Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Spiritual Awakening and Holidays

spiritual awakening holidays, spirituality, holiday, spiritual christmas,
Spiritual awakening is a big light bulb that illuminates all of life, and the holidays and their myriad of cultural illusions, beliefs, obligations, and myths get illuminated much like everything else. For many of you, you may suddenly be wondering, "Why am I doing this?"

I'm not writing to say that any holidays are bad, but there certainly is lots of unconsciousness around them. People don't really know why they hand out candy for Halloween in the U.S. or what flying reindeer have to do with the birth of Jesus. But since everyone else seems to go along with it, we do too. Then the light goes on, and we have to look. We can't close our eyes anymore, and it strips away a lot of meaning to these events. We may come to question the whole thing, which is actually quite healthy. Once you've really looked at the thing, you know consciously what you are going along with and what you are supporting. And if you want to reclaim the holiday in a way that is meaningful to you, then you can.

But first, let's start illuminating some of the myths and cultural stories we have around some holidays (at least those holidays here in the heavily Christian-focused, United States--I encourage those of you in other countries and with different religious backgrounds to apply the same rigor to your holidays).

Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly Because Why?

Once upon a time, a baby who would later grow up to be a pretty cool spiritual teacher and healer got born in a barn because his parents couldn't find any other place available to rent. So why are we decking the boughs with holly? What does an obese Caucasian man in a red suit who climbs down chimneys with toys have to do with any of this? Why are we expected to give hundreds of dollars worth of gifts to friends and family?

Yes, Christmas has become a culturally loaded time of year. Spiritual awakening shows you how powerful culture is because it's so easy to accept this as simply something you do. It's December. Time to get a pine tree and cover it with random ornaments. Uhhh, why?

I'm not so much interested in finding the origins of any of these customs. I am simply pointing out the blindness with which we do things. This is no different than anything else, but as you see things more clearly, you will have to take actions differently. Giving because of obligation isn't true giving, and you may be surprised that you may not want to give any things this holiday season. That's actually fine. It won't be fine according to some of your social circles, but on the spiritual path, you can't expect others to understand what you may now only just be seeing. This also doesn't come from any anti-consumeristic mentality. That's an ego reaction. When we are clear about ourselves, we give or not as we feel moved. There's no real human logic to it, although there's a deeper divine intelligence at work. That true intelligence is also being illuminated in awakening.

Moving Towards Greater Integrity with Christmas

Because there are so many great spiritual teachers, there are more than a few reasons to celebrate all their birthdays, and there's no reason to select one above all the rest. If you are particularly drawn to Jesus and his work as a Jewish reformer (because that's what he was doing; the people who set up Christianity in his name don't really start creating the New Testament until Paul starts writing about 30 years after Jesus's death, I believe), then celebrate Christmas. Take it back. If you strip away the packaging, lights, food, family obligations and just celebrate Jesus's birth, what does that look like for you? What customs would you do? It's a different way of thinking, is it not?

In many ways, we do the same thing with everything else in spiritual awakening. The holidays are no exception. We look at what we are doing and what we are believing in. We question it. As we pay more attention, things that aren't in integrity with us are revealed. We are forced to make a choice then; do we continue to do something that is not in integrity or do we change? Hopefully you make the choice to change, but that sends ripples out into your life. Many people won't like your changes and will want you to keep playing along with the same game. Your kids have gotten used to getting tons of stuff (most of which is forgotten or unuused in 2 weeks), so stopping or mostly eliminating most of the gifts will be shocking to them. If you choose to celebrate this time of year more for winter solstice than for the birth of Jesus, that could shock a lot of people too. But whether people are shocked or upset (and people are always looking for reasons to be shocked and upset anyway) by what you do, it's important that you are peace with it. That's how you bring greater integrity back to a holiday.

The Absurdities of Thanksgiving in the U.S.

As of late, the ridiculousness of Thanksgiving here in the U.S. has been on my mind. Let me outline some cultural activities and beliefs around this:
  • Thanksgiving is based (as far as I know and have been taught) on the coming together of colonists and Native Americans to share a meal together. It's a symbol of cooperation.
  • People eat tons of turkey, stuffing, gravy, pumpkin pie (among others), and other dishes.
  • Watching American football for most of the day has become fashionable.
  • Families come together during this time.
There are probably other things that I could mention, but this is what comes to mind. In general, Thanksgiving is essentially a harvest festival. There are all kinds of harvest festivals around the world, so you may be able to find a corollary in your country if you live outside the U.S. But as we look at these things (and even if you aren't awakened, you may have already realized this too; you don't need an awakening to be a conscious and aware person.), you can see a lot of myths and lies. Here are some of them for Thanksgiving in the U.S.:
  1. The history of colonists and Native Americans is one of ignorance and violence. This one shining moment where people got along is pretty much a sham and continues the gross ignorance in the U.S. to the continued plight of of Native Americans who live on reservations in varying levels of poverty. The great one-two punch of smallpox (this is what I meant by ignorance--colonists didn't know they had it) and continued western expansion (driven by the idea of Manifest Destiny) has been more than that population could recover from. So on that level, it's tough to get into the idea of Thanksgiving as a symbol of two healthy, happily co-existing societies.
  2. People overeat. I mean a lot. It's actually rather fashionable to over-indulge. In a society with an obesity epidemic, Americans don't need this excuse, and with hunger such a huge international issue, it's kind of deplorable. Additionally, the food is pretty starchy, sugary, full of fat, and overly focused on meat. A lot of you probably don't eat that way anymore. It's not in integrity with your bodies. I know I don't eat that way anymore.
  3. Watching young men destroy their bodies for everyone else's pleasure is not fun. The vast amount of physical violence men endure and that cultures think is okay is one of the great issues that is hidden in plain sight. It is hidden in plain sight because most cultures don't think it's a problem for men to be physically abused. We're supposed to be "tough" and to "take it." This is absurd, and it makes for a culture filled with physically and emotionally damaged men. Football is one of many examples sitting right in front of our faces in the U.S.
  4. Finally, the cultural myth of the family gets reinforced at this time. For Thanksgiving and other U.S. holidays, it's expected that people spend time with their families. I won't go into all the mythologies around the "family" and it's social function. But there are many. I can only encourage you to investigate your ideas about family, and I'll blog in depth about it another time.
Hopefully, this helps you to see a little deeper into Thanksgiving and gives you an idea of how to investigate a holiday. For those of you who don't fully understand why you don't want to do these things anymore, I hope these words give you an idea as to what you may be feeling.

