Like Scrooge on Christmas Morning

Josef Breitenbach (German American, 1896-1984), "Illuminated Tree"

The dark time is here. This brings a feeling of drawing in. This can be a good time for reflection. In the ancient Buddhist dialect of Pali “reflection” has the same double meaning that it has in English—it means to be like a mirror or the surface of a calm lake, to receive an impression and hold it without adding anything. It also means to contemplate or consciously consider.

Years ago, at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York, Bhikkhu Bodhi spoke of this, and of the Buddha’s advice to his 7-year-old son Rahula. The Buddha told his son about the importance of honesty, telling young Rahula to practice reflection—to reflect on the inner and outer consequences before, during, and after doing something. Please consider trying this. The results are subtle but quite amazing. Consider how you feel before you perform an act of generosity, during, and after. Also consider how it feels to do something less than noble or NOT do something—not to eat or drink to much or be angry or stingy, to ungrasp the hand of habit. What is amazing is that this practice of reflecting on the quality and consequence of our lives is a way to expand time by opening and deepening and enriching the time we have.

In the space of meditation, we can allow ourselves reflect on something that has already happened. We can allow a memory or experience to arise, being like a calm lake reflecting the moon without fighting it or fleeing from it or freezing it or adding any commentary. Remember that the ancient root of “understand” means to stand under, to allow the truth of something to soak in. It also suggests holding and supporting, standing under our own experience, receiving it. Think of the lake under the moon.

Think of Scrooge on Christmas morning. So much unfolded in him during a single night of reflection on the consequences of events past, present, and future. He woke up transformed, free from the heavy chains that held him separate from others. Here he is, out in the street, encountering a man he had coldly rejected the day before, when the man had come seeking donations for the poor:

“My dear sir,” said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both hands. ‘how do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was kind of you. A merry Christmas to you sir!’”

“Mr. Scrooge?”

“Yes,” said Scrooge. “That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness—‘ Here Scrooge whispered in his ear.”

“Lord bless me!’ cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away. ‘My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious!”

“If you please,” said Scrooge. “Not a farthing less. A great many back payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favor?”

“My dear sir,” said the other, shaking hands with him. “I don’t know what to say to what munifi—”

“Don’t say anything, please,” retorted Scrooge. “Come and see me. Will you come and see me?”

“I will!” cried the old gentleman.”

The word was “munificence,” meaning great generosity. As we learn to hold our own experience into the light of our own kind presence, we become able to share this generous presence with others. And here is a secret: presence can change our future, as it heals the past.

And it’s never too late.

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