“True peace cannot be achieved by force or by merely invoking the word ‘peace.’ It can only be attained by training the mind and learning to cultivate inner peace. Peace is a calm and gentle state of mind.”
– HH Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje
What a year! A lot has happened, a lot has changed. We experienced, accomplished, and learned many things, and we made discoveries too. Some new challenges have appeared—and some have disappeared. And again the holidays and the end of the year are just ahead. How was this year for you? What was a burden and what a blessing? What are you grateful for? And what is important to you now?
For me the end of the year is a great time to reflect, to think about my direction, and to adjust. And then there are the holidays. Often the weeks of December can be quite hectic with gift-buying and other merry-making. If we are lucky we are done when the holidays are here—done and exhausted. This is also a time when we realize how fast a year goes by, maybe how fast a decade goes by! Sometimes reflective or even a bit sad conversations with friends and family come about. Children grow up fast, we are getting older; we recognize endings.
At the same time, it’s a very special time with cozy afternoons, long and dark evenings, houses lit up and many celebrations. And what I love most: Christmas music. 🙂 In these long evenings and maybe through entire weekends, we might find ourselves relaxing with a good book on the sofa. We might light candles, listen to music, and have some cookies and a delicious tea close by.
Do we celebrate this precious time of darkness, endings, but also glowing warmth? Can we really be open to this special time of the year and create beautiful experiences for ourselves and others? How can we make this dark and cold time of the year a time full of beautiful moments, a time that helps us relax, recover, and reorient for the New Year? One way is to see the winter solstice as an opportunity to find and make light.
In general, challenging situations often develop because of overload and exhaustion. Anger follows easily from fatigue. This happens on the small scale of our little world and in the world at large. We can prevent overload from spilling into upset by caring well for ourselves in these dark, cold times, especially by allowing ourselves to relax into calmness and mindfulness. In relaxing winter evenings we can reflect on our challenges and address them slowly and with care. Especially during the holidays we can set an intention to enjoy the slowness and ease of the winter, allowing ourselves to come from a place of resiliency rather than stress.
Even so, the darkness and coldness outside can drain our energy. We might notice ourselves easily losing balance. And how much more difficult it is for many others. Violence and aggression, conflict and war are happening. How challenging is it right now for those of us who have lost their homes, escaped their own countries at war, or feel in danger!
So now is also a time for praying for all who are in unfortunate situations, and for recognizing the many routes to peace. I ask myself what I can learn from dark states in my own life, how can I deal better with my own frustration, with unpleasant experiences and rejection, with anger? What do I miss in those moments and what can I learn right there?
Whatever our situation, we have needs and fears. Especially in moments where we can’t take good care of our needs, or when we are in challenging situations that trigger fear, it helps to acknowledge their presence. It’s not always possible to change the things that are challenging us or others, but we can relate to these feelings with compassion and care. Acknowledgement and compassion already help to change the emotional situation.
Most of us have the wonderful good fortune to be able to practice moments of calm breathing, to be able to take a relaxing break after finishing our work, to celebrate this end of a long year. With a relaxed body and mind we can easily find the energy, light, and hope that is present during this season.
I wish good conditions, safety, and peace to all of you, especially in these last days of the year. Enjoy many moments of pausing, relaxation, and joy.