Christmas Soup (written 2018)
Among the various epithets that are traditionally applied to Christmas is “The Season of Giving”. It can be hard to remember this in the flood of advertising and rush of shopping and “getting” that the season seems to give rise to. But it is good to remember that the “getting” is primarily in the name of “giving”. Everyone is seeking to bring happiness and smiles in some way to those they will gift over the season. They may suffer stress and anxiety over this, worrying about the “right” thing to give, but somewhere in that soup of motivations is the foundational ingredient of generosity. Problem is, it may end up masked by the other stuff that gets thrown into the pot.
Cooking up a mindful Christmas season is tricky. Besides the gift shopping or perhaps gift making, there is the seasonal tsunami of good causes looking for financial contributions and labor; and, the kicker, our own high expectations of the season. As usual the ego stirs everything up with concerns to do things right, to please others, to keep up valued traditions, and so on. This is so universally regarded as a time of stress in our culture that recently the CBC gave an entire interview over to an expert on handling the worries we so often have about changing traditions, or not meeting the expectations of loved ones.
The work of mindfulness I do here living my own Christmas season is the same as it is for every other calendar day. To feel what I feel and to see where it's leading. To remind myself how my experience, my world, is shaped by my own thoughts, words and actions. To incline my mind to the positive as I take a little time to think about why I do what I do, before I do it; why I say what I say, before I say it. And to cultivate a loving heart both for myself and for all the others in this soup with me, from my family to the sales people, to the fundraisers and dedicated grinches.
Generosity and greed, joy and disappointment, energy and weariness are all on the table. I need to choose wisely and keep testing the flavor. I need to be honest with myself when there is too much of any one thing there. I work to be realistic about what I can afford in dollars, energy and time. And, most importantly, I need to acknowledge that the final product is what it is, whether I'm hungry for more or want to toss it aside. Christmas soup is best with a long slow simmering, the kind that comes with mindful attention and right intention.
I often miss Christmases past: the childhood gatherings of cousins and foolish games, the sharing of too much food and a good deal of laughter. And I miss the Christmases when my own kids were small and I often wished for a crew of elves to help with all there seemed to be to do. And one day I'll miss these Christmases as well: the smaller tree, the quieter house, just me, my husband and our baffled terrier, keeping a lid on the anticipation of an apex of joy when we all briefly gather round the tree or table after weeks of preparation and waiting. But mindfulness allows me to step back and survey this combination of nostalgia and desire. To see the suffering I'm setting up for, what I contribute to the moment that colors its mood.
Perhaps, like me, you also spend extra time in the kitchen over this season. If so, maybe this metaphor speaks to you. Maybe not. My wish is only to bring attention to another kind of cooking we're each doing all the time. Let's remember patience and appreciation for the cook. May you find the right ingredients for the pleasant flavors of joy and peace to come through.