Archive for December, 2010

>The essential Xmas


The White family has been gradually whittling away the trappings and associated dramas of Xmas, and I think maybe we are getting closer to the essence.

We have a widespread family all of whom used to feel conflicting obligations on Xmas Day. Which side of their respective family functions should they attend – one or both? If both, for which meal with which side of the family, and how to bear the long drive in between and 2 successive ordeals by food? If for one, who would face the pangs of guilt about settling in one spot, and risk being seen to disrespect their own side of the family?

We took a decision a few years ago that we would just declare the weekend before Xmas as “White Family Xmas”, and leave the 25th free for our respective other sides. That has meant that on each of those deemed Xmas’s, we have had just about a full roll-up on our day. We virtually never manage such a simultaneous collection across what are now 4 generations at any other time in the year. So we have found ourselves delighted by the first essence of Xmas – family.

We have also been paring back the Xmas present thing. We took the relatively easy step a while ago of doing Kris Kringle for the adults and the kids who have left school, and only buying and wrapping more widely for the younger kids. This year, with the health difficulties of our oldest generation, and a generally high level of family complexity, the Kris Kringle draw was put off, and put off; finally my darling sister cut through it all with this: “None of us actually needs anything, so why don’t we just all make a donation to charity?”

So we christened Xmas 2010 as “Xmas for Others”, and when we got round to what would have been the Kris Kringle swap, we all instead took a turn to say which charity we were donating to, and what cause they served. And then we gave the little kids their presents, and watched the joy of those unwrappings. We all felt touched by the second essence of Xmas – giving.

This has been a tough year in our family, with the supervening pain of dad going into the nursing home. But I think we all felt a bit of healing on Saturday, as we touched the twin poles of the essential Xmas: family and giving.


There is of course another essence, of “Christmas” rather than Xmas. It is a time of intensely spiritual significance for many people, including within my own family, and I don’t wish to diminish that significance with my “twin poles” view of the secular Xmas.

>Wrong turns? Or new opportunities?


An impulse to turn down a side street grabbed me one morning while I was riding on my way to a favourite piece of dirt track. A break in the bush bordering the road looked like a path, and I headed down its bumpy length. The path got narrower and branches slapped against me, and then it just finished. “Wrong turn, dead end,” I thought. I got off the bike to turn it around in the skinny space, and saw a snatch of sky through the trees. I leaned the bike against the foliage and stepped through, to be confronted by a startling vista.

I was looking way, way north, a direction usually hidden from me on my normal routes. I saw now rank on rank of hills, four of them one behind the other; the valleys of each ridge revealing the heights of the one behind, into the distance. A light mist was bathing the mountains that morning, and the early light was not yet strong enough to show much detail on the ridges, which showed in solid blue-grey. Each rank of hills was slightly paler than the one in front of it, and there was a perfect tonal gradation all the way to the horizon, meeting the pale sky.

A couple of minor scratches, and a short walk pushing the bike to where I could mount it again, were the only costs of the “wrong turn”. Without out it, I would have missed the indelible imprint of those hills. So I guess maybe there aren’t really any wrong turns, just turns.

>“Namaste” – switching off my judgemental mode


I was walking through the airport, on very important business, in clever, snappy businessman mode, and saw a fat, shabbily dressed person in front of me. I straight away turned on my finely-tuned judge-ometer, which came up with the reading “Fat, shabbily dressed person obviously lacking self-respect.” Half a second later the judge-ometer swung around, switched to self-judgement mode, and gave the reading “There you go again, judging people and exhibiting one of your worst and most persistent traits.”

What I concluded on that occasion was that the best thing that could happen to me was to be transformed into a fat, shabby person for a week, so I could see what it would be like to have other people (like me) judging me all the time. THAT would help cure me of being judgemental, and I could trade the judge-ometer in on a large dose of humility.

Which was, of course, just another symptom of judgementalism. Because I was still drawing conclusions about the inherent undesirableness, and therefore blameworthiness, of being “fat” and “shabby”.

It’s perhaps likely that I will never reach a sufficient state of enlightenment such that I won’t have impulses to judge my fellow men and women. But I have at least been working on strategies which may switch the judge-ometer off before it can spit out a condemnatory reading.

In India, people greet and farewell each other with “Namaste”, which means “I see the divine in you.” It’s been helpful to me, when I’m about to say (or have just said) to myself “He’s fat,” or “Her clothes are too tight for someone with her figure,” or “He’s got no idea, he’s just a blowhard” to do this: STOP. Look at them. Say to myself “I see the divine in you”, and then actually try and spot that divine spark which makes them a special, unjudgeable human being. If I’m being sincere, I can nearly always see some glint of divinity.

The Avatar people have a nice process too – the “Compassion Exercise”. Pick out someone in a public place, look at them, and say: “Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness for their life. Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in their life … Just like me, this person is learning about life.”

I still have judgement days, but hopefully they are becoming less frequent. But should I be worried instead that sometimes I have periods when I walk around thinking “Everyone is beautiful”, and feeling surrounded on all sides by spots of divinity? Hope not.

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