So, what do all of the above have in common?
They all happen during the Balinese New Year! There are four days of festivities and ceremonies (among many other festivals and ceremonies) to release the old year and bring in the new. Each day is dedicated to something specific, and they are perfect reminders for how we can get rid of the crap in our lives (whether it be stuff or habits or anger) and move on to the good stuff in our lives.
Rituals and habits are freaking awesome when we build them and perform them with intention. Our lives are essentially ruled by our patterns, and the more we can consciously create patterns that feed us and make us happy, the more we are going to enjoy our lives. So, winning.
The Balinese people have an amazing way of performing rituals, creating ceremony, and living with intention every single day. When I first got here, it seemed like a lot of work and time and energy to create and destroy all these offerings, and to put in so much effort without immediate payoff is so different than Western culture.
What I’ve come to find is that there is sweetness in the effort. My time here in Bali, among other things, has given me an amazing appreciation for making the time to establish rituals, and for creating and giving without any expectation of receiving.
The following practice will allow you to wipe your slate clean. To release habits, objects, demons that really it’s time to get rid of, and create the space for new intentions and rituals that are going to awesome-ify (yep that’s a word) your life.
The Four Days of New Years (Four Steps to Wipe the Slate Clean)
1. Melasti – Cleansing
A few days before the new year, ritual cleansing and purification of sacred objects takes place. In Bali that means cleaning the effigies from the family temples, and collecting sacred water to bring back to the temples. It’s a cleansing of objects, as well as a cleansing of the mind and nature to become more connected with God (which you may call spirit, the Universe, or just life in general).
One way to cleanse is to purge. Get rid of stuff that isn’t needed. Part of Melasti is cleaning and clearing the important things- getting rid of the cobwebs and dust to make space for connection and understanding. Another thing you can do is to create a mini altar in your home, a small collection of objects that mean a lot to you. Having them in a visible, special place will allow you to honor their meaning every day and will create a space devoted solely to your intentions.
What would you like to wash away? What will you place in this new space?
2. Tawur Kesanga – Exorcism
New Year’s Eve is a major party in Bali, but it’s a lot different than parties in North America and Europe. This day is celebrated with a presentation and burning of larger-than-life sized demons that the villagers build and parade around. Called ogoh-ogoh, these giants are really amazing, and as they make their way through and out of town, everyone makes as much noise as possible to scare the evil spirits away.
The ogoh-ogoh represent the evil spirits and demons both in the surrounding environment and within ourselves. By shining light on the demons and burning them away, the air and space is cleared for the new year.
Maybe you don’t build something larger than life and burn it down, probably because you’ll get arrested, but ritual burning is incredibly powerful. When I turned 25 I burned all my journals from the previous 6 years. Clean slate, release of old stories. You don’t even have to get that dramatic- something as simple as writing down a habit or story you don’t want controlling your life anymore and then burning that piece of paper can be just as powerful, when done with intention.
What demons would you like to exorcise? What are you ready to release?
3. Nyepi – Silence
Bali is the only place in the world that shuts down its airport for an entire day. The whole island appears deserted on Nyepi, the Silent Day. No transport (including walking), nothing is open, and time is spent in silent reflection inside, with little to no electricity or entertainment. This marks the first day of the new year- a time to reflect on the year past and to set intentions for the coming year. Any evil spirits that might be lingering or visiting won’t find you, because the island appears deserted on this day. By turning inward, both literally by remaining indoors and giving yourself space without distraction, you can find answers and create intentions within the silence.
Silence is rare, yet so important. When we release something, or want to get rid of bad habits or demons, it is equally important to decide what we want to replace those habits with. After cleansing and burning, give yourself some time for stillness. Whether that means writing, or simply sitting and breathing, allow the space and silence to help shape where you are going next.
What will fill you up? How does space feel? Can you allow yourself to just be?
4. Ngembak Geni – Forgiveness
On the day after the New Year, it is customary to go around and ask for forgiveness for past grievances and issues, and to welcome the year without any resentments or fights getting in the way of what is to come.
Whether you publicly forgive or just forgive in your mind, this is a beautiful practice. Maybe you let something go, or decide to not worry about it anymore. Maybe you call someone up and tell them you love them. I love to write letters to people I’ve been angry with and then burn those letters or silently send them (without actually sending them). The practice of forgiveness means not storing resentment in your body. It’s physically and emotionally releasing what is holding you back.
Who do you need to forgive? What are you excited about moving forward?
You can use this practice at any time. Maybe this becomes your annual or quarterly ritual, or something you can bring up as needed. As we move into spring, it is the perfect time to check in with yourself and create some intentions for the year to come!
*Note: This is my very brief understanding of what occurs in Bali, and I have interpreted in a way that makes sense for me. I am sure I am missing out on a lot of nuances and broader cultural understanding, and a lot of those things are beyond the scope of this article. I got my information from here, here, and here, and if you have any insights I would love to hear about them in the comments!