I used to bah-humbug with the best of ‘em, and I had the psychological bragging rights to do so.
The holiday seasons of my childhood were mostly disasters as my bipolar mother basically went bonkers almost every year at that time.
Beginning with my birthday in early November, and followed by the psychological hot-buttons of my parents’ anniversary, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, my mom would alternate between manic shopping sprees and hide-in-the-bedroom depressions, with my dad regularly checking on the bottle levels of her wide array of pharmaceuticals in the medicine cabinet.
In my first twelve years, Christmas Day occasioned a visit to the local psych ward more than once. Decorating the Christmas tree yearly was always accompanied by distinct feelings of foreboding. We never learned the deep roots of my mother’s holiday downers, but the ghosts of her Christmases past were clearly fearsome.
It took me years after adolescence just to start feeling neutral about the so-called holidays.
Then there were the sociopolitical and historical dimensions of the season to deal with—especially the question of how the birth of an itinerant, ascetic preacher with decidedly mystical tendencies ever became the excuse for shopping frenzies (even amongst the unipolar!) and perfectly awful holiday pop songs broadcast with unnerving repetition in public places.
There were just a few hymns and carols I cared to hear more than once, and I always found a peculiar solace in the melodic phrase “star of wonder, star of light…”
Time heals a wound here and there, however, and in recent years I’ve found myself on better terms with Christ—not the hotly debated historical figure so much as the experience of the “Christ within.” The endless fight between religious devotees and atheists largely leaves me cold, because I’ve always felt that any divine persona is simply a symbol for the highest potential of our own consciousness. You don’t have to “believe in God” or Jesus or the Buddha to sense that you have a higher potential and find some means or discipline of reaching toward it.
As A Course in Miracles describes our “divine” potential: “God is but love and therefore so am I.” Simply said, but challenging to remember and make real in one’s life.
What I’ve learned from years of a spiritual discipline is how subtle daily practice is. It is not a matter of identifying with a religion, looking or sounding spiritual, or striving to become enlightened. In fact it’s less a matter of “doing” anything than it is the undoing of one’s habitual self. From moment to moment in every day, I try to notice when I am thinking or behaving as if I am not love itself —which is fairly often—and then ask what love would do instead.
This is a subtle practice because learning to let love be is not the same as trying to be loving. In religious terms, it’s the difference between believing in Jesus Christ and recognizing the Christ within. Paradoxically, the way to remember the Christ within is to notice and forgive everything within us that is not Christlike… in other words, to notice when we are not doing what love would do, recognizing that fact, and then stepping aside to let love be.
There’s a saying, which I first heard from the teacher Stephen Levine, that suggests “real meditation is just one insult after another.” This surely refers to the same kind of practice I’m talking about: the moment-by-moment noticing of how we fall short of our highest potential, exhaling that realization, and letting something closer to our potential arise with the next in-breath. It means beginning to recognize the one inner truth of love by constantly becoming more cognizant of all the untruths we entertain on a daily basis.
At the end of the year, when I sometimes find myself remembering all the painful untruths that I once associated with the idea of Christ, I can now sense that one inner truth as something I can follow: a star of wonder, a star of subtle light.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: D. Patrick Miller
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Thomas at Flickr