The Bell of the New Year

Dear Friends,
I was thinking about the phrase “ringing in the new year” and realized I’d never beforeĀ  associated the transition with an actual bell (duh!) We here at The Pen and the Bell are naturally drawn to bell imagery, so I looked it up and found the beautiful joya no kane ceremony in Japan. There, on New Year’s Eve, monks and lay people ring the temple bell 108 times as a rite of purification. The bell literally “rings out” the old and creates space for whatever is new and good to arise in our lives.

This temple bell is large, and it takes some effort to strike it with the heavy wooden beam; people line up to take their turn. But it’s not a solemn event at all. People take joy in acknowledging and bidding farewell to what no longer serves them.

Tonight, I’ll have a gathering of friends, and I’ll serve Spanish tapas and cava. I’ll put Frank Sinatra and Ella Fizgerald on the iPod. We’ll play board games, and I’m sure we’ll laugh a lot. My own little bell will be on the shelf, and while I may not ring it 108 times tonight, I will be aware of the many ways I can let go of the old, cantankerous parts of the self in favor of the lighter, loving self who lurks there all along.

I’ve been reading a wonderful book called The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Ben Zander. In it, they describe, through delightful stories and examples, how we can turn around “downward spiral” thinking and enter a “universe of possibility” instead. I highly recommend it as a way to recalibrate your New Year self.

I’ve also been reading the book Madness, Rack, and Honey, a collection of “reluctant lectures” that the poet Mary Ruefle has given over the years on the art of writing. It’s the kind of book to dip into again and again to gain both inspiration and insight. Here is my favorite passage so far:

“I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, ‘I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say’; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to.”

May you hear the 108 bells reverberating, and let them guide you into a year of beautiful writing. Thank you for being here,

14 thoughts on “The Bell of the New Year

  1. First of all, I loved Mary’s book. Mine is now covered with asterisks, exclamation marks, underlining and post it notes. Richness on every page.

    Second, thank you for this wonderful blog which always brings me something new to think about or reminds me to be more awake in the world and in my writing.

    Have a fabulous New Year, Holly and Brenda!

  2. I don’t know either of those books, so I’m glad to have some new titles for my reading list! Thanks for all the wonderful letters this year, and here’s to a rich writing practice in 2013! Happy New Year!

    • Thanks for responding, Anne. So glad our letters are finding a receptive ear–and yes, here’s to a rich year of writing practice ahead, too.


  3. I’m listening to my mom’s Benny Goodman 45s but hoping my heart will open
    to new music this year. I so appreciate your thoughtful support of the writing life.

  4. Good to hear from you, Jane. My mom loved Benny Goodman, too–thanks for reminding me of his music–and warm wishes for open hearts in the new year…


  5. I’ve always loved New Years Eve. When I was single in my twenties, it meant dressing up- way up- and going to a party with my boyfriend. While married to a hotel manager, more dressing up and going to dinner/dance parties in very fancy digs. A few years ago, single again, I was sitting a year-end silent retreat at a Buddhist monastery, deep into meditation at the magic hour. And then this year, with my now-hubby, an impromptu private dance party–the two of us, and a Frank Sinatra cd. We foxtrotted around our living room in pajamas and party hats, then went to bed at 10. I’m grateful for this New Year, for your blog and for a practice that has left me free of regrets. Happy New Year!