This year, I am pleased to say that it was the greenest Christmas I’ve ever done. All the presents were simple and inexpensive or even free, and bought from small shops (as opposed to buying from a large online store which shall remain unnamed!), and wrapped in old paper from previous Christmases or in newspaper (the Guardian does central spreads which are worth using as wrapping paper!). My cards were all homemade using leftover card, ornaments and paints. The food was all home cooked as ever. I made my own cranberry sauce this year- it was extraordinarily simple and very tasty. Finally, my fake Christmas tree and its ornaments – all of which have been going well for the last 16 years!
This Christmas I had the ‘flu and also twisted my ankle, so I have not been able to write for awhile. But this has been good. I have learnt that sometimes I need to look after myself. I have a tendency to do things and not let others help me because either I am too impatient or think that others can’t do it as well (arrogance, I suppose). However, after these ailments, I had to let others help me and support me. I had to let go of many things to others. Contrary to my usual thoughts of doom and gloom, all went well. I am at the start of a new project and by letting others help me, I have been able to start it on time- it was beginning to looking like an impossible dream by the beginning of December 2014.
The numbers of times when we think we should and can do it alone, especially me, came to me as I stood surveying this fallen tree in the recent storms. Human beings are connected and it is this kind of connection that enables us to survive. From the food that goes into our mouths to the work we do, we are supported by countless people who grew that food to the shopkeeper who sold it and so on. Sometimes it takes some adversity or accident to make us realise that this connection is vital. I can’t believe how many people said that they would help when they saw me limping and trying to do the shopping or trying to cook the festive lunch- unbelievable though it sounds! When we try to be too strong, we break. When we connect and extend our ‘roots’ deeper in the ground, i.e. by having friends and support, we can survive tough times.
The following bit of writing from Nichiren, the 13th century Buddhist philosopher, rang a bell for me, and not just because of the reference to walking on an uneven path!
‘When a tree has been transplanted, though fierce winds may blow, it will not topple if it has a firm stake to hold it up. But even a tree that has grown up in place may fall over if its roots are weak. Even a feeble person will not stumble if those supporting him are strong, but a person of considerable strength, when alone, may fall down on an uneven path.’
Christmas is approaching and it is a time of giving. But we need to make sure that what we give is the thing that the receiver needs and is of value to them, not to us. Often we buy things we like and present it to someone. So it is best to learn about the person first and then find a gift they need. It may surprise us that at times they don’t want any ‘thing’ at all- what they want is company, assurance, love, time, friendship- not a ‘thing’.
As Nichiren advised us, we must be careful in giving, “If a person’s throat is dry, what he needs is water; he has no use for bows and arrows, weapons and sticks. If a person is naked, he wants a suit of clothes but has no need for water. From one or two examples you can guess the principle that applies in general.”