Peace is all around us….It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
‘Tis the season of speed. December feels like teetering at the top of a black diamond slope when I don’t feel particularly confident on my skis. Big breath. And. Here. We. Go.
It doesn’t matter what traditions you follow or holidays you celebrate (or don’t). At this time of year, the glittery figgy pudding layer of tinselly, ornamental cacophony isn’t an option. In December, it’s the water we swim in. I resist the superficial, consumerist, cheap-feeling noise, but I’m sure it will change and slow down as soon as money isn’t a driving force in our culture.
So never. It’s going to change never.
Along with the crunchy sugar plum coating of Christmas all around us, often comes an extra layer of happenings at home. Sending cards greeting the season (family photos with color-coordinated outfits and Over-Cheerful-Holiday-Letters optional) need addresses to find and notes to write and adorable snowman stamps to buy. There are presents, of course, for children and family and friends and co-workers and wrapping and tagging and mailing or cheerfully hand-delivering. There are special meals and do we make what we always make or do we have something different or do we order sides from the grocery store or go out? And there are outfits for special church services and concerts and parties and does that jacket still fit him and does she need new tights and I should probably get a haircut but when?
I’m not being a Grinchtastic, Scroogey, grumpy pants here, really. (Even though I sometimes fit that description, that’s not my point in this particular instance.) If we presume that you totally love this time of year and you don’t have any stress about the shopping and preparation and dealing with Auntie Susan at the dinner table, if we presume that you’ve never lost anyone or you aren’t missing anyone, if we presume that this time of year for you is simply a feeling of home and love and connection and family and sacredness, well, if we presume all of that, then you’re probably 6.
So if you’re 6, this doesn’t (necessarily) apply to you.
But if you’re not 6, even if there is nothing but joy for you in this season, all of those special things about this time of year are layered on top of the life you already have. There is still work to do (and if you’re in retail or e-commerce there is an unending truck-load of work) and meals to make and laundry to fold and kids to get to hockey practice or the swim meet or (shudder) The Frost Bite Soccer Tourney.
The holiday jolliday time of year piles a layer of activity and busy-ness on top of our already busy, full lives. And those busy, full lives are really a reflection of our busy internal lives. Like a relentless ticker-tape of news running along the bottom of the screen, our minds are thinking and remembering and planning all the time (numbers vary, but we think somewhere between 20,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day).
In this time of year particularly, we are squashed under layers of internal and external complexity and movement and urgency and expectation. Some people love the energy and excitement, some feel frayed and frenzied, some feel down and depressed by it all. Many of us feel a sloppy cocktail of all of it.
Wherever you fall on the holiday spectrum, peace and space and calm is not only possible, it is always available, always happening. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, it’s just a matter of practice.
Meditation teachers call it The Gap: the space between. In sitting practice, we bring attention to a space between inhaling and exhaling – a little place of neither breathing in nor breathing out. The Gap is the (sometimes teeny tiny) space between thoughts – a neither/nor place of rest.*
What is so in the mind is so in the world: there are gaps everywhere if we know where to look.
In language there are spaces between words. Without it, we could understand nothing.
Music is both silence and sound. Notes play and stop. Instruments sound and quiet, vocalists tone and stop, percussionists strike and hold.
A film looks like fluid movement but is actually a succession of still pictures.
Practicing mindfulness — on the cushion, in the studio, on the mat, behind the wheel — helps us slow things down so we notice the gaps all around us. Even in the midst of a world-class sprint or an all-out hip-hop dance or a holiday shopping season, there is always something at rest.
Always a gap.
It’s just a matter of seeing it, and sliding in.
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