It might seem strange to start a post about the Christmas season with a Buddhist parable, but stay with me for a minute …
The story is called “The Little Monk and the Samurai” and it goes like this …
A big, tough samurai once went to see a little monk.
He barked, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience.
“Teach me about heaven and hell!”
The monk looked up at the mighty samurai and replied with utter disdain,
“Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn’t teach you about anything. You’re dumb. You’re dirty. You’re a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can’t stand you.”
The samurai got furious. He shook, red in the face, speechless with rage. He pulled out his sword, and prepared to slay the monk.
Looking straight into the samurai’s eyes, the monk said softly,
The samurai froze, realizing the compassion of the monk who had risked his life to show him hell! He put down his sword and fell to his knees, filled with gratitude.
The monk said softly,
“And that’s heaven.”
(courtesy of onbeing.org)
To me, this story encapsulates everything about Christmas that can make it wonderful and all the things that can make it, well … downright hellish.
It’s been said before, but too often we forget the true “reason for the season” in the non-stop rush to buy gifts, throw parties and out-decorate our neighbors.
Christmas is a celebration of the birth one of the greatest rockstars of love—Jesus Christ.
While on earth, he was completely self-actualized as he embodied love, compassion and kindness. This potential lies in all of us. When we operate from a place of love and practice compassion and kindness—through our thoughts, words, and deeds—then we also become the sons and daughters of the Universal Energy that has brought us and all the miracles of this Earth into existence. (I believe that Universal Energy = Love = God.)
So for me, Christmas is about celebrating and personifying this essence of Jesus (or in Buddhism, the bodhisattva). And when we do this, we truly experience a state of profound gratitude and connection—otherwise known as heaven—just like the Samurai from the parable did.
But, as many of us experience every year, Christmas can also bring us to stress. Anger. Fear. Anxiety. Straight-up hell.
Like the hell the Samurai experienced in the presence of the monk, below are a few examples of the rollercoaster of angst the holidays can put us through:
- There’s so much to do during the holidays—or at least that’s our perception—that it leaves little time to stop and appreciate the season for the gift that it is. We’re too busy racing to the next holiday gathering and stressed out about getting all of our shopping done.
Much like the samurai, who when faced with the stress of not getting what he wanted, couldn’t see past his anger to appreciate the deeper intentions in the monk’s initial response, we can struggle with staying mindful of what a peaceful, beautiful gift the holidays could be in our crazy, busy world.
- Christmas can be an opportunity to do so much more than just exchange material goods. It can be a chance to give gifts that let us spend time together and strengthen our connections—like tickets to a show or taking a class together. But when we feel obligated to just check off a particular present from someone’s list, it can feel like the desire to connect with someone in a more meaningful way is rejected. It’s similar to how the samurai felt when he tried to connect with the monk and learn about heaven and hell, but the monk abruptly cut him off and seemingly refused to help him.
- Most of us would like to give our loved ones everything they ask Santa for and more, but not all of us can afford it. This can make us feel a little like we’re falling short, like we’re not able to express just how much we love the people in our lives. And it only makes matters worse when there are other family members and friends who can afford the big, fancy presents. It’s easy to forget that our little heartfelt gift can bring just as much joy as a bow-topped car sitting in the driveway. Ask any parent who just opened a handmade present from their child. Much like the samurai who was made to feel inadequate because when the monk said he wasn’t smart enough or worthy teaching, feeling like we can’t offer enough to the ones we love can make us feel ashamed, and sometimes even angry and defensive.
- Or we might feel like there’s just something missing, because even though we’ve wiped out our accounts trying to prove how much we care about everyone, we still feel empty inside. Or unappreciated and unloved. It’s similar to how the samurai felt when, after having risked his life for others and winning many battles, he was told by the monk, “You are a disgrace … Get out of my sight. I can’t stand you.” In that moment, the essence of who he was and all the gifts he uniquely brought to the world seemed not enough for the monk. I know many of you can relate.
But, just like every other day of our lives on this precious earth, we get the gift of choosing how we experience Christmas and what it means to us.
You can make a decision this holiday season to create heaven for yourself and your family by remaining in a state of constant gratitude. When the samurai was blinded by his anger because the monk said he would not help him, he could only experience hell. Only when the monk inspired gratitude within the samurai, by helping him recognize the truly selfless act, could the samurai know what heaven felt like.
That’s how we can see the holiday as the gift it is, by keeping love and gratitude in our hearts—even during the toughest moments of the season. Just as Jesus did.
If you’ve read my blog or are familiar with my coaching practice, you probably know what I’m about to say next. First, before you think of how you can love others better… you need to be kind and loving to yourself. It’s the best present you’ll get all year.
If the samurai had practiced a little self-compassion when he heard the hurtful words of the monk, the insult wouldn’t have stung quite so much. He could have stayed in the moment, mindful of the strong samurai he was. Instead of being misguided by his rage, he might have guessed that the monk did not understand the how great the warrior truly was, or perhaps he would have recognized that the monk was trying to help.
So, when you start to feel a little like the samurai, and you’re over-stressed because you can’t accomplish every last thing on your list or you feel inadequate because you can’t pay for the big gift your loved ones wants, take a deep breath, give yourself a big hug and tell yourself you’re only human. An amazing human. Who offers so much more than what money can buy.
Taking this first step lets you show up for others with true love and gratitude.
Now, it’s time to create a heavenly holiday for yourself and others. Need some inspiration? Here are a few suggestions:
- Write a letter. Nothing lets someone know how you feel about them, how grateful you are to have them in your life, than just coming right out and telling them. And, it’s a gift to yourself as well. Remember, the samurai could only experience heaven when he was able to express his gratitude for the monk’s kindness.
Be authentic and give them specific examples of how you admire, love and respect them. You’ll be surprised at how much you can touch someone and how much it will strengthen your connection if you just tell them how you feel.
- Look further than what they put on a list. The monk didn’t just hand over what the samurai asked for, he gave the samurai what he needed—to experience the feeling of heaven and hell—at his own risk.
Listen for clues when you talk to your friends and family of what they really need. Are they struggling with a problem? Looking for inspiration or guidance to pursue a new path in life? Think of how you can help them on this journey—a book that speaks to exactly what they’re feeling, a workshop to help them take the first step in a new career or hobby—instead of just thoughtlessly checking off an item off their list. Give them something that really shows you hear them and have spent time trying to make their lives better.
- Or better yet, give them a new experience that you can share together. A movie, dinner or just a walk in the park, it’s all just a means to spend some enjoyable, quality time together—a rare gift in our all too busy world. Offering someone your time is the true key to building a connection. Afterall, it’s pretty much saying, “Hey, I like you. I’m going to give you something I have very little of—time. Let’s hang out.”
- Be of service to others. Love thy neighbor means even those you haven’t yet met. There are unlimited opportunities to be selfless during the season and help those for whom Christmas isn’t quite as joyous as the rest of the world experiences it. Spend time with those who have lost someone, and may be in even more pain than usual during the holidays. Volunteer to celebrate with the elderly who may not have family near by. Find your local food bank or soup kitchen and help those struggling financially get a good meal—and a friendly smile—on Christmas day.
- Create a new ritual that enriches the holiday experience for your friends and family for years to come. Organize a party—another opportunity to connect—to sing carols, dance, bake or make crafts. Gather your family together and have a parent or grandparent tell stories about how the family has shared their Christmas together in the past.
No matter what gifts you give this holiday season, if you embody love and gratitude you and your loved ones will have a heavenly holiday.
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