Calmness amidst chaos

There’s a huge irony in what we’re seeing on our screens in these pre-Christmas weeks. One moment we’re being shown horrific and explosive footage from scenes of war in the Middle East and next, some facile advertisement for the purchase of gifts for loved ones – or images of extravagant food to stock up on for Christmas.

It’s perplexing that on the one hand, extravagance to find happiness is being promoted when Christmas is supposed to celebrate the humble birth of Christ. When I see nations at war, I wonder at the perception of human kind when throughout time, spiritual leaders such as he have taught only peace. And it’s sad that the simple act of giving has morphed into yet another modern pressure.

Though meant to be a happy time, the rushing, the crowds, the repetitive ‘carols’ playing in the stores, the traffic and the urgency surrounding shopping at this time can lead to distress. Temper and impatience increases, road rage and violent acts become more prevalent; unresolved family issues rear their heads; counselors are reminded of the current problem of youth suicide and anyone prone to morbidity and anxiety may notice their symptoms mounting. Yet this Season is meant to be a celebration of the birth of one who gave His life in the name of love, justice, forgiveness and peace!

Several years ago at this time of the year I visited the country of Laos on a fund- raising mission. Rich with magnificent scenery, Laos is nevertheless the poorest country in the world.

In its capital, Vientiane, there was no pre-Christmas rush because Lao is not a Christian culture. However there were other celebratory things happening there as National Day occurs in December!

Joyful activities had kept the city vital and alive until the music stopped abruptly at 11 p.m. but the revelers continued at a lesser pace well into the following day. Making our way through the crowd as we wandered about, my attention was drawn to a scene of absolute contrast.

In the middle of the road, slowly and laboriously moving along was an elderly woman pushing an old wooden cart. This, her means of transport, was piled high with possessions including many discarded plastic containers of all varieties – and a small boy. It was explained that she collected such articles for re-cycling – and even on this mandatory day of festivity she needed to continue her work.

As this woman inadvertently crossed a rough patch in the road, the cart lost balance, tipping the contents – and the boy – helter-skelter. Our instinct was to assist as it seemed tragic for her tiring efforts to be hindered. But instinct also told us that assistance was inappropriate as, perhaps with Buddhist acceptance, little by little she reassembled the load.

This woman acted calmly. She was uncomplaining and independent. She was not embarrassed but remained dignified, simply doing what she had to do with patience and persistence and living her existential lot by just getting on with it! There was no pressure, no rushing, virtually no traffic and absolutely no urgency. Even the onlookers, including ourselves remained quiet and respectfully observant within a scene that differed so greatly from what would surely have been happening at this celebratory time of the year in our streets back home.

That contrasting event radiated simplicity, peacefulness and contentment. All great spiritual leaders have taught their followers ways of life from which to develop contentment – or human happiness really – and they involve the virtues of love … justice … forgiveness … peace. And positive action. It also seems we have each been given a particular role in life, a path to follow despite any discomforts that role may present. Our book review this month outlines the ideas of James Hillman in his inspirational work, The Soul’s Code. I strongly recommend it as good reading with which to begin the New Year.

From a new recognition of our life role we might take positive action. There may be resolutions to make – and keep! There may be conflicts to address in the hope of resolution. There may be things we can do to preserve our world. And there may be fresh, exciting avenues to peacefully explore! Let’s have fun and celebration at this time but without the pressure!

I wish all readers the insight necessary to appreciate the gift of life and to enjoy with great contentment, a true celebration of all good things.