So here we all are, spending money on unnecessary things for people who don't need them, while half the planet starves or gets bombed. Does this wrankle with you, as it does me? I may be an old bore, but Christmas keeps challenging me more and more. I find that it really rubs at an old sore of guilt and a realisation of the limits of my compassionate action.
I've told people that I don't want any presents, but I'll get some anyway. Really I neither need nor want a single thing (unless someone has a free skiing weekend going; in which case please stop reading and email me immediately!).
But the thing this brings up is the whole challenge of generosity, and what we can infer about our need to hold on to what we consider to be ours. And also why this holds us back from spiritual freedom.
The tradition of Buddhist teaching is that there is no 'fee' for the teaching. The student donates what he or she can. This creates discomfort for us Westerners, who are used to paying for things with money and letting others decide the price of things, so it gets really difficult. What actually happens in the West for meditation teachers doing this, is that they get paid peanuts. For a day's retreat for example, people may contribute a tenner. Compare that with one hour with a therapist or a day of professional development, where we'll pay anything between £40 for an hour to £500 for a day.
Why is that? I don't think it relates to perceived value. I think that when we're asked to donate, we get mean. It presents a direct challenge to the concept of 'me' and 'mine'. We're so stuck in the culture of materialism and money, and the whole concept of our separateness from the world and from others, that anything that erodes what's 'ours' is a full frontal attack. To let things go willingly is a form of suicide. We might as well be asked to give up a leg.
So look no further if you want to figure out how to deepen your meditation practice, or to get a bit closer to finding the intense stillness and spaciousness which is just under the surface. If you want to wrap up the whole of this teaching in two words, it's 'let go'. That means letting go of the tight hold we have on the stuff we consider that we own, as if we can take it with us when we die.
Essentially, we are naked. I'm no naturist, especially in this weather, but I do know that when I hit the sweet spot in meditation, there's no 'me' and no 'mine', and that's the most abundant place in the world. Everything else is both temporary, borrowed, and leads to a defensive attitude.
Generosity helps us let go. When we're being generous and selfless, the 'me' part that defends what's 'ours' takes a nap. And then we get a huge surprise: being generous and kind makes us feel good. Win blooming win. Ho ho ho.
So my challenge, to you, and to myself, is this: today, tomorrow and every day until Christmas, do three generous things. They only count if they make you feel uncomfortable! Just texting send £5 to DEC is not good enough. The acts must require you to let go of your holding on to things, or money, or time, as 'mine', and by inference part of 'me'. Get creative. Loosen up.
Also, because I know you're all good mindfulness practitioners who sit every morning, you can make this easy. Simply make some kind of promise at the start of the day. Repeat it aloud three times. Imagine yourself doing it. Imagine how you will feel doing the generous things you're going to do. Imagine what you will say to yourself having done them.
So, with this rant over, I wish you, with my deepest heartfelt wishes, a lovely Christmastime break.
PS: excellent single-estate shade-grown organic heritage-varietal fair-trade artisan-roasted coffee is officially an exception to all I've said above.