Resolution & Ritual in the New Year

New Year’s resolutions can summon mixed feelings. Perhaps the act of setting these resolutions is a welcomed opportunity to create goals and identify the sort of changes you’d like to make in your life. Or maybe the whole thing is irritating and you generally avoid it. Both experiences are understandable.

New Year’s itself seems to struggle with the tension between extroversion and introversion. There’s the carnival aspect: the imbibing in revelry, drink, and outward social activity. And then there’s this other side, an invitation to self-reflect, to be inward. Collectively, the extroverted side seems pretty well established, which isn’t all that surprising given how modern culture leans heavily in this direction. The introverted side, however, seems to search for a place and some expression in the midst of all the New Year’s festivities.

The New Year’s resolution offers an opportunity to honor the introspective capacity of this holiday. It speaks to the deeper and more contemplative aspect of endings and beginnings. More than simply setting goals for oneself, New Year’s resolutions are a kind of ritual that beckon us to connect with the experience of change as one year transitions to the next. In addition to potentially setting goals for the new year, it is also possible to approach New Year’s resolutions as a ritual that can engage the deeper parts of who you are and your experience. Whether or not you are a fan of the New Year’s resolution tradition, allowing yourself to connect with some kind of ritual activity may provide a little extra resolve as the New Year begins and progresses. In the spirit of ritual and new beginnings, some words from the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke:

I Choose to Begin

I love all beginnings, despite their anxiousness and their uncertainty, which belong to every commencement. If I have earned a pleasure or a reward, or if I wish that something had not happened; if I doubt the worth of an experience and remain in my past - then I choose to begin at this very second.

Begin what? I begin. I have already thus begun a thousand lives.

Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows translation