THE BURNING BOWL CEREMONY by Ian Ellis-Jones THE SYDNEY UNITARIAN CHURCH SUNDAY, 11 DECEMBER 2005 I am free, I am unlimited. There are no chains that bind me. I am free, I am unlimited, Right now! Right now!IntroductionThe late American Protestant minister Dr Norman VincentPeale once wrote, “There is a spiritual giant within you, whichis always struggling to burst its way out of the prison you havemade for it.”The Burning Bowl Ceremony, which is also known as thePhoenix Ceremony, is one of a number of popular “rites ofrenewal” performed in many New Thought churches,especially in the United States of America. The ceremony isoften conducted as part of a Thanksgiving or New Yearservice. The service can also be performed privately atspecial symbolical times such as on New Year’s Eve or yourbirthday or at any time when you feel the need and have thewillingness to let go of something in your life that is holdingyou back, especially bad habits, negative thoughts andemotions, and unhealthy relationships.
Life is, or at least ought to be, a process of “letting go and letting”. This is therhythm of the universe, the rhythm of life. Call it the divine rhythm, if you wish.We need continually to let go of negative beliefs, destructive emotions,unhealthy relationships, as well as any tendency to resist change. We needto continually to let – to let the Spirit of Life take over in us, to fill us with newlife, to recreate us in mind and body.You will be amazed how powerful this is at letting things go, individually andcollectively, in particular, letting go of the past and moving into the Now with anew start. It’s simple, but it’s extremely transformative, especially wherethere is a need and a willingness to let go of negativeemotions such as anger, resentment and regret as well asrepetitive suffering over past experiences. These things arevery bad for us. Forgiveness and release are spiritually life-affirming and liberating. The Burning Bowl Ceremony helpsus to let go of old hurts, grudges, regrets and suffering and torelinquish anything, in fact, that burdens our minds while at the same time toidentify those things in our lives that we wish to occur in your life, particularlyin the coming year.In the Burning Bowl Ceremony we write down on paper whatever it is - it maybe a number of things - that we wwant to free of. Then you burn the piece ofpaper in the Burning Bowl. The fire in the Burning Bowl is a symbol ofpurification and transformation. Fire, itself, is a powerful element for andmeans of transformation. The fire takes the paper and changes it from oneform into another. If you perform this ceremony at home, you can, if you wantto, bury the cold ashes as a final step.The Burning Bowl Ceremony is all about change as well as taking personalresponsibility for your own life. The ceremony facilitates change, taking usoutside the walled paths we ordinarily travel along. It helps to build newneural pathways in the brain, cutting across the old neural pathways that haveformed as a result of repetitive negative thought forms and bad mental habits.
It was Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, who said, “Life is what ourthoughts make it.”The Burning Bowl Ceremony is one of a number of “transformative rituals”,the object being … yes, inner transformation. After all, was it not Saint Paulwho wrote, “… be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12: 2)?
What we releaseThe paper burning portion of the ceremony, which powerfully symbolizesletting go, is a way of releasing whatever no longer works for us as well aswhatever is holding us back.We write down on paper things that we want to release in our lives. It may beold habits that no longer serve us.Maybe we have a physical or mental habit that we are tired of.Maybe it’s some mistake or failure from the past.Maybe its a limiting thought of our own worth, or a fear of some kind.Maybe we need to forgive someone or forgive ourselves for something thathappened in the past. New Thought minister and author Emmet Fox wrote, “Itis an unbreakable mental law that you have to forgive others if you want todemonstrate over your difficulties and to make any real spiritual progress.”Yes, we must forgive, not so much for the other person’s sake, but for ourown sake.Maybe we need to let go of a limiting relationship, or a way of doing things.Perhaps we would like to release a work situation.Preparing for the ceremonyHere are some questions designed to help you clarify what you want changedin your life. Remember it’s entirely up to you. You must do the work,especially the mental work, and nothing will happen unless you truly want it to.For example, in the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, also entitledAlcoholics Anonymous, it is written: If you have decided that you want what we have [that is, sobriety] and are willing to go to any length to get it - then you are ready to take certain steps.
