Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Zen of Christmas

Are you beginning to sense a shift in life's tempo from frantic endeavor to quiet anticipation? Often, I've found anticipation to be more rewarding than experience. Looking forward to all the things I could do when I became "grown up" set up expectations I'm still trying to meet. (I know, Yoda ~ Do or not do. There is no try.) Zen has much to teach about losing our expectations and experiencing the moment. Christmas offers many opportunities to practice Zen. For example, whether or not it's what you "really, really wanted," there is no such thing as the "wrong present." I doubt the Christ child had much use for frankincense, myrrh or gold. We are already beginning to receive some of this season's most important gifts: longer days and the expectation that life will be renewed in all its fullness as the days grow and the nights shrink. Temperatures are only a lagging indicator.

a spirit of Christmas
a spirit of Christmas
Photo by J. Harrington

I don't intend to preach as much as share some lessons I hope I've learned over many Christmases of giving and receiving gifts. I've found more joy in giving a gift that brought real pleasure to the recipient than from almost anything I've ever been given. I've also failed, too often, to adequately appreciate a gift and all the giver's love and caring and hard work it represented. It isn't really the thought that counts, it's the love that triggered the thought. [Read Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town.]

If I'm not making myself clear, try reading or watching (hopefully again) "A Christmas Carol." Keep a close eye on Scrooge as he learns that having it all is only worth what you can do for others with all you have. That's something on which I believe Zen and Christianity are pretty much in agreement.

What to Count On

By Peggy Shumaker 

Not one star, not even the half moon         
       on the night you were born
Not the flash of salmon
       nor ridges on blue snow
Not the flicker of raven’s
       never-still eye
Not breath frozen in fine hairs
       beading the bull moose’s nostril
Not one hand under flannel
       warming before reaching
Not burbot at home under Tanana ice
       not burbot pulled up into failing light
Not the knife blade honed, not the leather sheath
Not raw bawling in the dog yard
       when the musher barks gee
Not the gnawed ends of wrist-thick sticks
       mounded over beaver dens
Not solar flares scouring the earth over China
Not rime crystals bearding a sleek cheek of snow
Not six minutes more of darkness each day
Not air water food words touch
Not art
Not anything we expect
Not anything we expect to keep
Not anything we expect to keep us alive

Not the center of the sea
Not the birthplace of the waves
Not the compass too close to true north to guide us

Then with no warning
       flukes of three orcas
                 rise, arc clear of sea water

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Please be kind to each other while you can.