Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Dukkha of Christmas

I come from a family with six kids, and as a young child my Christmases were usually anti-climactic, and sometimes worse than that.  Every year my parents would buy clothes that were cheap, unstylish, and identical to my brother's who was 18 months younger than I.  They also contained assembly flaws now and then.  There were usually a couple of toys, but as the middle kid in a cohort of 6, basically Christmas for me was marginalization,  with my older brother and older sister and youngest brother and youngest sister.  I'm sure my 18 month  year younger brother felt similarly to me.   There was extreme pressure given by my parents to accept any and all gifts, which was strange because my parents weren't so much giving gifts often as buying a whole lot of junk and distributing it.  They were filling orders; about the only thing that was often taken into consideration (and often not) was clothing sizes.

And I might add the stuff my parents bought was junk not because my parents were poor, but because they were  miserly.   The Depression had screwed them up mentally.  And one result of that was they bought a whole lot of low quality stuff for a lot of kids rather than less stuff but higher quality.  Their Christmas approach was maximizing the amount of stuff to unwrap and open.  Period.  In a sense then, I don't think any of my brothers and sisters often got what they wanted for Christmas; in a sense my parents weren't actually  buying stuff for any of us.

I come from a large family, and traditionally, for Christmas, that once one was old enough everyone got gifts for everyone else, and of course as nephews and nieces started getting born, well doing a gifting Christmas (literally) became exponentially more difficult.  I was single until I was 43, and what this meant  in practice is that this time of year I was redlining work,  Christmas preparation,  and social life.

At some point I had had enough; that point was sometime after I moved out to the Pacific Northwest from the New York area.  I've sort of resolved to have a minimally labor intensive Christmas efforts.  I have not wrapped any packages this year.  Yes, we don't have that distracting tinsel on our tree either.  But we do have a tree representative of our family.

What remains is the idea of social obligation.   It's that little voice in the back of the head saying you have to get something for X because otherwise Z won't get something from Y.

But that's not a gift giving at all is it? One should give a gift in thought that there are people at the other end, and forgetting yourself. And luckily those to whom I give gifts now are mostly nephews and nieces and their kids. 

But YES,  all the stuff above notwithstanding, I give 'em all gift cards, because frankly, our lives have unfortunately  diverged, and yes, I'm very busy these days,  and so while they're all the same gift, when the receivers do with it is exactly what they want.  In that sense my gift cards are empty too!  

I try to treat social obligation as an itch on my nose when I'm sitting in zazen.

So to me, Christmas has always had and will always have an aspect of emptiness, of a nullity.  Christmas is the stuff of dreams unfulfilled,  of the cheap toy that is broken upon opening the package, after the transient joy of opening the package fades.   Christmas is fundamentally empty.  Christmas is about eternally receiving less than you give.  It's really why it's better to give than to receive - because what you receive will always fall short of what you had hoped, and when you realize that,  you can give without fear or hindrance in the mind, knowing that we're all in the same boat with receiving falling short in our lives; it's a form of dukkha

I am able to be at peace with that.  Christmas is the memory of being forgotten.  And in remembrance of being forgotten on a day that is supposedly joyous,  I will try to be  aware of others.

A peaceful, if not merry Christmas to all. 

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