The Darkest Time of the Year

The sunny days are over. It is cold and rainy. The weather is not conducive for photography today. But this afternoon holds a special treat for us: the annual, international creche exhibit at the local monastery. There will be dozens of nativity scenes from all around the world on display in a festive candlelight setting.

This reminds me of the approaching holidays and, particularly of the darkest time of the year. Christmas has lost its meaning for me over the past few years. It’s the time where our annual consumption of goods and food reaches its climax. Like so many others, I am disenchanted by Christmas, and I don’t like the whole concept of Santa Claus. When I grew up, it was the Christ Child that came down from heaven at Christmas, not Santa Claus from the North Pole. It is well known that Jesus was not born on the 25th of December, but we follow the churches calendar anyhow. However, Christmas does not have to be a time of material over-indulgence. We have other choices.

To get us back on track, we can always learn from nature. In the natural rhythm of nature, winter is a time to turn inward. This is a simple truth, independent of any religion, and can be easily observed. Trees are stripped of their leaves and store their energy for new growth in spring. Animals withdraw from their active lives and hibernate. Seeds of fruit and vegetables lay dormant in the ground waiting for long, sunny days and the right conditions to sprout. The year’s darkest time has arrived.

At this time of the year, it is also natural for human beings to turn inward. We intuitively feel this, but let ourselves be distracted by the noise and hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. In fact, the more we consume, the more we become estranged from the spiritual. However, when we turn inward, we can search the depth of our souls for the Mystery behind the physical world.

The darkest time of the year, which surrounds Christmas, is an especially suitable time to remember the old sages and pray to or meditate with them. We can let ourselves be guided by Jesus, Lao Tzu, Guanyin, Buddha, or any other sages we feel drawn to that are not mentioned here. If we surrender ourselves to them, they will help us turn our focus around from the outer world to the inner one.

This time of the year is a holy time. It is a time of increasing yin energy. The outer darkness wants to lead us to our inner light. It is almost as if nature wants to take away from us anything that may distract us. All external activities we typically take pleasure in, such as sunbathing, boat rides, picnics in the park, playing ball, walks, etc. seem to be less or not at all pleasurable on winter’s cold and short days. Nature forces us to shift our focus. It commands of us to turn inward and take a walk through our inner landscape.

With or without our being fully conscious of it, we all do natural inner work at various degrees during the darkest time of the year. Each year, this inner work expresses itself outwardly soon after the 21st of December, the pivotal point where the darkest time of the year has reached its zenith. It is the time when we find ourselves making New Year’s resolutions. We have celebrated, contemplated, prayed, and meditated. We have taken stock of our inner and outer accomplishments of the past year. Usually, we come to the conclusion that we are not entirely on the right track.

There are always problem areas in our lives that need improvement. Something always seems to be missing. What could be the causes of our dissatisfaction and how can we remedy them? What is it that would make us happier? What do we need to do to further develop ourselves? Thus, we decide to use the occasion of the start of a new year as an opportunity to make a new start in our lives. We specify goals whose achievement shall make us happier. We determine the steps necessary to reach these goals.

This is what we do every year. Sometimes we yield moderate results. Often we find ourselves as unhappy as ever before. The results of our efforts will be only as good as the resolutions themselves. The resolutions will depend on our inner work and the depth of our knowing gained by it. If our inner work was superficial, the resolutions will be superficial, and so will be the results.

During the darkest and inward-turning time of the year, we search for the Truth and our role in it. We find it a little easier to slightly let go of the sensual and material world, which takes our focus away from the Truth. If we penetrate sufficiently deep into our interior, our knowing increases, our resolutions will be informed by it, and our goals will be solid. Whatever our new goals are, they will ensure that our internal flame keeps growing and our hunger for the Truth will not go unnourished.

When Yang-energy increases again and spring arrives, we meet it with more clarity. Despite all of its temptations to lose ourselves in the sensual and material world again, we stay balanced. In all that we do and enjoy in the physical world, we never lose sight of the spiritual. The knowing gained through our inner work during the darkest time of the year still lingers and informs us. All we have to do is stay focused and follow our new goals.

Though, the best thing is that we can pray, meditate, turn inward, be guided by the sages, and seek the Mystery at any time of the year. We do not have to wait for cold, short days and wintry, dark nights, or the season of Christmas. The Mystery is always present. We can always tap into it and let ourselves be informed and guided by it. All we have to do is look inside of ourselves.

