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A Christmas Practice if You’re Hurting

At the darkest time of the year, we celebrate a festival of light. Christmas is a festival of light, lights twinkling from rooftops and windows, candle flames illuminating mantles and altars. In the stillness of a long ago night, it was a kind of miracle. A baby is born under a starlit sky. Three magi from the East follow the light of one star in particular. As they reach the humble manger, the light of the Christ Child dazzles beyond any physical light, and they bow down in awe and wonder. Just as it happened for Arjuna—when Lord Krishna opens his spiritual eye, lifts the veils of illusion, and reveals to him the full splendour of Divinity, like the light of a thousand suns—the Magi received the gift of enlightenment.

But Christmas light can overwhelm too. We can sometimes wish the whole season—the message of transformative light, with all its absurd distortions and commercial embellishments, would just go away. The difference between how we are “supposed to feel” at this time of family togetherness and how we actually feel can often be too wide a gap.

And fresh grief can make it all the more poignant or painful. For me, this will be the first Christmas ever without my father, who was a “larger than life” presence for me always. I know that I am not alone in feeling sadness. The grief that weighs heavy upon the hearts of so many comes in flavours too numerous to name, many much more grievous than mine.

For me, the vignettes of Christmas’s past are so real in memory. They bring dimension to the present moment. I look at the light in the eyes of my granddaughters, who will know my father only as legend, and understand how my experience is a kind of bridge. Part of this for me is time of life. I am old enough to have a rich experience of past generations, yet young enough to look forward—Inshallah—to experiences with the new generation emerging.

All of you, my dear friends, no matter how young or old you may be, fit somewhere into an arc of time in the worlds you inhabit. The roles you play therein give your life structure and definition. Yet yoga is about loosening boundaries, about dissolving the mental constructs that perpetrate the illusion that makes for separateness.

My practice this Christmas involves listening to others rather than my own stream of thought, not an easy practice. I am attempting to listen from the heart in each moment, with presence and awareness. My memories—and whatever sadness, grief or joy they may evoke—are still there. But along with them I can also feel a melting, a softening, an opening to whatever lies buried in the hearts of others.

The space made when those boundaries soften lets in light. Try it yourself and you will see what I mean. For the light that is the promise of this season—the light of the world, the light of life that dispels all darkness, the light that brought the Magi to their knees—that light needs space to truly shine. We need to become empty to receive. All meditation practices ultimately are about emptying—so that the sudden surprise of light becomes possible.

So my Christmas wish for you my dear friends and students—and for myself as well—is that no matter what pain or grief or distraction you may be carrying into this festive season, that your heart can soften and make space for the light.

That light is everywhere always, and Christmas is a time for remembering it.

May the light of life bring peace and harmony to your heart this Christmas!

Happy Christmas and a most beautiful beginning to a New Year of Light!

Om shanti