My family is Catholic. I grew up writing letters to Santa Claus, listening to Christmas carols (and belting them in the shower- oh wait, still do that) and getting more and more excited each day I took another chocolate from my advent calendar. My assertion was that December 21-24 was the best time of the season: the rush began to quiet, school was finished, and I wasn’t disappointed yet that all the presents were open.
Studying at a Catholic school, advent was always full of messages of waiting for the birth of Jesus. “Waiting” was so hyped…I could barely wait 24 days, let alone the thousands of years that people waited for the coming of a savior. Every year, we hear the same message: advent is about expectations, possibilities, and…waiting.
As an “adult”, the advent season seems a little less about waiting and a little more about a frenetic rush to check off the gift list, hopefully winning at sales and door busters. If only there were more waiting! That would mean more time to finish all the shopping. And in the midst of the rush, we hope to enjoy the lights, songs, and events surrounding the season. Beyond the traditions, this season is quite difficult for many- the ideals of family and friends sharing joy just isn’t a reality for many. Basically, the only thing we are waiting for is the moment we actually get to relax without any thought of braving the mall or attending a holiday party- or hearing another word about “holidays”.
Our students have been feeling the stress of finals, on top of everything else going on. They stay up all night preparing, take labored exams, and wait for the results of their hard work. In the same way, they feel time working against them. I hope they know how proud we are of them.
In this time of waiting and working, I remember one of the gathas or sayings of the Buddha that I use in my daily practice. “Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment. Breathing out, it is the only moment. Present moment, only moment.” What if, for only a moment, we could make this true? What if we could truly be completely immersed in this, the only moment…just for a moment?
Sometimes when I feel like there are too many items on my to-do list and the day only has so many hours, I sit back, close my eyes, and imagine that nothing around me exists. This moment is perfect- I have my breathe, my smile, and it is perfect, as perfect as a moment can be in this impermanent world. Just in this very short time, my body feels content, my mind is not racing, and I can breathe deeply without worry. Can we replicate this more throughout the day?
I remember taking exams and thinking at certain points, “I reallllly don’t want to do this anymore!” All the information I knew flooded into my head and simultaneously confused me. It was frustrating. All the studying and staying up late, strategy and flash cards, they didn’t seem to matter. Finally, after years of this, I learned to zone out for a moment, if only to give my eyes a rest. I sat back in my cramped desk, softened my eyes, and imagined my family at the dinner table, laughing. Even if it took 5 minutes out of my exam time, this practice helped me refocus. Perhaps this was a way to access the perfect moments I’m thinking about now.
It might never be possible to live in this ecstasy all the time, especially during this time. But these moments of complete presence and attention to our breath can refocus our minds just enough to complete our projects without feeling exhausted and bitter. It takes practice and dedication. Practice makes perfect- perfect enough.