Pic taken Christmas Day 2016, on the trail to Jerry Johnson’s Hot Springs
Every year on Christmas Day, my husband and I venture to Jerry Johnson’s Hot Springs, for a 1-mile hike (one way) & soak in the woods. Neither of us connect with the celebration of Christmas. To us, it’s just another day on the calendar, which affords us a day off from our regular routine and to-do lists. We’ve been springing it on Christmas Day for quite a number of years now – it’s one of our very few annual traditions. And, I’ll add, is simply glorious.
Back when we first got married, in 2000, we tried our hand at celebrating the winter solstice and came up with a few possible traditions to carry forward each December, but it proved to be too forced for us and we soon gave up any sort of formal way of commemorating the seasonal changing of the guard. We both grew up celebrating Christmas – not on religious grounds but on consumeristic ones. And I have incredibly fond memories of it as a child. But neither of us were interested in fueling the drive of the holidays when we started co-creating our lives as adults together.
Many years ago, after receiving a plethora of well-intentioned but ultimately un-neccesary gifts from relatives in the mail each December, we decided to craft a letter to send to our dear family members. As the writer in our household, it was important to me that the letter both express our gratitude for their generosity and our firm desire to discontinue the further receiving of gifts, in as warm-hearted a way as possible. I wanted to do my best to create as little offense as I could, making sure to focus on our appreciation for their kindness and our love for them. And, rather to my surprise, it worked! While not everyone understood our position, they all respected our heartfelt request.
The month of December is the only time I’m grateful for living so far away from my family, as I really don’t know how I would negotiate this festive time of year if I had family around who were celebrating Christmas in the traditional ways that I grew up with and were requesting my attendance to join them. Fortunately, though, that’s not a thing I need to put much thought into.
Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to connect with all the ways that people find this time of year joyful, as I can grow callous in regards to the amount of waste, stress, hardship, and debt that accumulate around Christmas – and the furthering of such rampant, detrimental notions and ways of relating to each other and the world at large. But non-duality continues to ring true! In this case, the teachings of non-duality play out in the simple truth that both things are happening at the same time: there are elements of Christmas that are full of delight and joy and there are elements of great disharmony and destruction.
When we’re caught in dualistic ways of thinking, we get stuck in thinking that things are either like this OR that – so: good OR bad, right OR wrong, and so on. The teachings of non-duality show us that on a consistent basis, aspects of life fall instead into a this AND that construct – good AND bad, right AND wrong, and so on. Teachings on developing and deepening our understanding and practice of non-duality are tricky at best. And I think non-duality becomes especially challenging for us western culture dwellers, as it really bends and warps our entire world view of how things work.
With Christmas being so consumer driven, it’s often difficult for me to encounter people who are celebrating with a real sense of joy and connection, who aren’t stressed out or only looking forward to all the presents they’ll be getting (as is the case for the young kids I’m acquainted with). But in the same way my family members respected our decision to not celebrate Christmas and do the whole gift thing, even though they couldn’t relate to where we were coming from, I’m working on expanding my perspective of this holiday and how our country celebrates it – mostly because it’s a heavy burden and a huge drain of energy to tote around angst and judgement about it. When I’m all grumbly every time I see yet another tree selling stand or hear commercials on Pandora furthering the message of pressuring people to buy this or that or think about the ridiculous lies we tell our children about Santa, the only one really suffering in those cases is me – so, there’s that.
It’s actually a really important insight. When we’re carrying around the weight of anger, we’re the ones who it affects most. While our anger is also carrying in our wake and affecting others around us, we’re the ones who are impacted most. Anger and judgement are an extremely taxing source of time and energy – it’s a hard way to live. So, I’m working in this particular area so as to alleviate my own inner turmoil, as an act of self-care – which also has the added benefit of better supporting those around me, because really, no one likes being judged and condemned. No matter how well we think we keep our feelings of criticism on the DL, it always finds a way of translating through our body language or tone of voice or facial expressions.
Internal transformation and the quality of our thoughts is where our practice is geared at. Our kindest actions and words come from having the kindest thoughts and intentions. We can only do so much good if our internal landscape is still riddled with self-righteousness and egocentric thoughts steeped in views of separation.