You begin by making a decision that you want what’s on offer … that youreally want to change. There is great power in so doing. Then you must takethe necessary action to effect the desired change. There is no “easier, softerway”. In Matthew’s gospel we are told, "Ask and it will be given to you, seekand you will find, knock and the door will be opened unto you" (Mt 7:7). It allstarts with us, and it all starts with making a decision that you want to change.Then you must do what needs to be done. The power is in the doing. In thewords of Emerson, “Do the thing, and you shall have the power.”Now what do you want to throw out of your life? What do you want cleansed?What do you want to give up? Let’s open up a number of different suitcases.Firstly, health. Are you currently facing a health challenge? Is it physical,psychological, emotional or spiritual? What do you need to release or giveup? What do you want gone from your life? Remember, you can chooseyour emotions; if you want to feel differently, you must make new thoughtchoices.Secondly, relationships. Are you stuck in some co-dependent relationshipthat is only harming you as well as the other person?Thirdly, home. What do you desire different in you home? Less conflict andfriction? Less noise? Less clutter and junk?Fourthly, finance. Do you have money worries? Few don’t, but let’s besensible here. Consumerism is not the answer to our worries. It is the sourceof many of them … as well as being the primary cause of most of the world’spresent malaise.Fifthly, work, school, college, university. What do you want to be different?Sixthly, leisure time. What is preventing you from enjoying good leisure timeand contentment?Remember, you have the power - indeed, the responsibility - to make betterchoices if you want to live a happier life. Now, as the old year runs out, we
must move on, “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth… [we] press toward the mark …” (Phil 3: 13, 14).What’s involvedYou will each be given a small piece of paper as well as something with whichto write. You will then have a short time to write down those things you wishto release from your life. The act of writing down what you want gone fromyour life is a very important part of the letting go process. Once again, thereis great power in so doing.After you’ve written down whatever you want to let go and release, thenspend a few moments in quite prayer or meditation by way of personalcommitment and surrender. If there is anything holding you back, becomeaware of what it is, and let that go as well. Healing, at any level, requiresrelease … letting go … surrender. To get from A to B, we must first beprepared to leave A and move on to B. It’s even more so at the mental orpsychological level.Before you come forward with your piece of paper, repeat any prayer ormental treatment, or get by yourself in quiet meditation for a moment or two.When you are ready to let go, then feel free to come forward. Once again,there is great power in so doing. Come forward one at a time … one by one… and set alight your piece of paper - best folded or rolled up - using thelighted chalice or one of the other smaller candles, and then quickly drop thepaper in the bowl. Watch the paper burn, as you commit your concern to thetransformative power of flame … ashes to ashes.If there is someone you need to forgive, bless that person. Wish him or herwell in every phase of their life. Blessing stirs up the positive, creative forcesin your mind and helps to clear away any negative thoughts residing in yoursubconscious. “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: butcontrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye shouldinherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).
As you watch the paper burn, feel the sense of release. As you depart, say toyourself words such as, “I am free, I am unlimited, there are no chains thatbind me,” or “I now move on, the past is gone forever,” or (in the case offorgiveness) “I fully and freely forgive X (mentioning the name of the person); Iloose him and let him go; He is free now, and I am free too.”If you do this properly - that is, you really mean it - you will not find itnecessary to repeat the business in relation to the same matter or person.Emmet Fox, in his wonderful book The Sermon on the Mount, wrote, “youhave done it once and for all, and to do it a second time would be tacitly torepudiate your own work”. If, later, the thought of the matter or personreturns, then simply acknowledge the thought but immediately dismiss it,giving it no power over you. It will return less and less often, until you forget italtogether.I finish with these words from the Book of Deuteronomy: Today, I call heaven and earth to witness against you: I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then so that you … may live. (Dt 30:19) -oo0oo-