Where Buddha Meets Freud

by Gary gach, Psychology Today Blogs, Dec 18, 2008

San Francisco, CA (USA) -- This is about this very moment.  This wonderful moment.  Have you noticed? This week is the solstice: Sunday, to be precise. The shortest day of the year, and the longest night.

<< Solstice: Light in Darkness

Typically a time of clarity and community, introspection and renewal, it's an apt time to begin my blog. I ask myself, in this moment, what is there for me to say, in this community, of clarity?  What am I learning that you might learn with me? How might I serve mind, body, and spirit, as one, to prompt nourishing contemplation, and fruitful conversation? As always the answer is as plain as the nose in front of my face.

'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.

With this year's solstice still ahead of us, 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? 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.

At that moment, 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 birth right.  Our buddha nature.  Awakening to this wholeness, our oneness with life, we might also realize 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 ...

So the story goes.  CNN wasnt there, but it's a story we continue to tell, one of the sacred stories of winter. Whichever tradition, the story reminds us there's more to life than the material realm. Our winter solstice stories seem to all tell of light, no matter whether 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 is 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 this month 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, that we've banked on during the year. Are they hand-me-down, or home-made? Do they still fit? Are they in keeping with the times? With what light are we one? Does it glow, twinkle, brighten, blaze? What shadows lurk at 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 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.

Gary Gach, author of  The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism is a member of the International Panel of Advisers for the Buddhist Channel.

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