With December upon us, I am aware of the clarion call of consumerism, wrapped in the alluring packaging of generosity and giving, disguising the corporate strategies manipulating this natural, loving impulse. I hear the promises of true happiness and lasting satisfaction that never seem to deliver the goods, leaving us feeling alone, inadequate, a freak.
I am aware that there are images of the holidays that float about in our minds, dazzling us in advertising, in social media, in movies and shows we watch on our screens. These images are of near perfection (perfect bodies, perfect hair, perfect food, perfect manners), or are a storyline of near disaster with a happily-ever-after ending. If this is your experience, may you bask in such a blessing!
I am also aware that those very images of the perfect holiday can cause us to suffer when our experience is different. I remember one Christmas Eve in particular, when my kids were still little and I was single momming it. It was past midnight. The kids were asleep. I had just finished wrapping the presents and helping Santa make sure the stockings would be full. Then, out of nowhere, the tree toppled over with a crash! I cursed loudly, then wept (also probably loudly), overwhelmed and alone. Not. The. Perfect. Christmas. Eve.
There is a Buddhist sutta, or scripture, referred to as “The Arrow” or sometimes “The Two Arrow Parable.” We have an experience that causes pain, discomfort, or disappointment. Perhaps we argue with a family member during a holiday meal. That is the first arrow.
Then, we get mad at ourselves or at our family member for arguing, pushing them away emotionally. Or we run down the road of past resentments, feeding a particular storyline, clinging to it as if it is not only the past, but is also the present and the future. Or we sink into complaint about how holiday meals are not supposed to be that way – everyone is supposed to love each other all the time and if not, at least act like it. That is the second arrow.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
While I’m pretty sure the Buddha did not say it exactly that way, this is the heart of Buddhism’s four noble truths. We may argue with a family member, or we may not get the gift we want (or give the gift someone was hoping for). These things, over the course of a lifetime, are inevitable. But we need not add suffering to that pain –we need not add a second arrow –by throwing in resentment, or wishes for a different outcome.
So this is my wish for you at this season of the year, in all your doings and musings in the coming weeks: may you be accompanied by a mindful capacity, cultivating a patient, non-reactive, curious, and welcoming attitude towards anything in your experience during the holiday season. Which is my way of saying, “Happy Holidays.”
I am blessed to be on this journey with you,