Many years ago when our first son (now an adult) was a toddler, we decided to go "all out" in celebrating Christmas. It was the first time that he understood something about Santa, whose visit he was eagerly anticipating.
So that year we all went wild in buying huge amounts of extravagant Christmas gifts for this child's first Christmas with Santa.
After we put him to bed on Christmas Eve, we spent much of the night assembling the vast array of Santa gifts around the tree. By the time we were finished, the living room was so filled with "stuff" that you almost couldn't move around - a rocking horse, a toy car, stuffed animals, games, brightly wrapped boxes in every "nook and cranny" of the room.
It was clear that on that Christmas, we were being guided by the principle of "more is better."
Early on Christmas morning, we all assembled around the tree - my wife and I, the grandparents, all of us waiting in excited anticipation for the moment when our little boy would come downstairs and feast on the splendor of Santa's "over the top" extravagance on a Christmas morning.
The moment finally arrived and as our boy came downstairs, there it was all spread out in front of him, a room full of toys, wrapped boxes and bright lights - and it was just "too much" for him. He simply couldn't focus on it all. It was just too much for him to take it all in.
The child didn't rejoice in the abundance of it all. He didn't experience the moment as an expression of generosity- it was just more stuff than he could handle.
So instead of the squeals of delight that we had anticipated, all he could do was yell out to us "I have to go and blow my nose." And away he went, back up to the safety of his little bedroom where he remained until we could coax him back out.
That Christmas morning, all those many years ago, taught me a great lesson in life- a lesson I have never forgotten: "Too much is too much." When too many things, too many ideas, too much stuff clutter our lives, we can't focus, we become bloated - ungrounded. When so much becomes too much, we become disconnected and isolated from others.
As I reflect on that long-ago Christmas, I once again look out into the desert in which I live, and again the desert becomes a great teacher for me.
By any standards, the desert is a fairly stark place - no lush green meadows or sandy beaches with ocean views here - just mountains of stone and miles of sandy terrain dotted with bushes and desert trees and cacti. Yet there is such beauty here- more than I have ever experienced in my life. In the desert I find such total elegance in such radical simplicity. In the simplicity of the desert, I find such great abundance and such generous beauty.
In this holiday season, as "Christmastime" comes around once again, many people will probably move toward accumulating and acquiring lots of stuff, perhaps operating under the ego-driven principle that "more is better" - more and more things, minds filled with busy tasks and lives cluttered with activities.
I actually think this holiday time is a perfect season for getting rid of some of the clutter- a time to find periods of silence, a time to quiet the mind, a time to give and receive gifts that are beautiful and expressive of a generous spirit, but not so much that too much becomes too much.
I look out at the desert on a December morning with Christmas just around the corner, and I embrace the lesson the desert teaches me:
Such a wonderful time to practice a discipline of elegant, generous and abundant simplicity.
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