I Surrender to God

Believing that one should end the year the way one would like to begin the new year, I spent the last three days prior to New Year’s Eve in prayer, meditation, and on a semi-fast. If I had been at Kripalu, my favorite yoga retreat center located in the Berkshires, I would have been experiencing “Saptah” where three days prior to the new year, the center begins an uninterrupted period of chanting as a way to end the year spiritually centered. This experience is known as “Saptah” – which literally means seven – and refers to the tradition in India of continuous chanting of the name of God, often held in an ashram, for seven days at a time. These chants are sung in call and response, with women and men in an almost hypnotic voice, chanting the mantra, with the audience responding in kind. Accompanied by a harmonium with hand-operated bellows, the melody is both mystical and enthralling as we chant “Om Namah Shivayah,” which in Sanskrit means “I surrender to God.”

In the early years when I began going up to Kripalu, the staff would change into long, white, flowing clothes; the chanting occurred in the main chapel; and the music was piped into the cafeteria.  Now the chanting occurs on the third floor in a small room for those who are interested. But there is still something healing and mysterious about constantly hearing and chanting the words, “I surrender to God.”

You can enter the room at any time of the day or night; sit for five minutes or fifty minutes or even longer, listening to the recitation and responding in kind. There is a box at the entryway to the meditation room, with small slips of paper and pencils. We are invited to write down anything we wish to leave in the old year, or to take into the new year. On New Year’s Eve, the slips of paper are burned.

I began playing my CD of the Saptah chant on December 28th, lighting candles throughout the living room, with one big candle in front of my non-working (but oh so beautiful) fireplace.  Inspired, I began to write down on pieces of paper things I wanted to leave in 2010 and things I wanted to take into 2011, taking each slip of paper and holding it up to the flame before throwing it into the fireplace.

On the first day, I could only write things I wanted to leave in 2010, each of them-I sheepishly confess-resentments.  Still, it felt cleansing and healing to begin to write the words down on paper that I dared not write or say (and shudder with shame that I harbored them); and then to burn them immediately. Each was related to some past hurt-real or imagined-inflicted upon me by someone else; and some of this stuff was really, really old (like Stanley Edwards calling me “Westina the fat ballerina” in the eighth grade). On the second day, I began to write down those things which I did not wish to take into 2011 that are part of my own character defects. Greed, envy and gluttony came to mind immediately.

On the third day, I began to embrace the things that I wanted to take with me into 2011 (e.g., loving-kindness, gentleness of spirit, humility, joyfulness).  Just before I headed to the airport for a short trip, I went to quickly burn the three last slips of paper. Somehow, my thumbnail caught on fire.  I was startled and intrigued to see the small blue and yellow flame on my nail, and waited for it to hurt, which curiously it did not.  For a moment, I felt like I was somehow a magician with fire coming from my fingertips; but thankfully came to my senses and blew my thumb out.  [For those of you ladies with silk wraps, acrylic will burn, in case you didn’t know.]

I have a feeling that God was telling me, “Enough. You’re done with this now.”

January 01, 2009 by Westina Matthews
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