Here in Brighton the last days of 2017 were stormy, with high winds and rain turning to snow. Just before Christmas I stepped out of the cold to enjoy a warming cup of hot chocolate in a local café. The café was full and very lively. I sipped my drink and in a little while the music through the speakers, people’s voices, the hiss of the espresso machines and the waitresses going about their business all began to blend together into a bustle of energy that swirled around me. I could feel the excitement in the air about Christmas, and at the same time a certain tension.
It occurred to me how the Christmas season can stir up mixed emotions. Even if you had an idyllic childhood, family gatherings can be stressful. Whatever is ‘unresolved’ can get triggered. We all want to feel included, be accepted, appreciated, loved. Of course, if we’re not feeling these things within ourselves then likely we will be on the lookout for evidence that we are not being accepted, appreciated or loved.
As I sat there I began to feel a pull inside me, some shadow vying for my attention; nothing distinct, just a vague feeling of distant loss, the memory of an old wound perhaps. I had no clear image just the thought that something was ‘wrong’.
I could not imagine what this could be. After all I was inside, warm and dry. There was no clear and present danger, just people young and old enjoying each other’s company.
We tend to look for the negative: as a survival tool we are hard-wired to be more sensitive to what could go wrong rather than with what is going right.
So, what to do? Taking a nice easy breath (and letting my belly be soft!), I became aware that, actually, I did know what this uneasy feeling was: it was an ancient anxiety that in the past would activate and crowd my awareness. I would give more and more energy to the thought that, indeed, something was wrong and I would contract and eventually disappear down one or other rabbit hole of imagined ‘wrong-ness’ that ended up in anger and depression.
And then, I remembered that this historic anxiety was always accompanied by the thought that something was missing.
So I asked myself, “Well, then, what is missing? What exactly is missing?”
Sitting there, simply being aware of the present moment, even with all the loud music and shouted conversation, there was a stillness I could connect with. And in that stillness, I could see the old conditioning, or more accurately the echo of that conditioning. And, somehow there was space for that shadow, which included all that I might think was either right or wrong. A peace arose in me and then the realization (again!) that in that peace, I found the simple truth that nothing is missing. Nothing at all.
When I left the café I was greeted by a pale wintry sun shining through the overcast sky. There was a stillness in the air – still enough to notice love and acceptance… in me… and everywhere.
As I write this it is 2018. The new year celebrations are over, the shops are closed for bank holiday, the streets – littered with debris from the fireworks – now quiet again. As I walk towards the sea not far from where I live a question arises: “What now?” Asking the question I can feel excitement for the potential of what might come. At the same time the question invites a tension that I sense could also pull me away from what is actually here and now, without any story added on. So I stand on the beach and look out to sea. The waves roll in and gently crash onto the stony beach, followed by a long hiss as the water retreats into the next wave. Again and again… just as they have for millions of years. And with this thought, grace comes to visit with stillness, with love, with acceptance.
Happy new year to you. May your dreams become true; may this moment be full and tender. Nothing is missing when you are present with what *is*.