Musings: Gift of a Quilt
For hundreds, or maybe even thousands of years, we have marked the end of our calendar year with a holiday season. As you might be able to tell, "holiday" is actually meant to imply holy day. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day provide us with special opportunities to pause and reflect on the spiritual nature of our existence, make restitution and resolutions, and strengthen the bonds which nourish our hearts. Unfortunately though, many of our time honored holiday rituals, rich with tradition and spiritual meaning, have fallen by the wayside in favor of saving time and effort or simply satisfying our cravings to buy and own more stuff. I notice a greater number of people stringing up lights for Halloween — another holy day disguised as a holiday — perhaps in the hope that if we start "celebrating" earlier in the year, we may actually find what it is we are looking for.
In truth, most people find the holidays stressful: battling the grocery store crowds at Thanksgiving, excessive spending and obligatory gift giving at Christmas, too much frenzied activity crammed into too little time. It's just not fun anymore. Even family gatherings very often produce more anxiety than the warmth of loving assurance they were meant to provide. Too bad for us that we have lost not only the spiritual significance of the holidays, but the spiritual focus of our lives as a whole.
Yet it doesn't have to be that way. Each holiday season — each new day, in fact — is a fresh opportunity for us to choose how we will think, speak and act. We are free to choose at any time to revitalize our traditions and our lives with a healthy dose of spirit medicine, to inject spiritual purpose and vision into our thinking and bring ourselves out of the shadows and back into the warmth of the circle of life. But to do this, first we must realize what we have lost and how far we have strayed from the warmth and light of our spiritual fire within. Like thick quilts of insulation against the cold reality of spiritual deprivation in which we live, our lives of material comfort and ease have lulled us into a dangerous sleep of self-indulgent living and wasteful indifference, both to the physical and spiritual world around us. We all know, or at least can imagine, what it feels like to have a warm and cozy quilt stripped off from around us on a cold New England morning! Perhaps the recollection of that rude awakening can serve as a daily reminder of just how vulnerable we are without this inner light to illuminate our way or warm our hearts towards acts of generosity and compassion.
Poverty of the West
It is often said that the material poverty of the huge population in India is equal to our spiritual poverty here in the West. I believe the United States was initially founded as the great experiment in the modern era where spiritual principles and material fulfillment would meet and become manifest. In order to accomplish this task, even at the expense of the inevitable clash and confrontation with the deeply spiritual cultures of First Americans already living on this continent, our founders were led to the shores of a fertile land rich in natural resources and granted great insight through some of the most brilliant minds in history. The blueprint they mapped out highlighted the importance of allowing individual freedom of expression and the guarantee of a Constitutional Bill of Rights to encourage the achievement of each citizen's highest potential. In other words, we were to strive for the integration of creativity, invention and diversity in forging this new culture, a great melting pot of traditions with no single tradition it could call its own. In essence, we were to live out the law of spirit itself — out of many are one.
Perhaps our spiritual understanding and tolerance were too weak even from the start to seed such lofty ideals, for we built our prosperity and expansion on the backs of African and Caribbean slaves and the genocide of American Indians. Before long, heady with the success of rapid growth and the potential for unlimited personal gain, we made the individual number one instead of the true one: spirit itself. Our original inspiration of "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" continued to erode as we fostered our own unique heritage of material greed and gain.
Today, we are reaping the fruits of the shallow traditions we have sown; while we may have plenty of cozy quilts to wrap ourselves in, we find ourselves unable to enjoy our bounty and feeling fearfully alone. Our lives have become so busy and stressful just to keep pace with faster technology and higher standards of living, that we tune out in front of a screen of one sort or another in order to relax. Most of us have no roots or communities; we don't even know our neighbors. There are so few people we can actually trust or turn to because practically everyone is a stranger, looking out for their number one. This is the culture our greed has spawned — competitive, disconnected and fearful. Where is the warmth and light, the circle of community, the love?
One way to revive the ideals this country was originally founded on "in order to form a more perfect Union," is to reach out to others and give instead of reaching for another quilt for ourselves. It seems we have forgotten how to give because our culture has conditioned us to value things only according to their price tags or how much it will put into our own pockets. Bob Olsen, online publisher of OfSpirit.com, explained to me one day why many non-profit fundraising efforts offer a variety of gifts at different giving levels when it seems like a waste of donated funds to be mailing out books and videos and coffee mugs to contributors. In short, people are conditioned to expect material value in exchange for their money and are more willing to give when they receive something tangible in return. For instance, they might be willing to plunk down $100 for a piece of jewelry, but ask them to put that same $100 check in a donation box instead, and the willingness is just not there. Sad, but true.
Get Rich Quick
Yet there are so many ways to give. You can give of your time and volunteer for a community, church or other benefit project. You can phone a friend or visit someone who needs an emotional lift by giving your companionship instead of sitting home in front of the TV. Join a spiritual, community or school committee and give of your fellowship, time and ideas. Give a positive word of encouragement and a smile to those around you instead of a growl or vacant expression. Offer to help whenever you can. And most importantly to those of us born in the USA, rouse yourself from your materialistic slumber and give generously of your money, especially when you receive no "thing" in return. Give the best and the most of what you have instead of the leftovers. Don't be afraid to open your wallet and give even your last dollar when the opportunity is presented to you! You will discover that opening your purse will open your heart which opens your soul to whatever it is you have been searching for.
Here is an experiment to try: once a month — or maybe even just once this holiday season — become aware of some purchase you are about to make and choose instead to give away that money as a cash donation somewhere else. (You will find that you really don't need to make that purchase anyway.) Be sure to follow through and actually make the contribution, for it's easy to have a good intention but allow the action to go undone. Try it again the next month. And the next. Consume one less thing, make another donation. This is how you can start as an individual to rebalance the terrible inequality that has been created all over the world by our wasteful and greedy lifestyle and your actions will count! What's more, you will begin to discover a new strength in yourself and your goodness, and a trust that all of your daily needs will be met, for they most surely will be. It is the law. Strong belief brings strong results; fear and doubt continue to drain what little you already have from you. In this way, the circle of life and the light and warmth on the planet grows stronger every day.
Carol Bedrosian is the publisher of Spirit of Change, New England's holistic magazine. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.