Celebration

At one of my writing workshops over the weekend, we were writing in response to a picture. In my picture a beautiful dark-eyed woman was celebrating at some kind of party- blowing a streamer, with colored lights glittering behind her. I could hear the loud music, and the voices; I could feel the presence of the crowd. It brought home to me the Christmas and New Year’s season awaiting us all-the food and the parties, the drinks and the drugs; and the deep sadness and isolation many people experience in the midst of it all.

Every year I have clients who speak to me about their challenges at this time of year. My daughter often says about birthdays, Christmas and New Years, “It’s a set-up, a perfect way to make yourself miserable. Any other day of the year, you’d be happy just to have an ordinary day. But on these days, you’re supposed to be having an incredible time, and often, it doesn’t measure up to what you had hoped for.” I have a few friends who have been bold and brave enough to declare, “no presents this year” and stick to it. I know people who have even tried ignoring Christmas and birthdays altogether. But I sense there’s something here the human heart longs for.  I think these times are really about community and celebration.

And this is what we often call celebration: herd us all together into one space, turn up the music, pass out the drinks and the drugs, and leave us to drift-lost, isolated, occasionally making brief contact before we sink even deeper into the collective coma.

When did we forget how to celebrate, really? What is it to celebrate? How do I celebrate you, us, our life together?
I learned a few years ago that for the Mayans, every single day was unique and sacred, like a musical note with its own vibratory meaning. They woke up each morning ready to celebrate that particular day, as an acknowledgment of the depth, richness and glory of this universe we float in together.

How would you celebrate today? How would I? I’m remembering in India that they have eight seasons instead of four.  I look out the window. Today is warmer, cloudy, the end of fall, but not the very end- many of the trees still have leaves clinging to the branches. In my garden, the last flowers still bloom. Leaves cover the sidewalk-the sound of them is in the air. People walk by with window plastic in their arms; and snow tires are dragged out of storage. Snow could fall at any time-the body knows this.

I celebrate this as the time of the out-breath, the season of the long exhale. Can’t you hear it- that soft aaaah, as a leaf sails downward through the gray sky? Some leaves take a long time to fall. I see faces looking sad and lonely as winter comes close; but I want to rejoice, celebrate the quiet. No more lawn mowers, outdoor radios, motorboats and street parties. I feel my body drinking in the silence. It’s a time to lie down with a loved one, a time of fire, and chocolate, and things bubbling on the stove. It’s a time to be grateful for the roof over my head, for my quilt, my long poncho, and hot baths.  It’s a time to sit still and listen to the sound of my own breath. It’s a time to open to the mystery within-to look into your eyes and not know who is looking back. It’s a time of letting go, of going back to the root. Whenever the sun comes out, the whole body wants to reach out for that last soft warm kiss.

I celebrate all of this: that which I can see, feel, hear and smell, and that which is invisible and unseen.

There’s nothing to hold onto in the last part of autumn. Every falling leaf speaks of this, of the great unending stream of change at the heart of each life. We share so many things as human beings, but this is one of the deepest. We are here on earth for a brief visit only-no permanent visas are issued here. If we want to celebrate in a real way, we need to come to terms with this-otherwise our merry- making has a frantic quality to it. I remember a moment on retreat a few years ago, when my whole being finally opened to the truth of impermanence. Instead of fighting it, I just let go, and realized that it makes each moment unspeakably precious.

One of my teachers had a wonderful way of contemplating the preciousness of time: imagine for a moment how much time you spend just taking care of this body-working, driving, cleaning, cooking, eating and sleeping. If you take two minutes to brush your teeth, and you live until you are 75, by the end of your life you will have spent 76 days just brushing your teeth! How much time does that leave you to celebrate life, the mystery of being human, of being alive as this body? And what about your unconditioned being, your awake, alive core- that which is much more than a body, a fleeting form? How much time do you spend celebrating that? How would it be if we could celebrate it all?

Let’s take a moment now, to lie down in the grass with Walt Whitman, one of the great masters of celebration, and listen to him sing a few words from his ‘Song of Myself’:

‘I celebrate myself;
And what I assume you shall assume;
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.

…And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
I have no mockings or arguments—I witness and wait.

I believe in you, my Soul..
Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?  I hasten to inform him or her, it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.’