Posts Tagged ‘peace’

I usually try, a few times every year, to make a list of at least 25 things I’m grateful for.  It’s a good exercise to help us remember the really important things in life.  The things and people that sustain us, even when we may not be as mindful of them as we should. The past few years have been really tough, though; my attention has been pulled inward, trying to sort through the grief of many losses, deep depression brought about by repeated betrayals and confusing memories, and the general worries for an uncertain future.

But I decided to take some time on this day of thanksgiving to think about the one thing I am most grateful for in my life right this moment.  I’ve made a concerted effort in just the last couple of days to get back to living mindfully because I notice that it is then and only then when I find true peace and happiness.  And while I am so very thankful for my mom and the rest of my family, and for my cats ‘rissa and Silk, and wonderful friends, and so much more, I think I am most grateful today for all of the suffering I have endured.

Most people think of suffering in terms of major crises or traumatic events, but we all endure small amounts of suffering each day. Even if we lead a generally happy and content life, we may encounter disappointment when our expectations are not met, sadness when someone dies, or anger when things don’t go our way.  And of course, there are larger, more long-term issues that sometimes create more intense and chronic episodes of suffering: physical or emotional pain from chronic illness, living in abject poverty, or dealing with the aftermath of a catastrophic event are a few examples.

What I am discovering is that, for me, the suffering – as intense and unending as it has seemed at times – has been a necessary part of this journey and that there are a few things I can do along the way to ease its grip.  But that always I should be thankful for the gifts it has given me, for it has made me a person who is wiser, kinder, more understanding, more patient, and with greater empathy and compassion than before.

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It kind of snuck up on me without much warning.  I was reading through my FB page one day a couple weeks ago and there it was.  A graphic taken from Pinterest, all greens and reds, announcing in a not-so-subtle way that Christmas is around the corner.

Ugh.

Every year since I was in college when December rolls around I have told myself that it doesn’t feel like Christmas anymore.  It’s taken me this long to realize that of course it doesn’t feel like Christmas.  For me, it shouldn’t feel like Christmas.  When I was younger, Christmas meant months of preparation in the choir for Christmas Eve at church and 2 or 3 (I can’t remember) long but beautiful services that night, which I shared with my grandmother.  It meant getting home after midnight and waking up early with my brother and sister to gifts in the morning and breakfast with my family.  The religious part of the holiday was important to me then.  Things are different now, and the fact that it doesn’t “feel like Christmas” is a reflection of how things have changed.

A lot of people I know who aren’t Christian try to subtly fit in with those who are during the holidays by claiming a kind of secular “Christmas spirit” and by celebrating the non-religious traditions of the day.  Still others have their own winter holidays or spiritually significant days which fall around or at least in the same month as Christmas – Hanukkah, Yalda or Yule (winter solstice), Ashura (Muslim), Bodhi Day (Buddhist), and the 26th of December, a day when Zoroastrians observe the death of their prophet. Those of us who no longer adhere to the religion of our upbringing may feel compelled (by our own guilt or by others) to try to stay connected in some way, but new traditions and fresh ideas can only serve to move us forward on our journey.

As I get older and more comfortable in a spiritual tradition and way of life that feels true to me, I begin to see this season with a more critical eye.  That question of “Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays” that I so often see debated is a no-brainer to me; I choose to say Happy Holidays because I recognize that there are all kinds of people in this world and not everybody believes the same thing. Christianity does not own the month of December (as much as Christians would like to believe it does) and while the wish for a “Merry Christmas” may not offend someone who is pagan or Jewish, it does exclude and completely disregard that person’s own beliefs.  I’m going to choose compassion over shoving my beliefs down someone else’s throat, and celebrate my own beliefs quietly, in private.

I wish peace to all.  I think we can agree that all of us could use a little of that.