Today is Christmas and many people in the Christianized world will celebrate either the birth of Jesus, the arrival of Santa Clause or a combination of the two. In both cases, there is likely gifting. For the secular, Christmas is presents, trees, and jingle bells which I believe all people, can find joy. For the religious, Christmas is the birth of a savior, a messianic prophecy come true. It’s complicated, and maybe even smothering for us over here in the Solstice/Yule club who are not, ‘in that trad’ to use popular Pagan colloquialism.
“Nothing ever exists entirely alone. Everything is in relation to everything else.”[i]
For years I struggled looking for alignment between a practice rooted with what my teacher Enkyo O’Hara, roshi called “living a life of zen”[ii] which for me was a commitment to daily meditation, sutra and scripture study, lay vows, and keeping refuge in a lifestyle grounded in this eight fold path: right views, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration, and a longing towards magic, mythic phenomenon. I had a narrative in my mind that Buddhist practice was a stripped bare practice, with an aesthetic that in the commitment to non attachment resisted anything that could be translated as “all acts of love and pleasure.” That all began to change as I came to better understand the sutras of Buddhist teachings, and that life wasn’t a zero sum game. That in the vast language of the Diamond Sutra for example was Prajñāpāramitā, the great mother (one of her many aspects) in the center of a compelling lesson about the cosmic law of dharma, supreme wisdom, and the coalescence of enlightenment. As study begat more study, and wisdom traditions expanded across many teachers, I began to see a wider scope of what could be possible.
“You begin to realize that you’re always standing in the middle of a sacred circle, and that’s your whole life….”
American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön writes. “Whatever you do for the rest of your life, the circle is always around you. Everyone who walks up to you has entered that sacred space and it’s not an accident. Whatever comes into the space is there to teach you.”
The sacred circle is not unfamiliar to most spiritual seekers. Regardless of praxis of faith, the circle has been a place to hold collective, the celebrations and sorrows of many. The circle is richly and innately Goddess in some cultures and yet we welcome that same circle as distinctly God.
Beloved American poet Mary Oliver once wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
Darkness has prevailed in the Western hemisphere; autumn mourns the loss the sun whom no doubt returns triumphant in spring. Where once temples illumined, now there may only enough oil for one night of eight. Others too have readied themselves for a long journey at the mid hour of night. That story goes: wise men saw a star in the east and followed.
“Why it was wonderful! Why, all
At once there were leaves,
Leaves at the end of a dry
Stick, small, alive
Leaves out of wood. It was
Librarian of the Congress, Pulitzer Prize winner, and Modernist poet, Archibald MacLeish reminds me, “It was Wonderful!” Leaves alive out of wood! This is the moment of Spring, the moment for which most have been waiting. This is also for many a holy moment in the year.