Each year at this time, I prepare a New Year package to send to my teacher, Niho Roshi. The package contains some gifts for the family, treats from Washington State, and perhaps chocolates. Then I assemble an offering of rice, wrapped in a traditional way, to express my wish for the health of my teacher. Later, the rice is cooked along with any other rice offerings from students and Niho Roshi consumes the sacred grain as a gesture of good will and support of his students to sustain him through the year.
New Year is also about bell ringing. We have adopted some of the celebratory traditions of Zen temples in Japan and we have our bell ringing too. Traditionally, bell ringing begins at midnight and lasts as long as there are people to ring the bell. The gesture of ringing the bell is a metaphor for clearing ourselves of any transgressions we might have committed during the past year. The sound of the bell clears the air and we are free to begin the New Year afresh. Some people ring the bell quite loudly making sure the bell captures any extra transgressions that may be stored in the heart.
In Olympia, we ring the bell on New Year Day after we've sat Zazen in the morning. We each take a turn allowing the resonance to complete itself and wash the air with the vibration. During our chanting of Hannya Shingyo, The Heart Sutra, we listen to the reading of the names of all those who have donated to Olympia Zen Center or who have come to sit Zazen during the year. The names and the Sutra completely merge. It seems as if the names ride on the healing wave of the music and burst forth into solace.
Thank goodness we have such a thing as the New Year to give us a fresh start. The matter of making resolutions is a good one even though most people don't keep them for very long. Resolutions give us a chance to recognize areas where we can do better in our lives and admit we are not perfect. They speak to the aspiration to unfold a new person within. It's best though if we don't disappoint ourselves by giving up too easily in making changes in habit and behavior. Any of this requires work, attention, and commitment. Yet there is nothing more fulfilling than to know we have the fortitude to truly carry out a resolution. If we make a resolution, we should put strong effort into whatever change we are making.
Today I was at my exercise place and I was the only one there. The trainer began to work out with me because she thought I might feel too lonely. We both laughed at the thought that next week, after New Year, the place will be packed with everyone having decided to turn over a new leaf and drop some of the weight accumulated over the holidays. Even a little effort for a short time is good. I'll be one of the ones resolving to do better; the rewards of making the effort are beyond calculation.