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The Buddhist Christmas challenge
December 23rd, 2013

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

The Buddhist Christmas challenge

Most of you have realised by now how crazy the world is as Christmas nears: some retailers see 40% of their annual business in the last month or so (which obviously means high risk and high stress), logistics are stretched to the limit (high risk and high stress), etc. All because everyone wants to buy the same things (from same food to same fashionable presents) at the same time.
Most of you have understood that this is not healthy, this is artificially-created stress on just everyone (consumers, businesses… people buying big gifts, people who cannot afford to buy gifts…), however  most of you also pretend that you cannot not  do it, that you have to participate, that you'd be ostracised by your family otherwise, that you'd hurt people, that you even 'like' it, etc.
In short, most of you see that this is saṃsāra but most of you elect, year after year, the perpetuation of saṃsāra! You can clearly see the status quo is not satisfactory, but you perpetuate the status quo nonetheless.

So… is there a way to actually 'practise' Buddhism during this period, with the realistic assumption that you're not ready yet to let go of the marketed dream that happiness will be granted by external objects?  With the realistic assumption that, in the name of not fighting with your family, you actually participate in perpetuating the rush and stress, year after year, i.e. participate in your family's suffering? Is there a way to actually 'practise' Buddhism during this period, without falling into an all-or-nothing attitude that usually means 'nothing'?

Well, it's not because you opted out of mindfulness during Christmas shopping that you have to opt out of mindfulness during Christmas celebrations… so there is a way!

While you over-eat food you don't need, at least make the effort to taste the food! Can you actually taste the difference between turkey and chicken? Can you actually taste the difference between the vegetables cooked at the bottom of the pot and those cooked at the top?

While you over-drink liquids you don't need, liquids likely to reduce your control of your tongue (for the worst… and in opposition to the announced intention of familial conciliatory time), can you taste the difference between wine that has just been open and wine that has breathed for half an hour (the same wine in the same glass, but at the beginning and end of eating your plate)?

While you are with your family (including people you don't particularly enjoy being with, due to old or recent conflicts), can you actually be present instead of just pretending to be?
Can you actually try to mend the conflicts instead of pretending that everything is fine, or forgotten, and that it's better not  to talk (as if such a strategy was ever doing anything other than reinforcing separation by fixating trenches)?

So here it is: there is a way for most of you to practise buddhism, during Christmas, even if you perpetuated the shopping status quo, even if your family is Christian and you don't want to bring 'Buddhism' officially on the agenda, even if every opportunity for mindfulness while preparing Christmas has been missed…
Because it will be 'hard' (like any spiritual meaningful 'work'), I'll call it the buddhist Christmas challenge!

Leave all  'modern' technological means of communication out for 3 days (Christmas and one day each side: 24th–26th): no email, no facebook, no google+, no SMS, no twitter…

You're allowed to use the phone to talk,  and only in relation to mending relationships, or to bringing happiness into someone's else circumstances ('work' does not qualify, just get yourself organised instead of spending your energy making up narratives about why you couldn't possibly do so!).

That's it! Be actually  present: taste the food fully, taste the drink fully, hold your tongue and your critical thoughts, bring peace by embodying  peacefulness, embody your intention of familial harmony… Value your familial or societal traditions by actually attending the midnight mass, and actually listening to the sermon and reflecting on what we share, not what separates us…

Refrain from anything so-called 'social media' that takes you away from the here&now…
Refrain from anything so-called 'entertainment' that takes you away from the here&now: if you travel to be with your family, be with your family (don't be in front of the TV, there was no need to travel for that)!

And if you don't do so, then reflect on whether lying to yourself about why you participate in this charade is actually helping anyone…
or whether you want to fall for the constantly-renewed promise that happiness lies in you buying the next stuff coming and absent-minded time with it [as in the pathetic advert The Infinity Augmented Reality Concept Video promising you a ferrari, youth, a flashy view, easily 'intrigued' girls later easily 'impressed' with cheap wine, all because you eat salad with chicken and eggs and you need a computer to tell you this, and because you can pretend you know how to play pool while having completely missed the point of learning a skill…]

Be present during Christmas… or be absent (i.e. dead, while dreaming of being alive in the future after buying your 'infinity' glasses): your life, your choice!

The Middle Way is not found in complying with the status quo in an automatic robotic way, merely wishing one didn't have to… nor is it found in fighting against Christmas (forgetting compassion and equanimity along the way, all for the sake of a 'buddhist' label?). It is found in engaging.
Wherever you are, be present, creatively engage, bring peace in ways that were not used before (because no one dared, because no one tried, because no one made it more important than 'being right'… or simply because the conflict did not exist before!).

Merry #Christmas  !

PS: just so I don't participate in luring you on g+ during the 24th–26th 3-days period, I will not post.
I'm available if you need urgent guidance but I do mean 'urgent'… Otherwise, just practice "bearing beyond strength"! There's no external cessation of suffering, certainly not in the availability of a teacher… What you think is your limit of 'bearable', it is not; this is just a narrative to justify what you want (getting away, letting your aversion decide your life for you…). Stay present and practice gratitude (!