By Kellie Schorr
Has there ever been a more serviceable word in Buddhism than the word path?
It represents one of the most foundational and relatable ideas that we have. Think of all the ways we have used this word in our practice.
Q: Is Buddhism a religion of a philosophy?
A: It’s a path.
Q: Wow, how do you know exactly how I feel?
A: We are all together on the path.
Q: Geez, that was mean. How could you do a thing like that?
A: Sometimes we lose our way, even on a path.
Q: I don’t know to feel about this. Should I be angry or sorry?
A: Try to find a middle path.
What does your path look like? Sometimes mine is a beautiful mossy dirt trail through lush forests of life and opportunities. Other times it is so rocky and unkept I can’t tell it from the rest of the terrain, and I have a sinking suspicion it’s going to take me straight off a cliff. Most times it’s a little like the invisible bridge in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I don’t see it until I courageously step out on it, and then stone by stone it reveals itself. I’m never sure if that path requires trust or insanity.
Maybe there’s a middle way.
At this time of year, the path is lined with twinkling lights in vibrant colors hanging from rooftops and fenceposts. Its signposts smell like candy canes, and music seems to be playing every place I go. There’s more talk about generosity, and more need for it too. There are people experiencing or expressing hope for the first time since March. There are others, so many others, sitting at a table with an empty chair, crying in the darkness because they cannot see or imagine a candle in the window. There are memories that aren’t wrapped in bright colors packages, but gray boxes filled with ache, or shame or need.
What do we do with a path like that?
For me, the path forks into two distinct branches and I’ve walked each one several times over the years. They are the paths of recovery and discovery. Maybe you’ve been on one (or both) of these roads too.
Like many Buddhists in mid-winter, one of the things people ask me is, “Do you celebrate Christmas?” I usually answer that I don’t celebrate it as the birth of the Christ, but I do celebrate what it stands for—light that shines on the darkest night, hope that blazes during our deep sorrows, and magi following a star toward a destiny no one could foresee.
Whether it is the lights of Hanukkah, the Star of Bethlehem, the candles of Kwanzaa, the fires of Yule, or the awakening of the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree (remember, you can’t spell enlightenment without light), this is a season of illumination.
The path of recovery is all about understanding the freedom of enlightenment to renew, reframe or release. It is about recovering your power and being open to your needs. Holidays, particularly Christmas, can be so locked in tradition – from the songs we sing to the food we eat to who gets grandma socks and whether the top of your tree has an angel, star, or ribbon (mine has a picture of my cat, Cosette, who loved the tree when she was alive and watches over it now in our hearts). But the Bodhi Tree, that shelter of awakening, reminds you that you don’t have to do or redo anything.
You can sing different songs or stand quietly in a silent night. You can eat vegan or fast or have a bowl of cereal for dinner. You can take the family pressure that was hung on your shoulders like 400 pounds of garland off your body and plan to do something else. You can keep any tradition you love (fudge) and take steps to change or let go of anything that hurts more than heals.
The path of recovery is the road reminding you that in a season full of imagery and memory—you are the maker of meaning.
Whether it is the lights of Hanukkah, the Star of Bethlehem, the candles of Kwanzaa, the fires of Yule, or the awakening of the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree, this is a season of illumination. ~ Kellie Schorr Click To Tweet
One of the very first Christmas presents I remember was a record player (yes, I know…), which came with my first album ever: The Chipmunks Christmas Album. I listened to it so often my parents had to take it away in mid-January because I was planning to chirp with it every day of the rest of my life. My favorite song was “Up on the House Top” and I would walk around the house singing louder than the Whos in Whoville, “Up on the house top, reindeer paws! Out jumps good ole’ Santa Claus.”
Five years later:
Me: How come we never see reindeer paws in the yard?
Smarter, Older Cousin: Cause they have hooves, stupid.
Me: But what about that song about the reindeer paws?
<look at record jacket>
Me: Oh. Pause.
I lost something that day. My delightful childhood vision of little reindeer paws on the roof vanished like snow in a chimney and I was left with nothing but the cold hard hooves of fact. I also gained something that day; a bit of knowledge to keep me from exposing my animal ignorance to the world at the next Christmas concert.
The path of discovery is a delicate balance. For everything we gain, we must surrender something. We can learn how electricity works, but we lose the wonder of our magical parents who are rulers of darkness and light. We may discover we are in a job or practice or relationship for reasons that are not healthy, and we must surrender the comfort of what we know to connect with our own worth and goodness.
Yet, even in a year that resembles a dumpster fire more than a classroom, we have discovered so much. We’ve found reservoirs of perseverance we never know we had. Meditation teachers, bakers, storytellers and dreamers have discovered the need for their gifts and opened up websites, YouTube channels and zoom classes to share in ways they never had before.
I’ve looked around at the people in my life, my community, and my country and discovered folks who are amazing or ridiculous, inspired or easily mis-led, brave or disappointing—-sometimes all at the same time. Yet, I miss them. I love them. I have refined and strengthened “alone, not lonely” to its breaking point, and I’ve discovered what to do when that line appears.
Christmas, no matter which tradition you follow, is about discovery. A couple discovers they should have made reservations and there’s no room for them in the inn. A group of wise astronomers discovers a child in a manger. A group of Jewish warriors discover a little bit of oil can light a lamp for eight days if there’s a need. Pagans discover the longest, darkest night will not last forever and the world is truly evergreen. A spiritual seeker meditating under a tree discovers there is a path to stop suffering.
Whichever path is yours this year—recovery or discovery—name it, know it.
Be present in the moment, wide-eyed and wonder-ready, grieving or receiving, giving and being. No matter where you find yourself this season, keep walking the path of light. Maybe, you’ll even see some reindeer paws.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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