Monday, December 25, 2006

peace, love and understanding to all sentient beings

I have often wondered about the mood swoop that so often precedes ‘Christmas’ for me – that drives other people nuts, as a ‘bring-down’ and party-spoiler.

I suspect it has something to do with my considering the festival one of remembrance of poverty, loneliness and homelessness. I tend to open myself to the distress around the world, and if I haven’t collected myself enough to contemplate the situation with a certain detachment, then I get waves of horror and despair. I so love the Buddha (without considering myself a Buddhist) because he seemed to offer a way of confronting those realities with compassion and poise – neither succumbing to helplessness, nor ignoring them by evasion and self-delusion.

tolerance of all other life-formsSadly, to bring such things to other people’s attention tends to evoke the kind of reaction that non-smokers meet when commenting to smokers about ill health, or teetotallers about drink and violence and bad driving, or vegetarians talking about factory farming, or vegans talking (as they do to veggies like me) about cheese, and leather shoes and animal exploitation, and all atheists find themselves on the end of when commenting on almost any religion. A fairly violent over-reaction, at times, which seems out of proportion to the comments.

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks." as Shakespeare expressed it (long before Freud) – indicating that some other agenda of guilt or awareness lies behind such a hysterical over-reaction.

If peasants or hunter-gatherers have an occasional feast it makes sense to me - a gathering of the clans, a short break from frugality and the usual careful nurturing of scarce resources.

In fact, when I grew up, just after WWII, commodities seemed very scarce, we had rationing of basic foods and fuels, and no luxuries. Christmas made a certain amount of sense to me then (in spite of the grinding poverty my parents lived under). The first-ever tropical fruit (after years of no imports), as much chocolate as you want (after years of rationing), etc. These all justified one big blowout per year. Presents tended to the practical side (new shoes, food) and simplicity (homemade food specialities, knitware). I still didn’t enjoy the dead animal in the middle of the table, or the reverence for the Queen’s Speech, or the Jesus stuff – but I must have seemed quite a strange child.
the Strange Loop of meditation
Many people in the West can now indulge themselves every day, and live in a way that medieval kings could only dream of. I find it impossible to eat more, or drink more than I do in normal life. I have no need of any more clutter of belongings (I have a roomful of underused toys and souvenirs).
extreme self-deprivation doesn't help others
So I will sit on my own today, and take some time to tune in to the sad and lonely, and spare a thought for my far-flung family (Buddha abandoned his wife and son, as well as the luxurious life of the palace, to seek his answers).

Of course, practical folks will tell me that this, too, represents a form of self-indulgence (as I haven’t gone out to help in a homeless shelter, for instance) and to some extent this remains true. The life of a recluse or contemplative does lay itself open to an accusation of elitism and non-involvement in the world. I don’t particularly hold magical beliefs in ‘good vibes’ helping the planet very much, but I don’t think they do any harm, either, and one more peaceful person always helps.
Ho-Tei - the laughing Buddha - the next incarnation
And tomorrow Julie’s family will turn up, and I will do my very best to join in and share some fun, too.


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