While teaching in Waldorf schools, I was introduced to a practice for the children of starting each morning lesson with a questions: “What’s new?” In the early grades , their attention was directed to something new or different in the classroom. As the years progressed, the children began experiencing the question as more open ended and began including new experiences or new ideas that they had or were having. As we advanced to middle school, the questions was more refined to what we were studying at the time or what issues were active in the community.
I was reminded of this practice by Chuck Fondse in a sangha share recently when he related an experience of approaching the solstice as fresh and new and then that leading to an experience of every moment and experience being fresh and new.. The daily habit of this question: “What is new?” can become a daily practice for us too. Beginning the day with this question may free the mind from habitual thinking and open the experience to what is.
It is like the experience of a new year. New Year’s Eve has always been a time of washing away, putting down, releasing the accumulations in mind, heart and body that have bunched up from the previous year. In addition to un-clinging, there has been the habit of grasping for something new in the coming year by setting goals or planning specific changes in life. If instead one approaches the New Year with “What is new?” with pure openness, there is a possibility of freedom from expectation of something to come (grasping) or regret of something that has passed (clinging). A gesture of gentle, openhanded receptivity offers the opportunity for connection to what is, and strengthens the capacity to respond with the skill and means that are called for and not what the habitual conditioning thinks is needed.
Rudolf Steiner introduced a meditation practice for the new year that has this openness to what is. There are many interpretations of this practice, referred to most often as The Holy Nights Meditation. It is often practiced from December 25 – January 6 in reflection of the Christian celebration of Jesus’s birth. However, throughout Steiner’s lectures and notes form other folks, he indicates that the practice can begin on the longest night of the year, the solstice, and continue through January 1st. Some references include a 13th night as well. One of the reflections that I read about the practice was that beginning on the first day of the New Year, we start to collect uncompleted intentions, or we begin to fill up a trunk of hopes and regrets. This continues throughout the year until, near the closing of the year, there’s a bottleneck or backlog of stuff that wants to be attended to. The invitation in this practice might be to methodically reflect on the year month by month and see what hopes are being clung to or what regrets are taking up space in our consciousness. Another approach is to use the practice to open our mind-heart to unknown possibilities in the coming year. There are many other approaches as well so just seeing what shows up as you engage in the practice is great!
The Practice of the Twelve Holy Nights. (My interpretation)
- Place a journal and pen next to your bed so that you can access it easily in the night or first thing in the morning.
- Prepare, ahead of time, your question that you will carry through the Holy Nights. For example, you might ask what will come in the month of ____? (The first night would be January, second February and so forth through the twelve months.)
- Each night before going to sleep write at the top of the page or area the month and year that you will be working with.
- Go to sleep having asked the question and to the best of your ability refrain from dwelling on it as you drift off.
- If you wake in the night with a dream, write it down with as much clarity as you can and then go back to sleep. If you don’t dream during the night, upon waking up take time to write whatever you are experiencing or contemplating upon waking.
- Repeat this for twelve or thirteen nights.
- It seems that one of the most important parts of the practice is to remain in an open, non-assumptive frame of mind when you ask the question and when you record your experiences in the journal.
- If you are using the practice to review the year, begin with December and work back by month until last year’s solstice. If you are practicing opening to what is coming toward you in the year ahead, start with January and progress through the twelve months
- If an experience arises during the day that draws your attention in an our of the ordinary way, record that as well.
- If you are not able to begin the practice on the actual solstice, no problem. Begin when it feel right for you. The important thing is to stay with it for a consecutive stretch of twelve nights.
At the end of the twelve nights, review what you have written and keep the journal someplace accessible so that you can refer to it as the year progresses. This is not a prognostication practice so don’t be concerned if what shows up is odd or extraordinary or nothing at all. Like all practices, the invitation is to experience and notice the effect of the experience.
Another possibility would be to incorporate the reflection or question into your daily practice for these twelve days. The indication for the night and dreams is that the veils between our conditioned, habit stream and our open, non conceptual nature is thinned when we sleep. So maybe a daytime contemplative practice would work better for some folks.
May the joy, kindness, compassion and equanimity of your true nature and the nature of all beingness rain down in unending blessings this year and in all years past and present.
May this practice, these words, and all actions be in service to the end of suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions throughout the cosmos.