And so this is Christmas Day - yet again. I sit here at my blank computer screen and try to entice various words to take shape before my eyes. I am tired and sleepy, though I have slept a lot. Being too busy at work and the new medication I'm on are both conspiring to make me very sleepy. Even when I try my usual mediation practices I seem to doze. Anyway, that's the truth of it. I slightly envy those who need little sleep and can function so well without much of it. In this silence, only broken my the hum of my computer's fan, I sit and let the acceptance of things as they are for me settle gently in my mind and heart.
Christmas is a time essentially for being with family. Within its bosom we refresh ourselves, recharge our batteries, take stock, renew the family bond, talk about old times, make plans, share hopes and sorrows and also within its caring bosom we can be healed once again before the start of another hectic New Year.
It is wonderful just to have the luxury to sit her on my own, in my own quiet space and let all my worries and perturbations settle down. Come to think about it, luckily I do not have very great worries at all, thankfully, but I suppose, like everyone else, I do have pressing concerns. All these concerns I am happy to let go of now for the next several days over the Christmastide.
As I sit and try to put my personal jigsaw puzzle together, as I try to make some shape of who and where I am this 25th of December 2008 several things come to my mind: I remember a young boy sitting happily alone in the back lane behind our house in Railway View, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary. I could have been no more than two or possibly three years of age. I was alone and contented and was playing with a small toy lorry upon the trailer of which I was placing ice pop bags filled with sand. Little did that child know that roll on some fifty or so years that he'd be sitting typing these thoughts. Yet I remember other not so happy memories from way back then like nearly being run over by a Bacon Factory truck when I had run out on the road. I can still hear the screech of breaks and can feel the palpitations in my chest. Or the lonely feeling of seeing the end carriage of the Dublin train pull out of the Roscrea station bringing my Dad back to Dublin. What child can make sense of his experiences or of his feelings. For him feelings only come and go like the waves of the sea. It's more the likely the same reality for us grown adults. Feelings are just that - mere temporary visitors to the human heart. In meditation we try to get under all those temporary feelings and arrive at some base point, some still point from which we can view the world with an easy equanimity. That's what I'm trying to do now in this short meditative piece.
And yes there are so many other pieces to my personal jigsaw - transition to Dublin, junior and senior school primary and then secondary and then a sequence of colleges and work, all those different encounters I had with different people, the troubled and nod-so-troubled relationships, the degrees, the ceremonies etc etc - they have each and everyone of them added their little piece to the puzzle. Things are taking shape only now and I am just eight or so days short of my 51st birthday. My goodness, I can just about see pieces of the overall picture taking shape in this, that or the other corner of the puzzle. I can sort of guess at the picture or intuit it. That's about all. What's in a life at all? I am still left with Ger Smith's question from all those years ago in the staff room of my first ever real job as a teacher. Ger had asked me "What's it all about?" and I replied "What's the what you're seeking to answer?" and he gave one word as the riposte "Life!" Well, I was stumped needless to say. I had never reckoned on Gerard's being a philosopher. Some years later I realised all too well the provenance of his question - Poor Gerard had suffered from a congenital heart disease and had not told anyone of his colleagues. He died in America some years later at a very young age. His disease had made him question the shape or the picture in his very own individual jigsaw puzzle.
It's up to everyone of us to piece our own individual puzzle together. Only I can do my puzzle, only you yours. Okay, people come in and out of our world as we grow older, as we travel whatever our individual path in life is. Each of them gives us a very small piece of the puzzle. Okay, a spouse or partner will offer rather more pieces than casual acquaintances, but even they cannot do our puzzle for us. I had not intended writing this particular piece of writing. All I knew when I sat down was that I really wanted to write a reflective piece for Christmas Day and this is what has offered itself to me. Today's image or metaphor is that of the jigsaw. It could well have been that of journey. I'm glad it's not the latter because I have overused that metaphor to such an extent that it's almost a cliché for me now.
On my shelves there is a brilliant book by Sogyal Rinpoche, namely The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It is a masterpiece. I dip in and out of this book as I meditate. To live is to die, or more correctly to live is to learn to die. I have mentioned this fact so many times in these pages heretofore. Each time we sit down in silence we are learning to let go; learning to get to that still point of being; learning to be the Witness of our very own lives; learning to observe our breath in a dispassionate, objective way; learning to be still and calm; learning to go with life gently as it leads us inexorably forward in years; learning to listen to our own inner wisdom; learning to let go of the ego; learning to let love and compassion fall gently like the rains in spring or the snows in winter; learning to forgive the self as well as others; learning to age with dignity; learning to accept all our weaknesses; learning to let go of our youth; learning to welcome ageing and old age into our lives; in short learning to live and in learning to live learning to die.
And the silence falls gently on my soul as I type these few words. The silence falls like a gentle spring rain or a gentle blanket of winter snow. The silence falls and brings healing tears to my eyes to wash my tiredness away. The silence falls with the Christ Child or with the great Buddha Shakyamuni himself. It is the silence that embraces all and every mythology - even science, because in a special way that is a mythology, too. I have no predilection for any religion. I love the best in them all. The silence that falls here now as I type these words is essentially a broad ecumenical silence that takes the best and purest message from all the great world religions and even from none. It is a silence that is at ease with agnostics, sceptics and atheists. It is a silence that acknowledges the good in all well-thinking and good human beings who wish for the brotherhood and sisterhood of all the human beings on this earth. It is a silence, too, that embraces the environment, great Mother Earth or Gaia herself. It is the silence of our very own blue planet so alone in the silent universe.
Above I have placed a picture I took of the solitude I experienced at the fountain in Nicastro, Calabria. I sat there sheltering from the early afternoon heat reading and writing, August 2007.