Thursday, December 9, 2010

Children's Day or preparing for the solstice

"Children's Day provides a special opportunity to express appreciation for and with our children."

Rather than celebrate Christmas or Chanukah in our household, we celebrate the joy and goodness to be found, even in the darkest times, with the Shambhala holiday of Children's Day. This link provides information if you are interested in finding out more about it. It is a holiday that connects us to the winter solstice while celebrating the joy and magic of our children.

We decorate our meditation center's shrine and our home shrines with pine boughs, twinkling lights, candy and toys, all offered to the King and Queen dolls, representing the masculine and feminine principles of skillful means and compassion, energy and space, father and mother. These dolls sit in the place of honor on the shrine. Some people purchase beautiful Japanese King and Queen dolls, while others make their own out of gingerbread, or paper, or felt, or perhaps pine cones - whatever is at hand and that is inspiring.

I love filling our home during this darkest time of year with light, warmth and the gifts of food, connection and kindness. My toddler can't ignore the omnipresent Santa Claus and the festive decorations in our USian city, and I, personally, really enjoy the example of generosity, community and celebration that is at the heart of these winter holidays. So, we are teaching our boys that Santa is a bodhisattva of generosity, that this is the time of year when we celebrate light amidst the darkness, and enjoying the pleasure they take in the various decorations, carols and lights. There is much magic to be found in these outer forms, and I don't want to deny them the joy found within.

I do however, wish to cultivate in them a mindfulness of consumption - to not mistake materialism for happiness. They are very young, so the concept of asking for gifts has not entered their mindstreams yet. They have very generous grandparents, who we have gently asked to give only simple gifts of natural toys, or to contribute to music lessons in lieu of a physical item. This works for now, although it is hard to contain their generosity. I am sure once the children are in school, influenced by peers and popular culture, we will have new challenges. I am hopeful that by nurturing a sense of contentment and appreciation for the richness inherent in every thing, they will be better able to discern between fleeting wants and actual needs when they are older, as well as able to use this time of year to connect to generosity. This Children's Day we will be collecting food items to donate to a food pantry, and when they are old enough, we would like to spend time around the solstice volunteering together as a family to help those less fortunate than we. We have also made it a tradition to put out food for the little creatures that inhabit our neighborhood - birds, squirrels, rabbits and so on, reminding ourselves that all beings want to be happy and free of discomfort.

However you choose to celebrate this season, there are so many ways to practice opening to others, by giving without the expectation of reciprocation or even appreciation, by practicing generosity with the pure aspiration of simply making other beings happy. We can use the season to cultivate friendliness towards ourselves and others, connecting to our gentleness and soft hearts rather than getting lost in the busyness of what we think we must do. We can be aware of own needs, keep things a bit simpler, and continue to let go of expectations and rest when we need to amidst all the "things to do". I have been trying to find time every day as we approach the solstice to just pause and connect to the present moment. When I can't meditate formally, I do this in the form of a short walk outside, or just sitting while my children play or nurse and taking some deep breaths, raising my gaze up and noticing, then gently letting go of whatever is arising in my mind. This helps create some space during a time when our lives can become quite claustrophobic with all the running around.

How do you work with mindfulness during this season? How will you be celebrating the solstice? Wishing you all peace during these shortening days, and that basic goodness, which "shines like the sun" as our teachers remind us, illuminates the dark.

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