Monday, December 7, 2009

So This is Christmas

So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year older, a new one just begun. -- John Lennon

In his immortal song Happy Xmas (War is Over) John Lennon asks an accusatory question, a profound question that cuts through the layers of treacle and tinsel like a chain saw – are you really living the life you want to be living? Really?

Whenever this song comes on the radio as I’m zigzagging across town on my oh-so-important errands I have to pull over. The swirling waltz tempo, the circular, ascending chords, the pendulous melody, the lyrical balance between solemnity and celebration all brought to life by the beloved voice of a long lost friend – has there ever been a more powerful Christmas song? (And the competition is stiff). Like a ghost in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, John Lennon comes back from the grave every Christmas to strum his Gibson, rattle our chains and drag us into an essential, transformative awareness. Are we living authentically, awake to every precious moment and opportunity that comes our way, or are we merely a cog on a wheel in someone else’s machine, going through the motions of our so-called lives like a sleepwalker? He never was one for beating around the bush.

With his opening lines Lennon pulls us into deep self-examination. Knowing that for many of us this a vulnerable time – our emotions are close to the surface – Lennon strikes to the heart with a profoundly powerful question. Here at the end of the year, as we reflect on the passage of time and more importantly, our use of that time, it is a very good time indeed to ponder the cumulative effect of our choices and actions. Our dreams, like ghosts that haunt the shadowed edges of our lives, are ever-present. We want something better than this. We long for love and connection and purpose. There is so much beauty waiting to emerge. Our potential mastery, prosperity and joy are waiting in the wings, waiting for their cue to take their rightful place center stage. All of these potentialities. Another year over, a new one just begun. And what have we done?

Each moment is an end, and each moment is a beginning. The circularity of the seasons reminds us of this. We are ever born anew. Yes, the past is what got us here to this present moment. But we are unbound. History is not destiny. We are not determined by the past. We are forever and infinitely free in this next moment to reemerge from the womb of our incompletion and stand tall as beings of infinite value. Do you dare? That is Lennon’s taunt.

And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun, the near and the dear ones, the old and the young.

But let this not be a solemn process. We do not stand accused. Lennon’s goal is encouragement, not condemnation. Let us also celebrate the joys and gifts of being alive. And the depth of our happiness is only realized in community. We have met the enemy, and it is isolation. As we open our hearts and our arms and drop our fears, prejudices and limitations we find ourselves in the middle of warm, caring communities. Our friends, families, neighbors, colleagues and strangers alike stand ready to take our outstretched hand. Talk to somebody. Hear their story. Give the gift of time and attention. Love is not complicated. It is simply the act of presence, without expectation or demand. Let yourself be amazed.

A merry, merry Christmas and a happy new year, let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.

With the help of the children of the Harlem Community Choir and a bottomless Phil Spector wall-of-sound production, Yoko Ono leads us into the childlike simplicity of the chorus and the central theme of the song: the triumph of optimism over pessimism. It is a master stroke of casting. These utterly disarming voices form the perfect counterpoint to Lennon’s sage presence. For me, the emotional core of the song is the second half of the chorus, with its descending melody and stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks honesty. Rarely does pop music get this naked, this raw, this real. On the surface, a simple hope – at core, a ground breaking affirmation. No matter what lies in the past, there lies before us a sacred opportunity, the opportunity to realize the ancient dream of peace and dignity for all. With childlike innocence we claim the promise of the ages: the end of fear, the dawn of peace and the simple sanity of love.

War is over, if you want it, war is over now.

Underneath it all, woven through the fabric of the song like a golden thread, are the words of John and Yoko’s anti-war campaign. Taken verbatim from the billboards they created and put in major cities all over the world protesting the Vietnam War, this mesmerizing chant moves through the shadows like an unconscious thought. Affirming the infinite power of the collective conscience of humanity, John and Yoko share their boundless optimism that if the people lead, the leaders must follow. But we needn’t see this as just an anti-war song. It goes beyond politics and global conflict. As Gandhi taught, the real war is within. What are we doing to create peace in our minds, in our homes, on the road, in our offices, in our classrooms, in our marriages? What Lennon is really teaching is this, that reality is simply a product of the mind. Our thoughts create our words and our words create our actions and our actions create our habits and our habits construct our character. Our greatest gift this holiday season, or any season, is how we show up in our own lives. Who are you going to be? How does your presence impact others? What kind of world are you co-creating? War is not inevitable. Peace is possible. We are always creating, whether consciously or not. Let’s choose consciousness. Peace is not the destination. Peace is the journey. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”

And so this is Christmas, for weak and for strong, the rich and the poor ones, the road is so long.

We have an opportunity. We have a chance at deepening the reach of our own humanity, of broadening the scope of our vision, of expanding our sphere of influence. And Christmas is the right time to begin. All of us are hurting. We’re all struggling. Times are hard. There’s never enough money. There are health issues and relationship strains. Trouble at work, trouble at home. And the future is fraught with danger. But beneath all the waves of woe lies an infinite sea of stillness. Even an atheist like Lennon gets it. There is a sacred source at the core of all of these overlapping spheres of experience. We only need to sink down into the roots of our inner Being, available to us in each moment. We continually drink from the boundless source flowing forever from the center, and as we do, we are strengthened and encouraged to live the lives we have always imagined. Soon we will be another year older, and another, and on and on until the last ragged breath leaves our tired body. Then it will be too late. Now is the time to create the lives we all so richly deserve. You don’t have to fix the world. Don’t turn this vision into yet another egoic achievement. Instead, simply enjoy your life and find the myriad small ways to connect to the people around you through kindness, through song, through the healing touch of a hand. Draw the presence of the Real to the surface with intentional, conscious action. Whenever you get caught up in the harried, hurried pace of the madness of life, stop, take a good look around and sing to yourself, “and so this is Christmas.”

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