Christmas for me was always a very special time. There are two aspects of Christmas, the more material aspect and the spiritual aspect. In the material aspect we buy Christmas trees and presents, maybe even a nativity, get together with our family and eat a big dinner, maybe even go to church together, stay home watching a movie or playing games, singing songs — spending time together. Growing up in NYC part of this experience was going to 5th Ave to look at the decorated store windows and to Rockefeller Center to see the tree and the ice rink, enjoying the chilly snow and the decorations sweeping over the city. I loved to decorate the house and make everything as beautiful as possible, bringing joy and love into the house, buying presents that would bring joy and love to my family, cooking a delicious meal, and spending quality time soaked in the essence of our chaotic family. What better than be surrounded by people who have so much in common with you?
This year, however, I was not with my family for Christmas. I didn’t go to Christmas Mass, for the first time in my life. What I did do, however, was significantly more spiritual than Christmas Mass. The yoga school is offering a retreat, silence optional, covering the days of Christmas and New Years. Over the 2 days before and the day of Christmas, we spent the time talking about Christ and meditating in what they’ve called Christ Compassion. Political history aside, many spiritualists of every religion or sect recognize Jesus Christ for being an enlightened man who bought goodness to the world. There are even those who believe that in those undocumented 18 years before Jesus’ 40 day journey in the desert, he went to India and studied yoga/tantra. This last week we’ve focused on the truth of Christ, singing Christmas carols, talking about Christ, his miracles, and watching my family’s favorite movie: Jesus of Nazareth, one hour every night. It was, to say at least, simply majestic. The energy in the air, the room full of love, all in devoted adoration of Christ tears my heart open, in a good way. I feel this in every spiritual community, yet still the unlimited love of Jesus Christ resonates to my core. This pure light energy is undeniable to a seeker of truth.
Please don’t hesitate to correct me on any misunderstandings or misinterpretations. Always feel free to share your opinions. I don’t claim to be a guru so those who are more wise than I, please shed your light.
In yogic terms, Jesus Christ absorbed the negative karma of the world and used his mortality as a sacrifice to bring light and goodness. This is something we talked about as having been done by other yogis who, in order to un-ensnare someone from the captivities of toxic habits caused by negative karma, takes the karma upon themselves as a burden and from then on there is one less outlet of negative energy, which may lead to greater goodness being done. Jesus’ sacrifice was a mass absorption of this negative karma. In our meditation, we worked mostly in Anahata and Sahasrara chakras, the heart and the crown, since this is the connection that Jesus evoked: love and divinity. [In between these two chakras are Visuddha the throat chakra associated with the ether, sight into the timeless, unlimited truth, so to speak, and Ajana the third eye, associated with mental command and clarity, as a simplification. Together, these four chakras are basically the chakras that are most beneficial to achieving a higher state of consciousness and overall deep, internal, everlasting happiness.] This is something that can’t be bought or exchanged, this is more significant, above all, and this is what Christ practiced.
As a Catholic, I always strode to be in the image of Christ, and one could argue that the goal of every Catholic should be to present themselves in the image of Christ. So what qualities did Christ possess that I could apply to my life and how can I begin to do it? In the end of the day, Christ didn’t care if you were rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, saint or sinner, even if you stabbed him in the back he would literally turn the other cheek (he did coin the phrase, after all.) As long as you were a person, he would die on a cross for you. Wow. Despite the recantations of his “followers” he didn’t say that you’re going to hell, did he? He said “The Kingdom of Heaven is here.” Your job is to open your eyes, let go of your ego, how you identify as a person, your material possessions, your past traumas, your debilitating mental conditions, these are not who you are! You are so much more! You are divine! Drop them, he would say, and follow him! None of these give you eternal bliss. So find bliss now, begin bliss now. Be tenacious, do what’s right even if it hurts, practice what love is, detach from the ego, material possessions, mental ensnarement. It’s actually much more fulfilling.
In this yogic meditation of Christ’s Compassion I used the thought of Jesus Christ, filling the heart with love, in my meditation practice. We are mostly practicing Prana Uchara, which, to simplify, is where you practice moving the prana, or life force, from within your body and upward. It was said that the sort-of home of the prana energy is just beneath the Anahata, I feel it just before the base of the sternum. And so in meditation of Christ, I practice allowing this life-energy to well up inside of me and fill my entire heart, fill this little home of energy, and lift it up to this light energy somewhere above me, and feel that connection to the divine, the same like one feels in deep prayer. Having done Vipassana before, as well as having always been a very devoted Catholic “before yoga,” I am familiar with this uplifting and opening of the higher chakras, this glimpse into truth and divinity, and the lasting happiness that comes from it. When I allow my life to become consumed with meditation and prayer, the whole world feels as if it is on a string, as if not a single thing could go wrong, as if there is no time, and in my dreams I see clarity beyond dimensions, if only for a second. And this is true! Nothing can go wrong! There is no time! There’s not a single thing to worry about, so don’t! This is what Christ tells us.
This truth, however, is extremely hard to realize and there are deeper states of realization that enlightened people, such as Jesus, have seen that I can’t yet understand. So for those who haven’t reached this level of truth, there is more basic fundamental things that we can do to practice building this energy. And they’re basically the same in every religion. Invest in what is right. Not what feels good, though what is right will often feel good, but what is purely beneficial from every standpoint.
