Friday, December 13, 2013

All presents are empty

Whatever holiday spirit is, I'm not feeling it.

The decorations are still in their storage boxes. Not a light has been strung, nor a seasonal candle lit. The three cards we've received are in the pile of mail that needs responses, which has its own place at the table. I've bought presents, but I always like buying presents so that doesn't make it a holiday.

My mom, who just moved to a smaller apartment and got rid of a lot of stuff, says she's not buying presents this year -- she's tired of making decisions.I always thought she liked buying presents; I saw them as an expression of love.

If there are no presents, is there no love? No, of course not. I know my mom loves me, navy-blue cardigan that I was going to ask for or not, but her decision reminds me that things have no inherent meaning, only the meaning we give them.

In Buddhist terms, the presents are empty.

That's good news. You can choose to see that pack of black socks as a sign that someone cares about you or as the cotton manifestation of a lump of coal.

We suffer when we set expectations for gifts and their meaning, when we believe that a holiday must meet certain criteria to be happy. There must be five kinds of cookies, including two labor-intensive roll-out ones, and cake and chocolates and bread. There must be ham or oh, good, not HAM-do you know how those pigs live?

When we let go of expectations and standards, when we are present with what is happening right now, leaving out how it measures up to the past we remember or the future we'd hoped for, we can find that we have enough: joy, sadness, peace, and excitement. We don't have to swing back and forth from one extreme to the next. We can just sit, like the angel that tops the tree or the elf on a shelf, and let all of those arise and pass.

We can accept that the new cookie recipe we tried, the one that required us to figure where we had left the pastry blender bought out of guilt (not necessity) at a Pampered Chef party so many years ago, did not work out perfectly. That the cookie dough base stuck to the pan far more than it stuck to the raspberry jam and melted chocolate chips and almonds baked on top of it. That basically, we have a slab of raspberry and chocolate and almonds, and a bunch of crumbs (that maybe could top a coffee cake???).

We might not have set out to make slabs of chocolate, but that's what we did. And damn, that's OK.

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