About ten days ago, my son and I went to get a Christmas tree, driving all the way into town because I only know of one place that sells a few white pines in addition to the ubiquitous fir trees. I love white pines. So soft and friendly. This baby was only 20 bucks. And there it sat, undecorated for more than a week.
In the meantime, I went to the UU church because the sermon was about a Buddhist perspective on Advent. It was about how you get so caught up in wanting that you don't live in the moment, you don't ever just be. And how the typical approach to Christmas brings suffering because you try to find the next thing that will bring you happiness. And then more generally, how always looking for that perfect thing/experience/person brings suffering.
Immediately following that was a discussion lead by a retired evolutionary biology professor. It was based on the book My Stroke of Insight, written by a neuroscientist who had a CVA and used it as an opportunity to witness a huge traumatic brain event from the inside. Since the bleed was in her left hemisphere, it temporarily wiped out language, linear thinking, the sense of being an individual separate from others. And it left intact the here-and-now processing of the right hemisphere, so she experienced sort of a pure merging with the universe. She talked about losing the boundaries to her self and her body and just having the sense of being energy and being boundary-less. I believe she was describing an oceanic feeling of limitlessness. It made me think about the song that has the line "I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean." I always found that jarring because from the time I was a little girl, I've had the opposite experience at the ocean. It always makes me feel enormous, like I'm just part of the vastness of it all. I don't know if those two topics were planned together on purpose, but they did mesh well. Both about making deliberate decisions to experience life and connections to others in a way that might lead more to peace than suffering and letting go of attachment to the idea of the perfect path to happiness.
In the liturgical calendar, Advent is a contemplative time of watchful waiting. When my younger son was back with me this weekend, I made hot chocolate and cookies, put on Christmas music and we decorated the tree, put out the snowfolk, and hung the stockings. That's enough. A pared-down Christmas suits me and I'm just quietly feeling thankful for this last year with my son still at home with me.