Why we celebrate each New Year: It’s in our soul’s code

Buying into 2012 as more “doom and gloom” is a collective projection. A new solar year is a sacred event that can ground you.

BY DAVID RICHO, author of Daring to Trust and 14 other books about spirituality and psychology — Annual planting among ancient peoples began with prayer that recalled how the gods performed this same task at the beginning of time. The human lifecycle, thus, became a repetition of a primal religious event.

Whatever happens every year becomes a promise in perpetuity, and thereby the phases of life and the seasons fit into a spiritual framework.

Among ancient peoples this fostered a sense of belonging here on earth.

Repetition and participation give humans roots: “I am real because I am part of something. I have a grander meaning than is outlined by my fragile body.”

Primitive religious peoples lived in a world that had an alternative meaning to the given one.

Pre-Columbian peoples (photo credit: Milena Kaihla)

Pre-Columbian meso-Americans, 400 B.C.

Belief in a mirror universe to this one gives oppressed people a special hope which is missing from the society in which they live. In that other world rank, status, and hierarchy are all reversed.

This is the apocalyptic vision of a future equality in which goodness and justice triumphs. Here the persecuted will inherit the kingdom and will finally be honored. Such an anticipation and hearkens back to a primordial state, e.g., Eden.

The early Christians believed fervently in a parallel kingdom that defied and abrogated the Roman empire and all its power. In the apocalyptic kingdom God will fully approve the unapproved and the last shall be first.

In our contemporary world we do not have beliefs quite like this. But the collective unconscious can weave a web of myth and symbol that reconnects us with our origins. In the Jungian perspective the psyche is a source, not simply a depository of knowledge. This reflects the ancient views, especially those of Gnostics and alchemists.

Psychologically, we all have a need to trust that we are supported by powers that resemble us, nurture us in our life pursuits, and understand us compassionately.

Our modern egos may balk at this. They often drive us to want autonomy and independence at the cost of connection.

Actually, the ego does not have the ability to sustain itself independently. In addition, the ego fears independence and true freedom.

With independence it would lose its entitlement to be taken care of. With freedom it would lose its escape hatch of blaming others for what goes wrong. So we are searching for and demanding the impossible.

Left to ourselves, we homo-sapiens will spiral down into a cycle of destruction. Relying only on what is innate gives humanity no hope for survival. This is why spiritual teachers come along, so that we can survive and open to other wonderful possibilities in our nature. We were born with a proclivity toward spiritual practice just as we were born with an inclination to dance.

Huston Smith says that religions are to spirituality as universities are to education. You can get there without it but you will be traveling uphill. A spiritually-aware religion provides a platform, a framework in which to understand the world and ourselves. Then it can show us a path to love of the world and ourselves. In addition, when crisis hits, religion may not have an answer but when we come to believe that our suffering is shared by God, it becomes tolerable. Faith also promises that our power to love will not be lost no matter what occurs. In the Void, all of this may be hard to believe, but that, like everything, is temporary.

Religious beliefs are meant to help us accept reality as it is—including death and chance. Indeed we can learn from life itself which shows us so much when we use religious teachings as pointers. Our sacrifice is to give up the craving for absolutes and certitudes as our forms of safety and to use religion as a source and treasury of perennial wisdom and as a coping mechanism in a stressed and stressing world.

David Richo is the author of 15 books, including How to Be an Adult. A formerly active Catholic priest who has made Buddhism his personal practice, he is also a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in individual and couples counseling. Dave divides his practice between San Francisco and Santa Barbara, CA.

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