other years, we would be as many as a thousand or even two and a half thousand on retreat together for months at a time with our beloved guide, undergoing training as teachers of his Transcendental Meditation program and its advanced practices. On at least one occasion there were over 8,000 of us from all over the world, gathered with Maharishi over the winter holidays, enjoying extended hours-long morning and evening daily practice sessions of TM and advanced TM-Sidhi practice for generating and supporting world peace.
Maharishi’s tradition for welcoming in the new year was to give an insightful and inspiring talk following our regular evening meditation session and supper meal. He would end his talk and the questions-and-answers session that followed within time to officially welcome in the new year. This welcoming was done first ceremonially with a Vedic puja (offering ritual), and then silently in a midnight meditation. When the last post-lecture questions and answers had been exchanged, we would join His Holiness in performing the ancient Vedic celebration of gratitude, a litany-like poem of traditional Sanskrit verses, half whispered, half chanted together, offering thanks to the great lineage of our masters.
This beautiful puja ceremony involves symbolically offering flowers and fruits, candlelight, incense, water, etc, accompanied by ancient Sanskrit verses quietly sung to a most lovely, moving melody. Following this shared ceremonial observance, Maharishi would silently take his seat again, close his eyes and meditate with us for about 30 minutes. This shared celebration of a teaching discourse and discussion, a ceremonial ritual honouring our lineage of teachers, and a group silent meditation session, was all effortlessly timed in such a way that midnight transpired during the middle of our meditation.
Having ushered in the new year in this way, we would come out of meditation about a quarter hour after midnight and Maharishi then would rise from his seat and wordlessly retire to his personal quarters. Once Maharishi left the meeting room, we also would all wordlessly depart for our own rooms to spend the night and sometimes the next day as well in extended silence, further deepening and sharpening our grounded state of inner restful-alertness in preparation for the endeavours and achievements in the new year ahead.
In most years, Maharishi’s wordless departure from the meeting hall on New Year’s Eve marked his entry into a week of silent reclusion in his room. He would bring a cup of fresh yogurt with him, close the door to his chamber, and emerge a week later deeply rested and “re-charged” for another year.
This week of conscious immersion in the silence of in-drawn samadhi, outwardly a state of extremely lowered metabolism approaching a kind of suspended-animation, was the only extra rest Maharishi allowed himself throughout most years, beyond his typical daily three-hour period of withdrawal for sleep or meditation between the hours of midnight or one in the morning and 3 or 4 am.
The rest of each day and night he was typically actively engaged in teaching round the clock throughout the year, year after year, decade after decade, except for his annual week of silence. And some years he felt the urgent needs of the world required him to skip his annual week of silence, just as he occasionally skipped his daily three-hours of rest.
When on retreat with Maharishi, we were sometimes privileged to be able to also observe our own New Year’s first week of silence and solitude in our rooms, meditating, resting, and studying, with thermoses of hot soup brought by our kitchen staff and left outside our doors each morning and evening. It was always so delightful to have such rare opportunities to be completely silent and alone for even just seven days at a time for plunging deep into extended sessions of samadhi, inner pure boundless awareness, far beyond the surface waves of thought or outward sensory distraction.
On other occasions we volunteered to serve on staff for part of a course, while maintaining daily “half-retreat” schedule. I especially enjoyed serving on kitchen staff, preparing meals for the others, and sometimes bringing the hot thermoses of soup to the doors behind which my fellow retreatants were each silently meditating and studying during a week of deep joyous solitude.
In addition to our spiritual-but-not-religious meditation teacher training and Vedic studies with Maharishi, he always encouraged and supported my pursuit of studying and training as a scholar-practitioner and sometimes teacher of various religious traditions as well, including Zen and Tibetan lineages of Buddhism. When my wife and I completed our training as householder yogis and (non-monastic) lamas (teachers) in the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist tradition, we undertook a traditional three-year retreat. For part of this training, we each took turns remaining on half-retreat schedule while cooking for and serving the other engaged in full-retreat practice. I very much enjoyed this homey, family-style approach to extended deep practice periods….
….So…last night I bid a fond adieu to 2015 and hailed the arrival of the new year of 2016 in my standard quiet way. At the end of my preparations, I watched a video of beloved Maharishi giving a teaching talk from years past, then performed the Vedic puja ceremony of gratitude to Maharishi’s lineage of teachers, then closed my eyes and “meditated-in” the New Year until a quarter or half-past midnight, then retired to bed. Happy New Year of 2016!
Early next month, toward the beginning of February, there will also be the celebrations of New Year (Losar) according to the calendric system used by Tibetans and other Himalayan areas, as well as the Chinese New Year celebration using an almost identical calendar. Happy Year of the Red Fire Monkey!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~