I received the following spam today: “????????? ??? ???? ???????, ???.” Not a bad one and certainly inoffensive. Although I deleted it, I copied the message first. For the past few days I’ve been thinking that sometimes the act of posing a question itself reveals an answer.
Yesterday I received a rather negative email in response to my posting a suggestion on a list serve connected to a religious organization that people write to their elected officials about the health care bill pending in the Senate. I sent the email because my contribution to this group is to serve as the designated liaison between a lobbying group that was established by the religious organization and the religious organization. Once of month or so, I highlight issues that are the focus of the lobbying groups email campaigns. The email took me to task for thinking that politics has any place in connection with spiritual practice and therefore the on-line discussion should never be about politics. The person assured me that our political views were different, although I did not actually suggest what people should write; I only said that they should write. I have been pondering this deeply as it is a topic I have thought about, taught about, and wrestled with deeply over the years, especially during the Presidential elections.
As one who believes that body, mind, and community are inseparable from spirit, I am unable to separate political action from spiritual action. I believe that I have a duty to be knowledgeable about the issues challenging society as a whole, to take action within the framework of society to seek the embodiment of my spiritual beliefs (grossly oversimplified, that the rules, commitments, and support networks of society should recognize the light of all beings — human and not — and foster the seeking of that light by all), and to challenge the very framework of the discussion and rules when they obscure the light and its recognition.
One of the reasons for discussion is to explore, to learn, to be challenged, to expand both knowledge and understanding. That can be a hard process. I certainly do not expect people to agree with each other at all times, but that is not the point of discussion. While I think this sort of discussion perfectly appropriate in the context of a spiritual discussion, it might be less welcome where what is being sought is an immediate sense of peace and harmony in the connection of a particular practice. For example, if it is known that family and friends have strong disagreements about “political” issues, it might be disagreeable for digestion and the day to bring up the issues at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
When I googled (that should not be a verb) “holiday madness” this morning, I got one million three hundred thousand hits. Yikes! Most relevant websites are about surviving shopping, over-eating, family, and travel. Madness in such a situation is a choice. We can choose what to consume, how much, when, and with whom. It is a choice whether “celebration” requires consumption beyond what our financial, physical, and emotional means permit.
The yamas and niyamas as revealed by Patanjali provide beautiful structure for thinking about the holidays.
Ahimsa–non-harming. Don’t consume more than is harmful to yourself, those who have created what you are consuming, and the earth.
Satya — truthfulness. Be honest with yourself about what is right for you to celebrate and observe and what brings meaning to you as a holiday celebration.
Asteya — non-stealing. Consuming beyond your means, especially financially, is a form of stealing (look at what generated the recession).
Brahmacharya — moderation (aligning with Brahma). Enjoy the offerings of the earth in a way that uplifts rather than sickens or detracts from spirit and self.
Aparigraha — non-greediness; non-covetousness. Enjoy what you have without coveting or trying in a detrimental way to have what others have and you do not.
Sauca — cleanliness, purity. Consume in a way that is healthy for yourself and the planet, that does not create illness, refuse, and waste.
Samtosha — contentment. Wherever you are, whatever you have, whatever is going on in your work and family life, think of that for which you are grateful, that which brings you happiness, and focus on what you have. Contentment is a practice.
Tapas — fire, ardor. Be on fire to practice, to shift, to make this a life-fulfilling year of generosity and compassion.
Svadyaya — study of text, self-study. Take the holidays as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself, society, and your spiritual beliefs and how they interrelate.
Ishvara pranadhana — surrender, recognition of the spirit. Let go a little. Surrender to a sense of fullness. Allow the abundance and recognize it as a wondrous gift. Remember the word “holiday” is really two words: “holy day.” Make this time holy, whether or not you observe a particular religious tradition at this time of year or any other.
I was first taught how to make cranberry sauce in 3rd or 4th grade. We made the recipe off of the back of the bag, which recipe I am fairly certain is still on the bag of “conventionally grown” cranberries. The recipe is: One bag cranberries + one cup water + one cup sugar. Bring all ingredients to a boil. Maintaining a vigorous simmer, stir continuously until most of the cranberries have popped and the liquid has thickened. Allow to cool. OK to make in advance; store in refrigerator. From that time on, we did not eat cranberry sauce from a can, which was a big deal in the late 60s, early 70s.
This year’s variation is organic and uses some local ingredients. Three generous cups (this is about the same as the typical bag of cranberries) of cranberries + one cup apple cider + 1/2 cup sucanat + a splash of cognac or brandy. Maintaining a vigorous simmer, stir continuously until most of the cranberries have popped and the liquid has thickened. Allow to cool. Optional: add another splash of cognac while cooling. OK to make in advance; store in refrigerator.
Variations: (1) use pomegranate juice instead of cider; include a vanilla bean and a sliver of lemon rind while cooking. (2) replace cognac or brandy with Calvados and include a cinnamon stick while cooking. (3) replace the cider with orange juice, the cognac with triple sec, and use turbinado sugar instead of sucanat. The variations are many. Just have the types of fruit, flavorings (spices and liquor) meld with eachother, and make sure there is enough sugar to gel the sauce.
Of my friends on facebook, several reveled in staying inside because of the rain yesterday. Others complained about being unable to do things that would have been better on a dry day. Reporters and anchor persons seemed to think it newsworthy whether the rain will impact football or baseball games. How about telling us whether the rain we are getting is optimal for the native flora and fauna and how it is impacting the farmers? We seem as a society to have forgotten the relationship of the weather to food.