Let go of interferences. Don’t let attachments determine your choices, if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your lust for money causes you to screw over poorer people, stop doing it. If your crave for bacon causes you to contribute to the demand of thousands of tortured and slaughtered animals (as well as the mental decline of their torture/slaughter -ers,) stop eating bacon. This last one does come close to home, since those who knew me before Ithaca know that I loved bacon back in the day, and it sucks because it tastes so good, but the only thing worse than not having bacon is bearing the karma of ignorance. It is often said in yoga that ignorance only creates suffering, and so it must be eliminated. In choosing ignorance we’re choosing the de-evolution of knowledge and growth. As humans we have this incredible capacity to think AND do, to be conscious, considerate, aware, and to make decisions. This is what life is about! You can be so much more, why not choose evolution?
Ignorance is the root of all evil
And don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. When I was a child I would constantly make these really trivial challenges for myself. Even from this young age, when I thought that you needed to die to get to heaven, I understood that I couldn’t go to heaven if I still had attachments. I would, I thought, just wind up like the ghosts from my books with all this unfinished business left behind. So I would challenge myself, sort of calling myself out on all of my bullshit. As an adult this is harder since we have all of these added years of self-affirmed bullshit habits that we haven’t consistently monitored. Find what it is, be it a bad eating habit, a lazy life choice, or a toxic emotional behavior, and burn it with fire. Challenge yourself. Start small and then keep going. Be the you that you want to be.
Practice gratitude. Often we forget how wonderful it is to have something only moments before/after we gain it or loose it. Be grateful for your ability to breathe on your own, nothing is actually guaranteed. Be grateful for the bicycle you ride to get to work, if it breaks you will have to walk, may be late, may even loose your job. Put love into everything you do and there will be no room for anything to go wrong. With the practice of gratitude, we learn contentment. Without contentment, we fall back into the traps of discontent from our mind, the overwhelming depression, anxiety, anger, and daily dramas that distort our understanding of truth. We are pushed further away from the boundless inner happiness that are unaffected by external circumstance. Easiest way to practice gratitude is to consecrate what we do. In offering something to the divine we say “I appreciate what I have and want to use it to be a part of the collective consciousness and true divinity.”
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Commit to kindness. Whenever you feel frustrated, angry, or generally negative, pay attention to your body, notice the tension storing in your body. In my experience, the practice of Vipassana has helped me practice doing this every day so that I’m more aware to these more subtle shifts in my body, the moments throughout the day when my shoulders tense in anger or my back twitches in jealousy, even if it’s just a little bit. Notice these small things, notice them also when they’re big, and transcend it.
This isn’t suppression! This isn’t expression! It is transcendence!
The point of practicing being aware of what we’re feeling via meditation is so that it doesn’t turn into suppression. Transcending the energy is choosing to move this energy into the level of the heart and, with conviction, exalting love. Don’t pry too much into it, just allow yourself to be above it. In the meditation practice later, revisit this moment and reward yourself, reaffirming the change that you’re making with yourself, and congratulate yourself for choosing love. Making sure to have no ulterior motives, I was once told that as long as one’s in Anahata there is no room for jealousy or anger. In my experience this is extremely true.
Give. Everything. To everyone. For no reason. Unconditional love is the purest form of love. This is the love that put Christ on the cross. He didn’t care if they were beating him or crucifying him, he forgave them from his divine heart of unconditional love. Choose love, every time, no matter what, wanting nothing in return. Do your random acts of kindness and tell no one, not even your mom or your priest. In yoga this is called Karma Yoga, and in Christianity we realize this in volunteer/missionary/charity work. Learn to live without the recognition and glory of being the one who always does everything for everyone. Find something that makes your heart flutter and nourish it. This is an act to yourself. If everything you do is done with love the world will be filled with unending happiness that you are a part of! You are the cause and the result of love!
“Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.”
If we unbuckle the aforementioned material Christmas celebrations, we see that each of them is, in a way, opposite of what Christ taught. If a present is made in a slave shop and wrapped in plastic that kills the Earth and its inhabitants, is this what Christ wants? Even if it is given with love, does it negate the suffering that went into it? If we eat a turkey that was brutally beaten and murdered and cover it with cheese from a cow whose child was immediately separated from her, shoved into a box, and tortured in order to make this milk, is this compassion? Is this evolution? If we go to look in the decorated windows of billion dollar stores and worship in the name of Trump, is this Christianity? Have we practiced unconditional love? [To be clear ignorance of suffering of one (someone who works in the slave shop) to give something to another whom we “love” conditionally (the condition here being that you know them/have something in common with them, i.e. family name, interests, nationality, gender, skin color,) is not unconditional love, unless you choose to love the slave shop worker whom you don’t know and stop buying slave shop products.] Have we detached from material possessions? Have we aimed to further our spiritual practice and chosen to live in love in the unfolding Kingdom of Heaven?
So no, I didn’t buy any presents this year and I apologize to those who are upset by this. I didn’t have a tree or go to Sac’s 5th Ave, see my family, eat a large meal, or receive the eucharist. Instead, I practiced purifying myself in Christ’s image. On Christmas.