Other Holidays and Their Mythologies

There are plenty more holidays to pick on. I don't know if Halloween was originally a time to worship our ancestors or what. Now, it's just a reason to eat lots of candy and continue to worsen childhood risk for diabetes and obesity. Most people don't know why they're supposed to dress up in scary costumes, but each time it comes around each year, they do so. In this way, we really are cultural lemmings. We have no idea what we are doing. We're following everyone else who has no idea why they are following everyone else.

Should I keep going? There's Easter. Yes, Easter. It's the time when we celebrate a large white rabbit that leaves chocolate and...eggs? Uh, okay. And that somehow has something to do with Jesus being crucified and coming back from the dead. Once again, I'm not interested in where cultural myths and customs derive. I am pointing out that we follow along with them because we are taught to do so. Someone says a day in May is for Mother's Day. We all believe that. There's a day for fathers in June. There are so many things that are made up, and then there's New Year's. The changing of years is so arbitrary. In the U.S., we follow the Gregorian Calendar, but it's just one way to decide that a year has changed. There are quite a few other calendars. (You can check out this list on Wikipedia if you'd like to see other calendars). That's why all the excitement over the changing to 2000 or 2012 (which aligned to the Mayan calendar) is more than a little absurd. These numbers are totally made up, although how we give things meaning does have power.

People around the world do the same thing with so many other holidays in their cultures and religions. The advice is the same. Pay attention to why you are doing what you are doing. It is the first step for you to choose or not to reclaim holidays for yourself.

5 Tips for Reclaiming Holidays

Cultural holidays aren't going away, although most of our interest does as we open up to the truth--that all of life is made-up. But because there are a lot of choices we can make, we can also choose to participate in ways that are true to us. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on how to reclaim the holidays:

  1. See what you are doing and question it. For many of you, you've never questioned why you get a tree and cover it with lights for Christmas. Everyone else does it, so why not you too? It's peer pressure really, but this is just one of many examples of things we blindly do and accept. To reclaim your holiday means to understand what it is you are doing and why.
  2. Listen to your own integrity. Being integrity with something means it feels true to your heart, body, mind, and spirit. Because there can be a lot of layers associated with a holiday and issues (such as being a "good" Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.), you can spend a lot of time in the identification phase before moving to this step. Reclaiming a "holy day" (which sure looks like the genesis of the word holiday) doesn't mean you are less aligned with your religion. It'll mean you are more aligned with the true meaning of celebrating Jesus's birth, Yom Kippur, or whatever holy days matter to you.
  3. Letting go of all holidays. You may also let go of all holidays for the time being. Since they are all made up, you may end up in a space of presence that doesn't need to assign special meaning or importance to any days for a while or the rest of your life. If this is what is in integrity with you, that's fine. If you are in this space, you probably don't need me to tell you this anyway.
  4. Creating new holiday rituals. For those who still enjoy a particular day, I encourage you to connect with the meaning of that day or time period and create rituals that matter to you. If you want to celebrate Jesus's birth, perhaps you focus a little more on reading the New Testament at Christmas. Perhaps you volunteer at an adoption center that handles new borns (or however that may work) as a symbol of honoring new life brought into difficult situations (being born in a manger is not an easy life). You see my point though, do you not?
  5. Inviting other to join you. You may invite others in this reclamation project as part of all the aforementioned steps or here at the end. You may be surprised how many other people want to reclaim the holidays and have felt the arbitratriness or in some instances the commercialization of them. Offering a way to do so will be enriching for others and inspiring to help them find meaning in their holy days.

A Rebirth of Holiness in Your Holidays

Holidays are a form of ritual. They're a way to honor people. the passing of seasons, important changes in cultural history, and more. However, many of them have been denuded of their meaning. They're simply days we have off or a reason to overindulge. In other parts of the world, they are too mixed up with zeal and ideology, and thus, people get lost just as badly in their holy day without realizing the truth: EVERY DAY IS HOLY.

Practicing our faith one or two appointed times of years is a poor practice indeed, and if anything the holidays should always be a reminder about the gift and sacredness of  every day of our lives. If you truly realize this, then you have reclaimed not just your holidays, but every day as holy.
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