A lot of my spiritual practice involves finding ways to cultivate more connection. I don’t want to go through life numb and disassociated, even if that means I sit with more discomfort. I want to live meaningfully, and as fully present to this wild miracle of consciousness as I can be. Part of why Pagan spirituality works for me is its focus on aligning ourselves to the cycles of the natural world, listening more deeply to our inner guidance, and seeking to be an active co-creator with life rather than just riding along on the wave. Our prayer, meditation, and ceremony forms tend to emphasize presence and authentic connection.
There are amazing pivot points during the year where we can tap into a greater pattern and use that pattern to help us move forward. The changing of the calendar year is, of course, just numbers when you break it down. It can feel kind of arbitrary and it’s easy to write it off as simply a change of digits, but that completely ignores the pattern unfolding right now. As Reverend Carl said at the Christmas Eve service, “in every new present moment, we have an opportunity for a little rebirth — a chance to nudge ourselves, others, and the world toward just a little — or a lot — more hope or love or peace or joy.” And this moment, the changing of the calendar year, is a pivot point. It has been for many generations now. Rather than brushing off that entire wave of human feeling and effort, what if we became more present to it?
The techniques around personal growth and transformation that are used in Pagan practice do not require Pagan beliefs in order to be effective. For example, releasing is an important piece of how we approach change. The way this works for Pagans is to notice what’s getting in the way, how we’re contributing to that obstacle, and then try to shift our own thoughts and behaviors in order to create more space.
I’m going to pose some questions to you. These come from the New Year’s Day Purification Ritual that happened here on January first. Close your eyes, or soften your gaze, and just notice what arises for you.
What stone do you no longer need to carry? What weight can you return to the Earth?
What thoughts no longer serve you? What concerns can you release to the Air?
What habits or addictions restrict your growth? What patterns can you release to the Fire?
What emotions weigh you down? What wounds can you wash away in the Water?
You can gently open your eyes whenever you’d like to.
For many of us, releasing is the first step in a larger behavior or perspective change. If the idea of taking on something new feels like too much right now, consider instead what you can let go of. What stone can you set down? And, what would help you do so? In the New Year’s ceremony, after we consider our own answer to the questions I read to you, there’s an action to help us embody our releasing. We place a physical stone into a bowl, waft incense over ourselves, or write down what we’re releasing on a little piece of paper and burn it. Think about what would help whether that’s a simple action you can perform at home, visiting a place that helps you feel centered, or bringing in some assistance in the form of family, friends, or professional guidance.
Another thread of Pagan practice that can be helpful is the idea of intentionality. Rather than New Year’s Resolutions, which have a tendency to go off the rails a bit, many of us set intentions. This can be a single word up to a short phrase. Setting an intention allows room for adaptability, revision, and change. An intention allows us to move in a particular direction even if the specific path that way changes. I’ll give you a few of my one-word intentions over the years as an example:
Manifest. Nurture. Shine. Root.
And, my word this year is Choice.
Intentions can be supported with other practices. One of my favorite ways to support an intention is to make sure I’m having my own message affirmed to me regularly. This can mean changing the background on your phone or computer to a photo or image that reminds you of your intention. Vision Boards or simply wall art that reference the intention can be a good addition as well. We’re constantly receiving information from our environment, so consider adjusting the environment. Intentions can have colors, patterns, scents, sounds, and more associated with them. It’s a lot easier to hold an intention when our environment supports it.
Another technique I love is affirmations. Now, affirmations can get a lot of flack for being ridiculous, but that really only happens when we’re talking about poorly designed affirmations. Affirmations work by giving us an addition to our internal narrative. Our self-talk matters. A well-constructed affirmation uses “I am” phrasing. For example ““I am grateful for my strength and resilience” or “I am honoring my healing process.” Consider creating an affirmation for the new year. My single word intention this year is Choice. My affirmation is “I am choosing my Path mindfully and prioritizing my needs.”
Affirmations can be written in dry-erase marker on mirrors, turned into decorations, added into a meditative practice, and more.
One other support that I personally love is building playlists for my intention. Music is such an incredible bridge between the conscious and subconscious mind. It has the power to influence how we feel even if we’re not focused on listening. Think about what songs resonate with the intention you’re setting or the overall direction you’d like to go. One of my intentions over the years was courage, and I still listen to that playlist when I need to be brave.
As you contemplate another calendar year, remember that there are tools for transformation: releasing, intention-setting, affirmation, and environmental support. We have an opportunity here to begin again. To choose a different direction, to let go of something heavy, or to set the first block in building a bigger dream.
This sermon was originally offered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick on Sunday, January 7th, 2024.
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