“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” ~David Whyte
“I have gone forth,
but not in search of sensual pleasures.
Seeing the danger in sensual pleasures
— and renunciation as rest —
I go to strive.
That’s where my heart delights.”
~ The Buddha, “Pabbaja Sutta: The Going Forth”, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.)
“The more difficulties you have, in fact, the greater opportunity there is to let them transform you. The difficult things provoke all your irritations and bring your habitual patterns to the surface. And that becomes the moment of truth. You have the choice to launch into the lousy habitual patterns you already have, or to stay with the rawness and discomfort of the situation and let it transform you, on the spot.” ~ Pema Chödrön
It’s busy out there. We are shopping, hosting, checking Amazon Wishlists, buying Secret Santa gifts for the office, traveling to be with relatives, making New Year’s plans, and let us not forget there’s always some last minute shopping. There’s overwhelm and preparations for the hosts and tremendous longing for those who are unable to be with their families. There’s also isolation and sadness for those who are not part of the dominant Christian culture or are alone on holidays. December is both the busiest and loneliest time of the year.
More than a dozen years ago, I read about a simple holiday practice of making gifts for the wild animals. The author made peanut butter pinecone bird feeders for the chickadees and the squirrels and scattered dried corn for the deer in his yard on Christmas day. These simple gifts for those whose opinions won’t get us a promotion or be able to reciprocate in kind really touched me. This man was able to detach from the loud voices of the commercial world, to listen to the quieter voice of his own deepest intentions and honor his own kindness, inclusivity, and unrequited giving. That is my message today, a heartfelt encouragement for us all to take some time to stop and listen deeply to what our lives are calling out for.
This was the choice the Buddha made. Born into a life of privilege and power, he recognized that pleasures and comfort were not enough. His life needed to become simpler to find the truth. So he left. The Buddha must have been deeply discontent and unable to participate in a life that was so unsatisfactory. Instead of burying his heartsickness and living out his life comfortably as the pampered son of a tribal leader, he listened deeply to his own sense of responsibility for his own salvation and wellbeing. We know his journey ended with enlightenment and his teachings on the end of suffering have set free countless numbers of humans. For most of us, taking off from our lives, leaving our children and spouses to begin our spiritual quest raises issues about honoring our agreements and our compassion for others, not to mention our financial responsibilities and subsistence. As lay people with families and jobs, we can remember that there are many ways to come back to ourselves, to our true intentions and stay in our role as parent, partner, and householder.
We can start small and take a five-minute break to listen. Listening to ourselves is a way to remember who we are and what is going to set us free. We can begin with mindfulness of the body/mind. How are we feeling today? What’s the territory of my mind—what emotions are visiting and how am I really? We can ask if we are aligned with our heart’s intentions. How are we living our deepest desires today? Have we dropped our aspirations to spend today in the present moment and unconsciously consented to exchange our peace and ease for irritation and exhaustion in the form of a completed shopping list and a clean house? We can ask the poet David Whyte’s question, “What brings me alive right now?” What do we want our lives to be made of?
At this time of year, we can remember that all moments contain choice. We can pause and consider what we consenting to in each encounter and each moment. Remembering that returning to our inner wisdom and stillness is available for us even in this season of doing and getting. That’s my wish for us all as we turn towards a new year, that we may deepen our trust in our own goodness and learn to listen to our truest desires.
Wishing you joy and happiness for the new year.
May we all trust our light,