Follow-Up Discussion of My Previous Blog Entry: The True Self

This is a follow up discussion of my previous blog entry, “Sunday Meditation: The True Self” with Deng Ming-Dao.

Deng Ming-Dao is an artist, writer and the author of eight books, with a ninth one, The Lunar Tao slated to be published in January 2013. In the discussion that follows, Deng Ming-Dao offers additional insight into the topic of my original blog post.

You can find Deng Ming-Dao on the web, on Facebook, and on Twitter

Sometimes someone else has packed our bags.

Sometimes, we’re afraid to open our bags, or are horrified when we do.

Sometimes we continue to lug the bag, even though we know it’s wrong, because we’re fearful of the alternative.

Sometimes we’re afraid that if we were to upend our bag and clean everything out that we would disappear.

It’s not easy for people to clean out their baggage.

andelieya: We can learn to periodically set the bag down. Once we experience the relief of the weight falling away, we may see the benefit in doing this more regularly and more often.

We may find to have a lot more endurance and be able to go much farther with regular breaks, than if we continually toted the bag without ever putting it down.

After a while, it occurs to us that we can also make the bag lighter and our walk easier if we just emptied some of its content out permanently. We come to the realization that it’s wise to carry along just enough, and everything extra is unneeded and unwanted.

By regularly and often putting our bags down, we can experience refreshing breaks of weightless moments. But while we must still carry our bags, by gradually emptying out all unneeded and unwanted content, they will be a lot lighter. Our endurance increases, and we can walk a lot further and higher without tiring.

DMD: So many of us were told never to put or bags down. Travel in airports with the amplified admonishments not to leave our bags unattended represents an underlying anxiety in our culture. Lock your house. Lock your car. Hold onto your wallet. Hold onto your kids. We aren’t used to putting down our bags.

Hold onto our reputation. Hold onto your job. Hold onto your marriage. Hold onto your sanity.

“She’s letting herself go!” “He’s losing it!” “Don’t let go!” The resistance to putting down our bag is high.

Yes, the classical teaching is to put down or bags. But let’s acknowledge that the task is hard and that all of us who are traveling with our burdens must have compassion extended to us for our burdens.

andelieya: It is so true! The examples you brought up really demonstrate the societal conditioning of our mind in thinking that we must never let go of anything, otherwise something catastrophic will happen.

Although, it seems as easy as just putting them down, letting go of our bags is the most daunting task we are faced with in life. The tendency to cling and not wanting to render full control is in the nature of an unchecked ego. Actually, it is paradoxical, because the ego only thinks it is in full control, but never really is to begin with.

Meditation is one way through which we can dampen the loud calls and many voices of the ego and, instead, listen to the silent, peaceful depth and breadth of our souls. (I intentionally use depth and breadth in singular form here, because this depth and breadth is the Oneness that all souls share.)

Through meditation we can learn to empty our bags of nonessential weight and to periodically put our bags down completely for brief, refreshing moments where we can see clearly the nature of ourselves and of all that is around us. We may even progress far enough to be able to put down our bags at anytime, anywhere.

Those of us who are lucky enough may come across a qualified teacher who will show us the method and guide us in finding our true selves.

Deng Ming-Dao, thank you for sharing your wisdom with me and my readers!

Present and Real

We shower,
but think of work.

We work,
but mentally go over the errands we need to run.

We run errands,
but our mind is on making dinner.

We make dinner,
but worry about our children.

We spend time with our children,
but dread the bills we have to pay.

The past is gone. The future is not here.
Can we bring back the past? Can we predict the future?

How will we be able to experience what is present and real,
if our mental focus is always distracted and on something that is gone or not here?

Sunday Meditation: The True Self

Have you ever packed too much for a trip and then struggled with the large, heavy, overloaded luggage?  Was it burdensome?  Did it cause you pain and discomfort?  Did you wish you had not packed so much?

This is what we do.  We travel through this life and pack our suitcase to the rim with lots of labels.  Labels such as, I am a daughter, a father, a spouse, an employee, a sports fan,  a teacher, a Christian, an environmentalist, a PTA president, a yoga practitioner, a model railroad collector, a politician, etc.  Or, I am old, athletic, too heavy, ugly, smart, forgetful, too short, unsuccessful, beautiful, fearful, etc.  You name it!   Every label has its price, however.  It either represents something we feel we have to live up to or we have to fight against.  The more labels we have, the more burdensome the suitcase becomes.  It causes us tremendous discomfort and suffering.

