For years now, I’ve instituted a no gift giving or receiving policy with family and friends. I’ve made it clear to everyone in my life that I just don’t do Christmas gifts and I don’t want anyone to buy anything for me either. Why? Because I don’t believe that the month of December and all it stands for with various religious holidays has anything to do with violently shoving your fellow humans at department stores just to get that discounted television/iPad/toy and I certainly don’t believe such behavior is the message we want to give to children about the “giving” season.
During my childhood, my parents partook in the entire Christmas tradition, mostly because we were in America and it seemed an American tradition more than it was a religious holiday. For many years our family had gorgeous Christmas trees decked in the finest hand-crafted baubles and shimmering lights, complete with various sized gift boxes beneath.
As the years went on, some Christmases were unfortunately spent away from each other due to work or travel obligations.
The more I was away from my parents, the more I realized that what I had treasured most about all those Christmases was not the gifts but the spending time together, the laughter, the shared meals and storytelling.
The gifts in hindsight, meant little to nothing other than the sentimental fact that they were items my parents had purchased for me.
In my 20’s as I veered closer towards Buddhism, I found myself permanently unable to let go of the Christmas spirit. After all, part of Buddhism is about having great respect and tolerance for our fellow humans and their respective faiths. I did not have to be a churchgoer to get into the spirit of compassion and self sacrifice for my fellow humans. These are sentiments echoed in every faith and really, should just be the ethos of life regardless of faith or non-faith.
I mentioned to my family and friends then that I would no longer be partaking in the gift giving and receiving portion of the holiday season; that I would instead be doing what I felt the season was truly about- giving to those who needed help. It became my yearly tradition during Christmas time to cook for and feed homeless people in whatever city I was in at the time. In doing so, I would think of each person I was grateful for in my life- my parents, uncles, aunts, siblings, friends. I would serve a plate of food to a homeless person and see the face of my loved ones in my mind, praying for their long, healthy, happy and prosperous lives. I would see each homeless person gratefully scarf down the hot food and hide my tears, myself grateful that I was able to help ease their journey even if only for that one meal.
After keeping that tradition for nearly 10 years, this year I’ve decided to do something different. For the entire month of December, I’m challenging myself to 31 days of random acts of kindness. Each day I will dedicate that particular act to someone I love, again, thankful for their well being, praying for their longevity, health and happiness. I am challenging myself to be ever more compassionate on a daily basis because despite the fact that I would like to think I am a generally compassionate person by nature, there is always room for more kindness, more sensitivity towards others’ needs.
In the extremely arduous journey that has been my life as an entrepreneur, it is too easy to become disengaged with other people’s reality, to drown in my own set of problems and falsely believe that mine are bigger and more important than anyone else’s. This sense of ego leads to lack of compassion, evident even in the smallest of ways like how impatient we get in traffic or how easily annoyed we grow at the person who takes just a little longer to place their coffee order.
I’m hoping that my month of random kindness will remind me that others are struggling with more basic issues and that I should always be kind, compassionate and patient, not just in the month of December. I’m hoping that in these daily minute ways, I can bring joy to someone, maybe even restore their faith in the kindness of strangers. So while I recognize that this sense of “selfish” altruism will most likely benefit me more than the recipient, I’m certain that I can be content living with being a selfish altruistic person than one who is focused solely on her own journey, never recognizing that we are all in a collective journey, each trying our best to find a piece of happiness in this small big world.