Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas And Zen

Christmas is nearly here. One reason I like it is that it generates some excitement and energy not found in other times of the year. People are more sentimental and loving. People seem to care more about their fellow man. It can be a bright spot in an otherwise boring and routine existence. I have always been blessed with good Christmas memories. I often find myself lost in my own thoughts in spite of being surrounded by people and activity. In many ways, Christmas is a continuation of Thanksgiving. I find myself feeling very grateful for all the blessings in my life. Admittedly, some of these blessings don't always feel like gifts. When I see the happiness of people around me, I realize that life is not all about the pursuit of my happiness. Although I sometimes forget it, making other people happy often comes back to me as happiness. When I am too focused on myself, I tend to see what's missing, not what's present. I see what's empty, not what's full.

Zen is doing what you are doing and being where you are. Sounds simple, right? It is the same with the spiritual life. The simple things....the basics....are often challenging to do on a daily basis. The reality of the spiritual life is like the story of two monks who were meditating. There was an older, wiser monk and a young novice. As they were meditating, the young monk kept peeking at the older monk. He did this several times. Finally, the older, wiser monk looked at him and said, "This is it. Nothing else happens". Such is most of life. To be a Buddha means to be an "awakened" one. In the Christian tradition, to be a contemplative is to also be an awakened one. Our spiritual practices are a means to an end. Our intention is the inner transformation and conversion that leads us to purity of heart and the discovery of the true self. As awakened ones, we strive for the single minded attentiveness that slowly peels away the layers of the onion that makes up our false self. Like the Tom Cruise character in the "Last Samurai", we often have too many minds. We strive for this single-mindedness that is focused on the spiritual dimension of life.

A small fish was swimming along. He came upon a bigger fish and asked, "Can you tell me where the ocean is?" The bigger fish said, "Are you kidding??? You're in the ocean. It's all around you. In it, we live and breathe and have our being!" So it is with God. He is like the ocean and we are fish. We spend our entire lives living in his presence. In Him, we live and breathe and have our being!

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