Collage of picture of New Year, lightening the candles, cycle of light to darkness, the celebration, the grief, loss, the spiritual connection, enlightenment.

New Year’s—the hope, meaning, and the promise

The holidays are a time for reflection and an opportunity to rebalance self-needs, relationships, spirituality, and wisdom.

As a child in the quiet of the darkest night towards the end of the year, I came to the kitchen of our single-floor, modest house in the rural countryside. My mother was there, lighting two small round white candles on the top of the washing machines at the back of our kitchen. A spark of light from a struck match ignited a flame and a warm glow that enveloped the room. It was the usual place for her sacred ceremony, repeated every Friday night as the sun went down, as her family had done for generations before, the holy sabbath ritual. She would close her eyes as she recited her fervent prayer with silent words left to my imagination for a version of my own.

I always guessed that she was in deep communion or remembrance of her family members, now gone. I was a child, but I was sorry I never asked her what she thought of or what her prayers were. It was a regular tradition for my mom that I took for granted and never thought to inquire further. It felt the specialness and sacredness of her solitary Friday evening ritual, as my father often worked late to close his store or was in another part of the house. My mother seemed to carry the tradition, and her spiritual ways taught for the benefit of us all. I would often watch in respectful silence. Sometimes, I would return later to see the last flicker of candlelight when everything suddenly went back into darkness.

Years later, when I watched my wife light the Shabbat candles, I was spellbound until the candles burned down to the last flicker and then darkness. My beloved mother has died after slowly slipping into eternal sleep following an illness and hospitalization. With the profound sense of loss and finality, I couldn’t hold back the tears and feeling of overwhelming grief.

Remembrance of my mother

I remember my mother’s silent prayers and spiritual moments when darkness came at the beginning of the Friday night Sabbath. I imagine her thoughts turned to those dear ones lost and the hope for new beginnings at the end of the day and in anticipation of tomorrow or another week. She seemed in profound harmony with all beyond what our mind divides in either this or that, light or darkness, and good or evil. Was she feeling the flow and spiritual harmony of being beyond the mind and its divisive ways of labeling something as valuable or not, safe or toxic, something of use to construct or build on? Was she feeling and experiencing the beyond our petty divisiveness, merging with a higher order of all things, where creativity arises that brings form but also division? Maybe she was beyond seeing or separating light and darkness. She has departed and is now of the spiritual essence we mortals seek, for perspective and wisdom and for escaping the narrow confines of our biased thought and narrow mind entrapments of hatred, fear, competitiveness, separation, lack, and loneliness.

Meanings and Reflections on New Year’s Holiday

New Year is a time of festivity and partying on the eve of the new year for some or a time for gloom and loneliness for others.

For many, the holiday season can be a time of reflection and “soul searching,” an occasion for joy and celebration, or dread and remorse. Holidays are quite a unique experience according to your life experience or circumstances. Those who suffer pain and anguish might associate it with past painful or traumatic experiences that are related to these final days of the year. It might have been the time when there was the death of a loved one or a significant loss. It might have been the trauma or tragedy around a violent time, as seen now in current events when there was loss and death when in war or living in a war zone. It might be the emotional pain related to the longing for nurturance, connection, and friendship when none is apparent or available. It may be the desperate need to stave off the darkness and despair of loneliness, loss of purpose, meaning, and hope, as one with a background of rejection or desertion or unavailability of a parent, or if bullied as a child. A youth or adult who has lacked the support and nurture of family or peers growing up might find times especially painful when others seem to celebrate holidays with friends or family.

The New Year’s holiday represents the old transitioning into the new, as we are reminded of the life cycle of birth to death, of growing and gaining, with the gradual transitioning into aging and decline. There is a parallel to the season with longer and increasing days and light, changing to shorter days with lesser light and more darkness. Cycling towards the shortest day of the year, celebrated in ancient pagan times as the Winter Solstice. In religious and spiritual traditions, the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new is a sacred time for reflection. The focus might be on where one is or on occurrences in the past, such as mourning or regret for what is lost. There also might be reverence for the uncontrollable as to what one’s fate or expectation will be in the new year. The ending of the calendar year and the beginning of a new year with longer days and light may be a time for seeking forgiveness or being forgiven for past transgressions and hope for a new opportunity, renewal, health, life, and prosperity in the future. Or, if aged, a person might envision a peaceful transition from the living to the eternal darkness.

Perhaps the light itself could have meaning in the sense of gaining a broader perspective and wisdom, to be enlightened and brought out of the narrowness of limited vision and narrow-mindedness.

TIPS and Points to Ponder

  1. The time and seasonal change are often caricatured as aging, “Old Father Time,” being replaced at the end of the year by the birth of a child, representing the new year, to grow to maturity in the new year with whatever the new year has in store. Each culture or religious tradition has its own story or customs associated with the time of year when the darkest and shortest day, the winter solstice, transitions gradually to the more extended day until the days of spring and summer. It all fits with the two-sidedness of how our mentation and brain define things and split the whole into two halves or components for better labeling and understanding. The narrowing down and discrete division is done with the hours, day, seasons, and years, which, in a sense, loses the spiritual essence of the totality and meaning beyond our limited mental operations and reasoning.
  2. The perception of time established the division of the timelessness of reality into discrete definable parts that the mind can grasp or define. We all can experience the whole or entirety of things but often live in the reality of duality or the binary as we can easier grasp a part of the whole to understand and use as building blocks that are manageable for us to understand, to build on, and function with and carry on practical or essential activities and behavior or intellectual pursuit. Working with more definable discrete entities benefits us with a practical ability to organize, sustain, and create.
  3. Unfortunately, we often get caught up in how we define, interpret, or conceive of our experience. It becomes a reality that is accepted by us, even though it is a constructed belief system from only partial perceptions of the whole, the true nature of reality that our minds have abstracted into less reliable components of the larger or actual reality. The positive for us is our unique capacity and potential for experiencing realization and growth beyond the personal limitations of the somewhat deceptive configuration we often accept as the true nature of things, which forms the filter through which we understand and judge.
  4. The entrapment at the limiting level of understanding is based on how we define selective parts of our experience. However, there is an essential need for awareness and keeping a balance between the practical operation of our minds, which needs a more selective focus on more minor aspects of the whole to-do efficient left-brain function and production. However, the larger perspective is lost, which is required for wisdom, wise choices, and discerning actions.
  5. “Moving into the light” expresses gaining awareness, an enlightened perspective, or the wisdom to comprehend the larger spiritual essence of all life beyond the individual, self-identity, and personal needs. For all the world’s diverse communities, including all with unique characteristics and differences, to survive and thrive, there is the essential need for “enlightenment” to the basic reality that we all are interdependent on each other for our existence and survival.
  6. It is the larger perspective, and perhaps a reality, that if we only care about ourselves and our tribes, there will continue to be bloodshed and war to defeat competitive, feared, or despised others. A positive perspective is that there is more extraordinary resourcefulness and power with people working together, with others, for the greater welfare and prosperity of everyone.

Hillel, a revered Jewish sage, rabbi, and philosopher, in his famous and very often quoted saying in The Ethics of the Father, 1:14, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”

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