Are there any bloggers out there besides myself who write posts hoping certain people will read it only to find that none of those that you had in mind ever really read your blog? This is a good argument for telling people up front what you want them to hear. But I don’t do that. It is kind of a problem I have. I don’t like telling people what to do. I prefer that they be themselves and accidentally accommodate my wishes.
Here we are walking into the Christmas season once again. If I were to take the time to look at my past blogs I would bet that every year I wrote something about gifting. And every year, I walk into Christmas either doing what I want to do and feeling bad about that, or doing what others expect of me and feeling bad about that. It used to be that the bad feelings came after the exchange of gifts. Now I start early, before I do any shopping.
I have talked to a number of friends about this. Almost without exception, they agree that there is too much emphasis on material things in the world. Where is the true meaning of Christmas, they say. And giving our kids and grand kids what they want seems to counter whatever this meaning is. Behind every act of giving is an act of getting. Selflessness countered by selfishness. What a sad cycle!
My own particular form of cringing at giving material things is rooted in my concern for the environment. I envision every bow and box, every trinket, every Christmas sock and ornament piling up in the city dump. I am a goddamned Scrooge. I mean that in a nice way. Scrooge’s transformation led him to bring himself and his good cheer to the Cratchet family. In other words, his present was his presence.
I read this morning a chapter on giving in Noah Levine’ book, The Heart of the Revolution. He shared the Buddha’s teaching on giving that progresses from giving out of duty (alms) to giving to get. The latter is a bit like Christmas in America is about. We give knowing full well that we also will be recipients of gifts. Deeper, perhaps, is giving because it makes us feel good. Either way, Levine sees that there is a deeper level of giving to which the Buddha calls his followers – the giving of presence. And his idea if presence is so much more than being in the same room with a person. Presence for him is suspending one’s memories, thoughts and plans for a moment in time and take in the other person’s memories, thoughts and plans. It is hearing and seeing in the way Jesus taught when he shared with people what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.
I hear folks frequently talk about how their thoughts have blocked their awareness of what someone else is sharing. The Buddha called this “monkey brain”. It is when our thoughts bombard us so strongly that we can barely pay attention to anything else around us. Meditation is a practice that is designed to calm the monkey. When the monkey is calmed, we can truly listen. Levine suggests that because being truly present to another is such a gift, our meditation practice is a gift to the world.
I wonder what would happen if I gave to my loved ones this kind of presence absent the monkey. What if this were my gift instead of something they could hold in their hands?Would they even recognize presence as a gift? If they knew how difficult it is to become truly present, they might have a better appreciation. And for me as well. What is the gift I most desire? Presence. Leave the monkey at home. Five minutes of presence is better than anything.