"December in the Desert"
I found a recent “tongue-in cheek” article about new trends in table etiquette to be very entertaining to me. The author of the article humorously debated a new question posed for proper dining nowadays - not what fork to use but where a cell-phone should be properly positioned on a table during a meal.
I found this so amusing because it really “rang so true” to me – so many people nowadays find it almost impossible to eat a meal without their cell phones by their side. In fact, just the other day while eating lunch at a local restaurant I noticed that very few patrons at the nearby tables were actually having a conversation with one another; instead most everyone was pecking away at an IPhone, probably checking texts or email messages, maybe surfing the web.
It was such an incredibly obvious icon of just how distracted so many of us have become in our everyday lives. More and more of us seem to be living in “our own little world,” oblivious to what is going on in the world around us, perhaps even more so at this busy time of year when we are so pre-occupied with so many things to do as we “prepare for the holidays.”
In the Christian calendar, the season of Advent has begun. While many people think that Advent is a time to “count down” the days leading up to Christmas, I think the opposite is true. Advent is a season for “waking up” to life as it is available to each of us in the present moment, it is a time to practice eliminating all our distractions, to move away from dwelling in past memories, to remove all the clutter of constantly preparing for the future and to simply be awake and alert to what is available to us in the moment.
There is a beautiful Advent hymn in the Christian tradition based upon a Bach Cantata:
Wake, awake the night is dying,
Awake ye children of the light!
In these dark days of December when the world of nature seems to be settling in for a long winter’s rest, the season of Advent announces that this is a time for waking up our minds and rousing our spirits.
As a Christian I have discovered that the Buddha is actually one of my best teachers when it comes to helping me understand what this Advent time is all about. Buddha sat under a tree and vowed to do nothing but just stay there alert in the moment until he discovered the true meaning of life. He sat there with no thoughts about where he wanted to go, where he had been, or what he was looking for, he just made himself available to the present moment and he woke up to the meaning of life. He woke up from the sleepy isolation of his own little world and realized that everything and everyone is a web of relationship.
Advent is a time to sit under the proverbial tree and “without distraction” pay attention to our everyday life as it happens. This is a season for watching sunrises and sunsets, it’s a season to pay attention to all those people who enter into our daily lives, to turn off the cell phones when you have a meal and listen instead to the people at the table.
In one of my books of Buddhist essays I came across this wise and insightful observation about waking up and paying attention to life:
Whatever we are looking for is already right here.
We are usually elsewhere - that’s the problem.
When we are awake and when we pay attention to our everyday life
we discover something truly wonderful -
our old regular pointless lives are actually incredibly joyful,
amazingly, astoundingly, relentlessly,
The season of Advent has begun - not a time to “count down” the days until Christmas, not a season to prepare for upcoming holidays; but a time for waking up. And, you don’t have to be a Christian or a religious believer to celebrate these wonder-filled December days.