by Mark O'Meara

I recently went for a walk in the commercial area of my neighborhood. One of the stores shelters a cute dog that is favorite among the locals. A group of people had gathered to admire the dog -- petting it and enjoying its harmless nature. Yet only a few feet away, a homeless person sat on his flattened cardboard box with his empty plastic donation container. No one spoke to him, no one honored him, no one asked him how he ended up on the street. A few steps down the street a bookstore displayed the famous Christmas Carol -- the story of Scrooge and his three ghosts of Christmas. I wondered what the past holiday times had been like for the street person. What would his ghost of Christmas's past show him? Does he, like Scrooge, have a ghost of Christmas future that can be changed?

As we move closer and closer to our annual ritual of the holiday season, I recall my own Christmas times and those of friends. For some the period measures closeness, while for others its measures distance. It is a time of gathering and for some, a time of non-gathering. It is a time of joy, for others a time of absolute despair. While I've listened to friends' stories of a joyous Christmas with gift giving and family gatherings, I've also heard of extreme loneliness and the absence of receiving any gifts or having the opportunity to give. I've experienced both extremes and many times in between.

I remember one of the Christmas's our family had before my mother passed. I had really worked on my personal growth to heal from family of origin issues and envisioned the family get together as a test of holding my own while trying to be compassionate. It was like walking a tightrope. My new found sense of self esteem was precarious, and required baby steps to maintain my serenity and composure. With my new awareness, which eventually led to the writing of "Here I Am", I could clearly see their triggering behaviors -- the "Mark has changed and is acting strange" looks, the sarcastic comments, or just being ignored. It's rather humorous now that I look back at it, but when I began standing up for myself, my father, so fearful of change, started yelling at me "Don't disturb our happy home." This is my ghost of Christmas past.

While I have had a number of joyous holiday times since then, Christmas '98 was one of the most lonely and isolating times I've ever experienced. I had learned from a first nations elder that in the healing process comes a stage of isolation during which one re-examines one's values and beliefs. This stage came upon me in the fall of '98 and continued into the first months of the new year. It was a time of profound challenge in which I realized that my loneliness is separate from who I am. I also learned that, while I needed to develop the skill of being alone, too much aloneness can do great harm to one's spirit. I learned that my self love can be less dependent on how many friends I have, while recognizing the need for other people in my life. I learned to have more compassion for myself and to know that it is acceptable for me to make mistakes. Succumbing to the depth of despair was fought off with my thread of knowledge that "this too shall pass" and the understanding that I was progressing through a difficult yet necessary stage of healing. My challenges and difficulties, as for many others, escalated during the holiday season. This recent time is my ghost of Christmas present.

In my counseling studies I have learned that our holiday ritual has a profound effect on people. Requests for counseling are highest after the holiday period. Sales of self help and personal development books peak in the early year. Sadly, suicide rates are highest at Christmas, and in the spring months, when the weather gets better but people don't. What can we do to change? I've known for many years that relationship with ourselves and others is the key. Yet something was missing. I've learned now that the relationship must include love, compassion and an ability to see beyond the issue to the good in a person and to be able to hold in high esteem, those who trouble us most.

As we seek enlightenment and a new consciousness, I look around and notice the things we can build -- airplanes, the Internet, computers -- even a relationship with the divine. Yet can we build the most fundamental essence of being, a relationship with one another? Do we find it safer to provide unconditional love to those who do not trigger our own issues, or even a gentle non-threatening puppy? Brian Ruhe, author of Freeing the Buddha, says "the Kingdom of Shambala is not a heavenly plain of existence, but how we relate to each other. This is done through love, personal warmth and connecting."

We are beginning a new period of awareness, yet I see many of my friends experiencing deep periods of darkness. We live in challenging times, yet we continue to learn. I've discovered that awareness or enlightenment is not a singular idea or concept. Like dozens of eggs that will hatch into a flock, enlightenment involves the learning of numerous concepts that will shape my behavior, thoughts and feelings. Boundaries, emotions, needs, self expression, forgiveness, beliefs, values, acceptance and prosperity are all eggs that need to be nurtured, hatched, and allowed to grow to form our way of being. The holiday season can be a positive time to measure how we're doing with our own personal growth and acceptance of others.

Last Christmas I gathered enough energy to call each of my brothers to say hello with no discussion of issues, only acceptance. My healing process has helped me to increase my ability to love unconditionally the people who trigger me the most, and to understand that I may have assumed that others are conscious of what they are doing. To quote the words attributed to Jesus "Forgive them father, for they know not what they do." I've learned that my father was longing so desperately for a happy home and pursued it with such force that he shut down all communication to maintain the image, and that one of my brothers doesn't call because my growth desperately threatens his world view. I can see and understand their own inner turmoil, stand my ground, and still love them.

With all of the dysfunction and issues that get in the way, it's a tall task to see the good in others and to truly connect without expectations of changing the other person. You and I, our families, the homeless person and the cute dog all have one thing in common. We are all created by the same divine light and love. I'm learning to recognize and acknowledge the divinity in all others. Knowing of my own loneliness and of others, I hope to do things differently this year. Instead of telling others to have a happy holiday, I will ask them what their plans are and offer the gift of listening. It's a simple, humble gift, and it doesn't cost anything! The ghosts of Christmas past, future and present are upon us now.

Mark Linden O'Meara is the author of Here I Am: Finding Oneself through Healing and Letting Go.


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