Our last new moon of the 2016 calendar year… what a full year it’s been! We can be especially thankful for the gift of this amāvasyā, New Moon. There is no major festival associated with this day, so that means we can follow the standard New Moon practice of cultivating stillness, silence, and solitude.
We turn inwards, eat lightly, limit our information and media consumption, and basically give ourselves time to pause and rest. And practitioners of yoga definitely make time for meditation on New Moon!
At the heart of all New Moon practice is one underlying principle:
There are two ways to conceive of space – the first, ākāśa, refers to ether, and refers to space as an actual element – a transcendent invisible fullness that is as real as earth, water, fire, and air. Another is as śūnya, which refers to the void, to zero, to deep emptiness. (N.B. The word for emptiness as a state is śūnyatā).
The ancient ones saw New Moon as more of the latter (because the moon was gone completely). Some find this terrifying and inauspicious, because it feels closer to the dark stillness of death rather than radiantly full with life energy. And, unfortunately, to this day, many people still spend their New Moons in fear and dread, considering it an “unlucky” day.
However, as dharma practitioners, we embrace the entirety of existence, and quiet space is not something to fear. In fact, there is tremendous power and majesty to space. Keep in mind that one of the names of Lord Śiva, the Supreme Presence, is “Mahāśūnya“, meaning the Great Void.
New Moon actually is the best time to tangibly perceive space. As in, you can actually step outside and see it illumined by the stars, instead of covered up by the light of the moon. And even within yourself, you can experience it: one of the quickest ways to experience deep freedom and peace from whatever is happening in the moment is simply to perceive space.
Try it now – look around the room – and actually SEE the space.
Notice how it is far bigger than anything else in the room. Even if you step outside, space is the biggest thing there is, filling the entire universe. Within yourself, within each atom, space is 99% larger than matter. It is HUGE, way bigger than anything else we can conceive of. As we reflect on this, our fixation with objects or circumstances slowly dissolves into… well, spaciousness!
Space is also a connector – it holds everything together. If you look around, you can see that the power that touches and unites everything you perceive is actually space. It is invisible, intangible, and totally free. It holds everything, enters everything, and is beyond everything. Space carries the energy of pure transcendence.
Space is our protector. When there is not enough space, living things can no longer thrive or be free. Without space, we become violent, and start attacking each other, and even ourselves. Space gives room for trees to grow, for water to move, for life to flourish. Without space, there would be nowhere for life to flow. Space is the ground on which the creation of life occurs.
As a final exercise, take a look at the image below. What is happening in this picture?
For most of us, we immediately see the explosion of light, the colors, and the stars.
However, look again. What are you not seeing?
Yes, you guessed it – the space!
Now look at the image again, but this time, notice the space. (And we mean the actual negative space – the black sky).
Notice that it is bigger than anything else in the image, and that it touches everything in the image. Notice that each star can exist as a separate entity because of space.
And, notice what happens to your mind, your breath, and your sense of self as you start to perceive space.
If you like, you can reply to this email with your experience of what happened.
For many people, as soon as they perceive space, everything gets quieter. It isn’t that we no longer see the colors and the stars – it’s that they are no longer the center of our attention. There’s a feeling of freedom, and ease. And, noticing space even on the outside can release the feeling of overwhelm on the inside.
Sometimes, the mind starts to feel fear when it contemplates space. However, even between the moments of fear, there is space – loving, free, whole. Notice that, too! No matter what is happening, the space is peaceful and free – something we can all aspire to!
As you reflect on the greatness of space, we are certain that you will understand why there is a whole day set aside each month to experience pure space.
Practice: Experience Space
Good physical, mental, and spiritual health requires that we embrace the power and greatness of space. And New Moon is the perfect day to do this! Everything we do on amāvasyā is to experience more space.
–Fasting, or eating lightly, allows us to digest and make some space in our bodies. If you do eat, eat foods that digest easily and with minimal effort such as fruit.
–Limiting our conversations, reading, music, tv, etc gives us a chance to experience space in our mind. Instead of focusing on how to keep the mind filled to the brim, for today, let it be spacious. Feel the space between your thoughts.
–Turning inwards and making time for solitude gives us emotional and energetic space. This is not the same as disconnecting or shutting down from others or from life. Practicing solitude is about keeping your focus and energy inwards, and may or may not involve actually being alone. As you practice, let yourself feel the easeful space between you and the rest of the world. Feel how the space connects you and also protects all of you.
–Resting and limiting our activities gives us some space from the cycle of constant action-reaction, and the relentless flow of life’s stimulating power. New Moon is not an ideal time for pushing hard or trying to get a lot done. It is also not an ideal time for making big changes or setting new intentions. Instead, if possible, take some space to rest in space.
-The greatest practice of all – meditation – creates space at every level of our being. From our bodies to our minds to our hearts to our souls – meditation burns through and returns us to the experience of that deep, deep space. In that place, we find the greatest power, the uniting power, the loving power: Presence. As best as possible, we invite you to try and make some time for meditation today, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
May you have a beautiful and spacious amāvasyā practice!