The Morning Star
This is about this very moment. This wonderful moment. Have you noticed? This week is the solstice: yesterday, to be precise. The shortest day of the year, and the longest night.
Typically, it's a time of clarity and community, introspection and renewal. 'Tis the season. Time to celebrate the light in darkness. As the Quakers remind us, "Where shalt thou seek the light if thou dost not turn within?" As the year turns, we turn with it. Such fact of life is so elemental, we often need reminding.
Facing this year's solstice, it's interesting to note that while so many people are still preparing their festivities, Buddhists around the planet have already observed their winter holy day. Two and a half millennia ago, a human being woke up. What is awakening but opening our eyes? Eyes open, as we were born with our eyes open. So here too light is key: seeing things as they truly are. Just because our eyes are open doesn't mean we're awake, truly intimate with our lives, engaged in a genuine life, with all its authentic wonder, living life to the fullest.
At the moment of solstice, however it comes, with or without heavenly messenger, we hear again our calling, life calling us. With awakening comes the splendid discovery, Aha!, we have this inherent capability to be happy in our sheer being. It's our birthright. Our buddha nature. Awakening to this wholeness, our oneness with life, we might also understand that all beings contain the seeds of their own awakening and, given the right causes and conditions, may eventually awaken also.
Beneath the shelter of the Bodhi tree, upon attaining full realization, the Buddha looked up, and saw the morning star. In that instant he recognized that he and the lone star were one. Light in darkness . . .
. . . one with all life.
So the story goes. News crews from CNN weren't there, but it's a story we continue to tell, one of humanity's sacred winter stories. Whichever blood or land tradition, our solstice stories all remind us there's more to life than the material realm. Light has a glow beyond the tangible, the graspable. Our winter solstice stories seem to all tell of that light, no matter whether as flame light or star light, the inward light or the sacredness of light itself. In the telling, we are unburdened and feel lighter.
Our light continues in this pivotal time, in the swing of year's seasons, winter brings us closest to the greatest mystery: life, and the renewal of life. It's a wonderful life, and is inextricably interwoven with the lives of other lives. Amazing. So, unlike spring, summer, or autumn, we exchange gifts. As Lewis Hyde clarifies so well in his classic study The Gift, the economy of gift culture predates that of commodities and consumers. (Why do we call this moment, this wonderful moment, the present? Because it's a gift.)
Elsewhere, I've written about holiday shopping (What Would Buddha Buy?). On any To Do list, along with all the shopping, it's good also to just stop and take stock. Through what darkness do we move? By what lights do we steer?
Consider our life myths, for example. What are the stories we've invested ourselves in, which we've banked on during the year? Are they hand-me-down, or homespun? Do they still fit? Are they in keeping with the times? With what light are we one? Does it glow . . . twinkle . . . dance . . . shed warmth? What shadows lurk around its edges, making its illumination all the more cause for celebration, cherishing, and nurturing?
It's good to look too beneath our tales—beyond both dark and light and the interplay of their dance of yin and yang (☯) -- and appreciate the earth kissing our soles; the soil and grounding of our ego; and the winter light itself, in the sky and upon our naked faces. To omit such essential valuables from our list is to risk remaining a very small package indeed, bound up and wound up in small self, trying to be happy by constantly resolving our past and plotting out our future and never noticing the gift so abundantly and immediately at our feet.
Q: What does a Buddhist blogger say to the Christmas shopper?
A: Be the present.
May the light that is deepest within you illuminate your path in this new year, in peace and joy.
Gary Gach is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buddhism (Nautilus Award) and editor of What Book!? Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop (American Book Award). His work has appeared in such magazines and anthologies as AsianArt.com, BuddhaDharma, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Inquiring Mind, Language for a New Century, The New Yorker, Shambhala Sun, Technicians of the Sacred, Tricycle, Veterans of War Veterans of Peace, Whole Earth Review, and Yoga Journal.