on cultivating a spirit of peace and joy

There’s an awful lot to be brought down by throughout the year, whether it’s the personal stresses that complicate our everyday lives or the bigger, often scarier things going on in the world at large. There’s always something that prompts our heads to shake, our eyes to turn downward, and our shoulders to sag under the weight of an invisible but emotionally tangible burden. Sometimes you just want to cry. Sometimes you just need to cry. That’s okay. (I’m stilling learning this.)

The holidays have always been special to me in part because they offer a bit of wisdom in dealing with the things that can weigh our shoulders down; rather than avoiding, escaping, ignoring, they teach us to shine a light. The holidays don’t symbolize turning away from what’s difficult, but rather turning towards it, letting the unsightly dark spots of life be seen; witnessing them, accepting them, and most importantly, sending love and peace where it’s needed. What the holidays symbolize, as it turns out, is remarkable instruction on how to live.

It’s no coincidence that light plays a big part in this season, whether it applies to a religion or a tradition or a personal inclination (a menorah, a Christmas tree, a candle, a Yule log). The most basic truth of light is that it is illuminated by darkness. Light can alter darkness, but darkness can’t snuff out light. Even the night comes only because the sun chooses to set.

What this symbolism of light during the holiday season means to me is the practice of peace, joy, and constancy. Not a perfect practice, but a hopeful one. In my experience, it’s about simply endeavoring. I believe that life is about doing the best we can, and the holidays – this season of light and peace, of comfort and joy – help me define what my best is.

Peace and joy are stalwart qualities when they’re nurtured into positions of power within us; which is to say, when we cultivate them and help them grow to a size that cannot be overlooked. Feed them more often than anger and resentment and the difference will amaze you. But we do essentially have to coexist with all the different atmospheres of our emotional selves, just like we have to coexist with all the atmospheres of the emotional world in which we live. I’ve learned that peace and joy help with that, too. Gradually, whenever I’m met with a difficulty that burdens my spirit, my spirit does its best to acknowledge the darkness with the patience of peace while the compassion of joy sends love where it’s needed. I’ve also found that my motivation for sending out love can be so strong that it overpowers that instinct to turn away. This practice has proven to be strong and valiant for me and I’m grateful that the holidays come around every year to remind me, and to help me celebrate it.