Of course, conventionally we are all those things.  However, we have another option.  Do we have to pack so much?  Do we have to carry the suitcase all the time or can we sometimes put it down to alleviate our discomfort?  Is the suitcase us?  Likewise, in an absolute sense, are the labels really us?  Do we have to identify with them and carry their heavy weight all the time?

Still the constant chatter in your mind and reach a deep, restful state.  Try putting down all labels, one by one.  Once you have removed all subjects and adjectives in the ‘I am ……’, in the end, all that is left is ‘I am’.  Nothing else.  This is your true, pure, free, unburdened self.  Let it inform you and express itself in you.

Yes, we all have to carry our luggage along on our path through this life, but we can remind ourselves that we do have the option to make it less burdensome and to regularly put it down so that we will never forget who we really are and be able to see more clearly how everything in this existence really is.

May you find peace and burden-free moments on your path!


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Considering the Importance of Words

Have you ever heard of the expressions ‘empty words’ or ‘empty chatter’?  Usually, there is a deeper reason why certain expressions have become time-honored.

What makes words empty?  We could say that mere, and often incorrect, repeating of something we heard or read without fully understanding its meaning makes our words empty.  Any words used to bolster our egos are bound to be empty.  Frivolous talk produces empty chatter.  For good reason, the expression ‘empty words’ is often used in connection with unfulfilled promises or saying things we don’t mean.  Sometimes we reply absentmindedly to someone else’s question or story without having fully listened.  In this case, our words will certainly be mostly empty as well.

Words that are profound or have some bearing are those that come from deep insight as a result of full comprehension gained through one’s inquiry, contemplation, and direct experience.  Words that are profound usually have a positive effect on the listener, because they come from a place of wisdom.  I know from my own experience with a book I once read that profound words can potentially be life-altering.  There are many profound words, as in ancient spiritual texts from all traditions with their complex imagery, which will by-pass the intellect and go straight to the intuitive understanding of the reader.

In this age of mass and social media, every day we are confronted with an overload of words.  Oftentimes, without even realizing it, they make us confused and tired.  There is only so much information we can process at any given time.  We, too, are contributing to the conversation via emails, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.  But we have the choice to contribute to the chaos and abundance of empty words that are already flooding all channels of communication or we can decide to contribute to the conversation only with words that have some bearing.

How do we know if our words are empty or meaningful?  To help discern between these two qualities, asking ourselves the following questions might help:  Will what I am about to say have any positive effect on the world around me?  Will my words add to the world’s beauty or spiritual richness?  Will I be of any help or brighten someone’s day with my words?  If we can say ‘yes’ to any one of these questions, then we know that we are about to make a valuable contribution and are not cluttering our environment with more empty words or chatter.


Would it make sense to give every drop in the ocean a name?  Does any of them ever independently exist on its own?  Are any of the drops different from the others?

Conventionally, we need to label things and living beings to help navigate and orient ourselves in this existence.  But, like the drops in the ocean, all things and living beings are connected in this vast universe.  And none of them exists on its own.

Therefore, it does make sense to treat things and living beings with the same love, kindness, and compassion as we would treat ourselves.  Whatever attitude we extend toward others, the world will respond in kind.  A loving, kind, and compassionate attitude will generate great harmony among all.

Why Look In The Mirror?


Why look in the mirror?
Don’t we already know our bodies from the inside out?
Are we not already connected with them in the most intimate way possible?

Think of your arms and legs.
Your arms will perform any task you command them to do,
  no matter how straining and difficult.
Your legs will sedulously carry you wherever you ask them to take you,
  no matter how far or how high.

Think of your eyes, mouth, ears, nose, and hands.
They are your portals to the outer world and to life itself.
How tirelessly they take in air, nourishment, and outer stimuli,
And help you express your inner life to the outer world!

Why look in the mirror and judge your miraculous body
  that is so supportive and perfect?
You already know it.  It is the temple in which your soul resides.
Treat it with gratitude, kindness, and great care!


Outer Altar – Inner Sanctum


An altar needs daily tending to.

There are wilting flowers and ripening fruit to be replaced,

Burnt out candles to be changed out by new ones,

Water to be refreshed.

The surface of the altar requires dusting.

We may like to present little seasonal treasures from nature;

Something representing the five elements.

We approach the altar gently and with great humility.

Done mindfully, tending to an altar fills us with joy and gratitude.

Physically, mentally and spiritually,

it takes us close to the subject of our veneration.

Perhaps without realizing it, as we tend to the outer altar,

we simultaneously tend to our inner sanctum.

What a joyous and worthwhile effort both are!