Today is the second day of Advent, a holy season of anticipation, preparation, and by the end, we hope, a readiness.
It is easy to get caught in a whirlwind of perfectionism in which we strive to meet unrealistic expectations of our own making or those of others. It is even easier to strive and then compare ourselves and our families to everyone around us, including those halfway around the globe. Are my spiritual traditions better or worse than my neighbors’ traditions? Am I teaching my children less effectively, less ideally than my friend is teaching hers? The perfectionist/comparison trap yields only two results, both unwelcome: placing ourselves above others, or, putting ourselves below others. Tons of judgment.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali outline ten ethical principles, yamas and niyamas, or social and individual observances. One of the yamas that might help with this perfectionist/comparison trap is aparigraha, or the practice of non-attachment. This non-attachment extends to more than the material objects we surround ourselves with, but to all of our inner and outer experiences as well. We can become attached to anything and everything, such as the results of our hard work, or the outcome of situations and circumstances we struggle to orchestrate. This attachment is also described as a “hunger” or a “craving,” and we can crave the bad things as well as good. We can strive to have the most tastefully decorated house on the street, give the best gifts, host the most entertaining parties. At times we even hunger after noble things like becoming an excellent yogi, or a good Christian, or a Catholic saint.
While it is wonderful to have the passion and energy for virtuous pursuits, it does no one any good if we constantly judge ourselves as “not living up” and make every one of us miserable in the process! If we can practice letting go of our attachment to any particular outcome or result, we give ourselves a great gift of grace.
Perfection comes in the fullness of time. We can’t rush it or control it or demand it. All of us ripen at different stages and in different seasons, and none of us will reach perfection this side of death. But if we practice even a bit of non-attachment throughout this holy season, we might just find a contentment that feels like heaven. And not only will we have a more restful and happy spirit throughout the holidays, we will have souls ready to celebrate the birth of Christ, our Lord and Savior, through whom our perfection comes.
The inspiration for this post came at church the week before Thanksgiving. I picked up a copy of The Magnificat Advent Companion, a small book of blessings, daily scripture, reflections, and prayers, and inside the front cover I found a poem by Rita A. Simmonds. It is simple and profound. Enjoy.
Prepare a Christmas list.
Don’t tell lies about what you want.
and ax the dying tree,
watch it crash in the snow
leaving behind brown and green needles both.
Clear the cupboard of expired soups and noodles
stiff marshmallows never melted,
and give away
the fresh box of cereal
the olives and canned tomatoes
flour, salt and sugar.
Don’t stuff a turkey
that’s already stuffed.
Make room in the refrigerator
for fresh fruit.
Clear your closets.
Give away blankets and boots
jackets and gloves
that no one has worn.
Confess the cobwebs
have kept and ignored.
May we all be blessed with holy simplicity this Advent season.
The Catholic Yogi
*All photos via google images.