I first became aware of it a couple of weeks ago. A dim feeling. a Sense. A lightness. A happiness. But the feeling escaped articulation. Something was different about Christmas this year. I didn’t feel what I have felt in the past: stress, anxiety, an elusive chase for the “Christmas Spirit.”
Gradually, as days passed, thoughts started coalescing in my mind. I came to realize that the way I have approached Christmas this year is a reflection of the spiritual path I embarked upon a couple of months ago (a continuation of a path I've been on for three years). As I began that journey, what has made all the difference is the realization that my spirituality needs to be “organic,” i.e., it needs to be a reflection of who I am, rather than a set of beliefs imposed from without.
(In this regard and as an aside, a passage I recently read in John O’Donohue’s book, Anam Cara, speaks to this need for organic spirituality: “The Celts recognized that the shape of each soul is different; the spiritual clothing one person wears can never fit the soul of another … Each destiny has a unique curvature and must find its own spiritual belonging and direction. Individuality is the only gateway to spiritual potential and blessing.”)
What I came to realize is that, in years past, I approached Christmas in much the same way I had approached “religion” and “spirituality,” i.e., that it’s all about externals, things outside myself that I or others impose upon myself. Developing traditions for the sake of traditions. Constantly worrying whether my/our Christmas is “good enough.” Should I get another gift for this person or that person? Will it be enough?
I listened as other people, as well as myself, would sometimes complain that “I just don’t feel the Christmas Spirit this year,” as if that Spirit is entirely dependent on external conditions being just right. Enough snow. Enough presents. Enough baking. Enough service. Is this the right mix? Should I/we be doing something different? Is it enough?
Not that I’m criticizing others or telling others what they need to do/don’t need to do. Heaven knows there is enough of that every December in the media. No, I’m talking about my own feelings. Christmas became, I now see, the ultimate exercise of trying to fill a hole, with stuff “out there.” It became, in a very real sense, a religion full of rituals and beliefs, the purpose of which was to fill a hole, with Christmas being the "High Holey Day." (Think about it: why is Santa so popular? Because he is a god-like figure who loves us and who knows the secret desires of our heart; but who also judges us based on our behavior.)
The hole was created by a lack of love. People go through their lives looking to fill a hole in their heart that was created by a lack of love. They look outside themselves for something to fill this hole. The lucky ones eventually come to realize that the hole can never be filled from without; it can only be filled from within.
With respect to Christmas, people look to fill that hole and are saddened when they are unsuccessful in doing so. This is why people complain about not “having” the “Christmas Spirit.” This is why people become depressed over the Holidays, which become another reminder of the presence, depth and breadth of their hole.
What I came to realize about Christmas this year is that I approached it (without consciously attempting to do so) in the same manner as my spiritual path, i.e., from inside, organically, letting it flow. This year, I haven’t felt that I needed to do anything in order to have “a good Christmas,” as I used to do. This year, I haven’t felt the need to fill a hole within myself; and that perhaps is the best Christmas gift I could give myself, i.e., the realization that my hole is filling up. I am healing.
As I contemplated my thoughts that have gradually taken shape over the past few weeks, I have been reminded of the proverbial butterfly that one chases, trying to capture and hold it. In Christmases past, I have chased that butterfly, otherwise known as “the Christmas Spirit,” or the “good Christmas,” or “the elixir that will fill my hole.” This year, I didn’t even think about chasing the butterfly (probably due in large part to everything that has been going on in our lives, especially with our recent move). But, lo, it came and quietly, gently rested upon my shoulder.