by Thulani Davis

I’m not sure what possessed me to get a Christmas tree but I did.

A tree taller than I am, that was a bit of a haul up my two flights of stairs. I have pound cake in the oven and there are good things to eat in the refrigerator. I think this happened because some years I just can’t do any of it. It’s as much a celebration of a second part-time job as anything.

I haven’t gone so far as to play Christmas carols, and I’m not even sure I have the Christmas spirit, but in a year I have learned to like the lights of the suburbs. I drive down streets that are completely lit up by decorations. Maybe it’s the urban night owl in me like the streets lit up at all hours.

I always have a hard time getting out of the old year and making it into the new. When I was younger my car always got towed around the second week of December and wiped out my shopping funds. I won’t get into what it was this year, but it was like the other 11 months — tough. It was tough on everyone I know. I’ve had no time to even sit down and gather my thoughts for these mindfulness notes.

In the first week of December I planned to write about the loss of my first real writing teacher, Elizabeth Hardwick, the eccentric Kentucky belle who presided over the first class I ever had with a “real” writer. I treasure her because she said, “Honey, I don’t know exactly what to call what you are doing, but keep doing it and don’t go to grad school in writing and let them straighten you out.”

Everyone needs someone to tell them they’ve got something and not to let anyone straighten it out.

On Friday the 14th, St. Clair Bourne passed unexpectedly and sent many of us into shock. It’s impossible to make sense of someone going a day or two after you’ve spoken with him and he seemed well, on his way to being better. At least two people besides myself had this experience with Saint, and it’s just impossible to jettison an expectation, a hope and belief that all your senses confirmed. But alas, expectations are our constant tormentors.

Whatdya know? The cakes are done on time. See there. Mavis Staples is singing with the Blind Boys of Alabama, and the cakes are done on time.

I had many sad Christmases when I was coming up, and yet I am nostalgic about them for traditions that are gone and because I use to have moments of being lifted up by the music — Handel, or Geraldine, the girl at school who could blow you away with “O Night Divine,” or the R&B Christmas classics on the radio with things like “Daddy’s Home” thrown in.

It’s time to rest.

That’s what it has come to mean to me. When I was young, unless we were going out to Christmas things every evening I used to die of boredom. My dad snoozed on the couch quite happy. I get that now.

I hope you will take the time to find the deeper rest beyond the nap. Take some time to sit and gaze at your tree, or even the lights on the streets. And take some time to sit still. Rest the mind by paying attention to all the stuff racing through on that movie reel in your head. Be quiet. Turn the TV off. Try to remember what it was like when you first rolled in the snow. Then let it go.

Let go of the bills, the tax man, the presents, the turkey, the game. Let go of how fat you’re getting. Lay in the tub, close your eyes. Let it go. Remember the quietest time you can recall. Forget about you are or why. Just recall that quiet. If tears well up, go ahead and cry and let it go.

If we do not use these sudden cracks in the sky, the loss of a friend, the sudden quiet of the city to let go and breathe, ask what it’s all about and let that go, too, then madness is our constant lot. You’ve been perhaps flattened by the rug that slipped out from under you. Stay down there and rest your mind.

Pema Chodron wrote: “We can learn to let thoughts go and just rest our mind in its natural state, in alaya, which is a word that means the open primordial basis of all phenomena. We can rest in the fundamental openness and enjoy the display of whatever arises without making such a big deal.”

Here are my thanks: Thanking all the forces in and amongst us for the desire for enlightenment residing in every sentient being. Thanking all who work for its fulfillment. Thanking the Dharma teachings and all who passed it from one mind to one mind to mine. Thanking all within and without for bringing the willingness to practice. Thanking the many who work with great patience for peace where they are.

Thanking all those who let me or anyone see what it is to live in compassion so we know what to aim for. Thanking everyone who sustained me this year whenever I wasn’t able to do that alone.

Thanks for the temporary reprieve of colored lights and pine aroma in my household after several years without. It’s time for the cakes to come out of the pans.

Thulani Davis‘s most recent book is the memoir “My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-First Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots.” She currently lives in New Jersey.

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  • Elizabeth J. Coleman December 30, 2007 at 11:52 am

    I was thrilled to read Thulani Davis’ ardent letter on the WVFC web site, not just because it was such a generous reminder of mindfulness in general and specifically of the importance of mindfulness at this time of year, but also because it was a reminder of how many people share my passion for mindfulness, for the power of the time-out to appreciate and value our stay on this planet, and to be thankful for all that we have, rather than self-pi.jpgtying for all that we don’t. She also reminded me about gratitude, for those who have given unselfishly to us — from our parents who gave us life, to our children, loved ones and friends who give us daily a reason to cherish this life.
    I am lucky enough to teach mindfulness on a regular basis. I learn from my students who are discovering mindfulness for the first time; I learn from my co-teacher, Pat Vroom, and I learn again each time I read those who have taught me this philosophy of life, some without knowing they have done so: Jon Kabat-Zin, Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield; the list goes on and on.
    Every day I must remind myself of why I “sit” for twenty minutes, or, an a good day, for half an hour: to get in touch with who I am, for my love of life, and for my determination not to squander the great gift of life I have been given. I have not yet had a chance to take my seat today, but Thulani Davis’ letter reminded me of why I will do so, and why I will bring everything I have to those few moments of stillness and gratitude.