by Dr Angel Adams and Dr Pat Sullivan
He who binds to himself a joy
Doth the winged life destroy.
He who kisses the joy as it flies,
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
By William Blake
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . . and so begins Dickens’ great Tale of Two Cities. He was writing in the nineteenth century about the eighteenth century, but it seems he could have been writing about the twenty first century. It’s a fabulous time of year, the sights are spectacular, the aromas surround us, people are wearing fuzzy hats and furry boots and children are riding brilliantly coloured sledges and toboggans in the snow. In the run up to Christmas the toy stores, grocery stores, and department stores are counting on making half their profits for the whole year. The world of electronics is off the board with gadgets of every kind, toys for every child’s whim and tools that capture our grown-up imagination. It’s become normal, it’s sensational, but it’s out of control. People are struggling financially to make ends meet, and we are still running around trying to have the same kind of holiday season we think everyone expects us to have. The UK newspapers write about the “Big Chill” and how middle class families are among millions of Britons who cannot afford to heat their homes this winter, and the elderly ride on buses all day to stay in the warm. What is wrong with this picture? How can we be mindful of the true suffering of others?
How can we be mindful of the true nature of giving, instead of getting caught up in overconsumption and end up being choked by consumer debt? What is the true spirit of giving? One year, not wanting my only child to think Christmas was just about extravagant gifts, her father and I took her to the mountains and we strung popcorn and put cranberries on a fir tree and went back the next day to see if the deer had come and enjoyed our offering. They had, and my daughter was thrilled. We sat by the warm fire in the cabin and read books that we loved. We all cooked the dinner together and made a center piece with pinecones and berries we found outside. The next day, we collected acorns and made an entire family of acorn people who came home with us and lived in our house for many years. The presents were completely forgotten, but our presence together was remembered, in fact, my daughter to this day always remembers that Christmas.
A most well known poem entitled The Desiderata presents the way we should perhaps think of living and giving, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. Desiderata is the Latin word for things to be desired. At Christmas we might begin by letting go of material things and looking at what it is we truly desire for ourselves and our loved ones. The poem was written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, and became associated with the Old St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
© George Buchanan
Each morning, not just Christmas morning, when we wake up, we might remind ourselves of the importance of the day in front of us and begin with some affirmations, which is one way we can strive to make happiness a habit. We can let go of our obsession with material things and gain a greater sense of the sacred things, such as our well being and joy in our everyday lives.
Beginning with ourselves, we might say:
Today I will become more aware of who I truly want to be and not live in a trance. I will find what it is that needs acceptance in myself and embrace even the negative feelings with understanding and compassion. I will purposely look for the joy and gratitude available to me in the midst of everyday experiences. May I be loved and kept safe from harm.
For our friends and loved ones, we might say:
I will respect and appreciate those that are closest to me by listening to them carefully, without judging. I will answer them respectfully. I will find ways to make them laugh so that life is not too serious. I will make myself available to them when they need me, as well as set respectful boundaries when appropriate. I will help them to be the noblest people they can be. May they be loved and be kept safe from harm.
For others in the world:
Today if I meet someone of a different ethnicity or a different culture, I will ask them about the holidays they celebrate, and show an interest in their cultural values and traditions. I will offer encouragement to someone who is discouraged. I will smile and say hello to someone who I don’t know by name and acknowledge their presence as fellow human being. I will recognise the unsung heroism in those who I may have not even been aware of. May they be loved and kept safe from harm
For the world, we might say:
Today I will consider if there are things I can do to improve the world. I will be more conscious of how precious this planet is. I will read something that makes me more knowledgeable about the world and how it impacts others. I will consider all possible ways I can set an example of how to be global person. May the earth be loved and kept safe from harm.
The true gift of compassion is when we give something of ourselves. Let us carry the true spirit of the holiday season throughout the year.