Christmas in October?
I walked into Home Depot yesterday to get some supplies for a window restoration project and was surprised to see they already have their Christmas merchandise on display. On October 13th? Christmas?
It had the desired effect. The lifeless artificial blinking Christmas trees lit up my neural pathways around all things Christmas —gift lists, carols, Santa Claus, bicycles, toys, family get-togethers, ghosts of Christmas’ past. On October 13th. Score one for the marketing team.
Later I started thinking. Out of all of the gifts I’ve received in my life, how many are still present in my life and contributing to my happiness?
We have a beautiful, large hand-blown blue and white glass ball that my brother and sister-in-law gave us years ago as a keepsake ornament. It was so beautiful that we just couldn’t pack it away with the other Christmas ornaments. It hangs year-round in a beautiful window in our kitchen. I often stare at it through the steam of my morning tea as the tender rising sun lights it up. I remember the givers with love. Positive emotions, happy memories, people I love, the gift is still giving.
There’s one other gift I received long ago that still makes a daily contribution to my happiness—meditation. In the fall of 1972, I was a college freshman and searching for some clue as to what I wanted to do with my life. Trudging from classes in Sociology, Poetry, Psychology and a trendy socio-psychology-zen mashup course, I was adrift and clueless as to how someone decides what their life is going to be for the next 60 years.
Like all parents, mine wanted their oldest son to thrive, to have a better life, an educated life, a happy life. They were concerned for their creative son with his head in the sky. One day, in their desire to provide guidance, they did an extraordinary thing. They arranged for me to learn Transcendental Meditation. They must have been really concerned. It’s still hard to figure out how two working-class, Irish-Catholic parents introduced their son to the ancient wisdom of India and paid $75 for it to boot. They knew little or nothing about it other than it was in the news, the Beatles were doing it, and an older cousin with a similar temperament was doing it and getting some benefit.
On a pleasant autumn morning in Philadelphia, I took the train to West Philly to a house on the University of Pennsylvania campus with nonchalant curiosity. I had the required offerings of a piece of fruit and a clean handkerchief and, after a brief ritual by some post-grad in a suit and tie, I was initiated and given a mantra. It all seemed cool and kind of out there. I began meditating twice each day for 20 minutes as instructed. I took to it immediately. Over the next year or so I made some big decisions that impacted my life and continue to do so right up to this moment. I’ve been meditating ever since.
A lasting and valuable gift
I eventually ended up in India where I practiced under the guidance of a profoundly powerful and compassionate teacher for many years. Through all of the common and sometimes dramatic ups and downs of my build-as-you-go life, I have always had the anchor of meditation to generate insights and induce calm, restore equanimity, enhance grit, illuminate deeper meaning and support perseverance.
I don’t know exactly what guided my parents to point me in the direction of these practices but they did and I’m grateful every day. It’s been a lasting and valuable gift that makes a daily contribution to my happiness.