Christmas Shopping or Krishna Shopping
In the West and parts of world, holiday shopping is in full throttle as shoppers try to blaze a trail to do all their shopping at the last minute. Unfortunately for all the procrastinators who finally hit the street, they are greeted by many others in the same harried mode, and find clogged roads, full parking lots, and impatient shoppers. It should be no surprise to anyone who has shopped before in the 10th or 11th hour before Christmas. One would think people would expect this and perhaps mentally prepare for the mayhem (or shop earlier). However, it seems most people never do, and many expressions communicate how they feel—something as welcome as shoes that are too small!
Ah, and the “Christmas sounds”! After listening to the same holiday music for decades these tired songs seem more like an assault on our experience than a mood inspiring a delightful Christmas revelry. Although we hear in one overplayed song that Christmas is the most joyful time of the year, some shoppers may resent the rush to buy gifts they can’t afford for some they don’t know well. So many “shoulds” during this time of the year. We should be happy and charitable and joyful! For some people that pressure makes them sad if they aren’t feeling those desirable qualities. Reminds me of my mom, whose only Christmas ornament was a sign she dutifully hung on outside her door (though no visitors ever came) proclaiming to the world, “Bah humbug”! She was obviously not a big fan.
From our country retreat I prepare to venture into this intense atmosphere in the “big city” about 50 minutes from our house. Among other things I have to return some supplies for the sun room we are building. And Christmas time or not, we need groceries, and I am the “designated” shopper for our family. Neither of my wife or I “have to” go to town for any other reason, but since I don’t mind shopping, I go.
It is good for me to have a change of pace and to have the opportunity to interact with others, and observe “them” and real life situations. We share much as souls and human beings—truly related, but absorbed in our egoic, separate, created identity. For “my writers eye” I will use both the wide angle and close up lenses. As I have shared often, in general I love people, and do my best any time of the year to have a cheery mood, and send prayers and best wishes to whomever I encounter. A smile is very valuable, seeming almost out of place! Giving our best to life and relationships is always the way to go. I find that the stories that souls have in their human lives, fascinating. If only we could wake from our virtual matrix-like existence! At least I am trying to remember Krishna while doing the needful activities required to maintain my short life. Shopping for Krishna and his devotees!
Of course it would be better to leave earlier, but that doesn’t often happen. There are so many things to do, and I am working on two books—which is very absorbing. I almost made it out by 11AM, but then I was gently reminded that I had to load the car with the shingles we are returning. Finally in the car, I head to the Post Office (one of the few buildings in “our” town), only to remember it closes for lunch at 11:30. O well, it wasn’t that important a package to send and maybe I will find a place to mail it on my journey.
Although I like to do the weekly or bi-weekly shopping and listen to a number of enlivening spiritual talks by advanced Vaishnava devotees, the snail pace of traffic and the extra time it has taken begins to wear on me (poor baby!). The contrast between my usual idyllic life is striking, perhaps due to my extended time shopping. In the last store I visit I find the atmosphere particularly impersonal and affected by the ignorant mode of material nature. I find these types of environments a good reminder how the pure soul doesn’t belong in the material world. Never the less, Prabhupada advises us to, “Make the best use of a bad bargain”. O Krishna, please save me, and let my soul awaken!
The Bhagavad Gita described three qualities, “modes” or energies which affect all of life: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Goodness is conducive for spiritual cultivation as it gives illumination, knowledge, freedom from sinful reactions, peace and happiness. The qualities of passion and ignorance, which modern civilization runs on, are quite different. While passion is born of unlimited longing and desires, propelling one to search for the fruits of work, ignorance or darkness is like going backward as it deludes everyone by madness, laziness and excessive sleep.
Krishna sums his description of the modes by saying, “When one properly sees that in all activities no other performer is at work than these modes of nature and he knows the Supreme Lord, who is transcendental to all these modes, he attains My spiritual nature.” [Bg 14.19] This isn’t a blog with a detail discussion about the modes, but material life means seeing the workings of them and often feeling their effects. It is always good to recognize them with their shortcomings and to know that Krishna and our spiritual life are our real shelter—the solution to all our problems.
Since my mother passed away in May, my wife and I have little connection to frantic energy of Christmas. Certainly there are many pleasant things about this time of year like the beautiful lights or visiting with devotees which we still do, but we can’t say we miss the shopping! When our son was growing up we used to “Krishnize” Christmas (perhaps to the chagrin of our Christian brothers and sisters), but to us that made it more meaningful and relevant. (In our traditions thinking, Christ is a kind of incarnation of God, so we honor and praise him.)
For example we used to have a “Krishna-tree” with incarnations of Krishna as ornaments, and got together with other devotee families to exchange gifts. They were just ordinary toys and material stuff for the kids, but we did have kirtana and prasadam, so all in all, it was a good experience for everyone. This way the kids were satisfied they weren’t “missing out”, and it still had a relationship to bhakti. We could call this, “dovetailing” a cultural event and experience. I guess it worked because most of our children remain devotees.
We all have to do what works for us in life, and that can take creative thinking and the desire to share Krishna with family. More important then appearances are our spiritual consciousness and our intention to please our gurus and Krishna. We all have to be the judge of this.