Mid-December Holiday Shopping Blues

So it’s mid-December and my Christmas shopping has yet to commence. You get super busy with parties, school stuff, events, special yoga classes and suddenly, Christmas is just about here and so you’ve got to quickly dump shopping in a hot, overcrowded mall into the mix. Doesn’t really get my cheer on.

When I think about gifts for my sisters, I usually get as far as flowers or fruit baskets – but do they really want another fruit basket? Could I possibly be any less creative about this? For my mother it’s worse, the last thing the woman needs is another scarf or sweater set – let alone some waxy fruit.

This year I’m refusing to go shopping (except maybe to Target to get a Starwars Lego set for the 5 year-old Jedi who sleeps upstairs). I’m staying home and getting online and finding sites that will give money to a charity in the name of those who really don’t need more stuff to dump into landfills some day.

The interesting thing is that everyone seems to really like it – even my 12 and 14 year old nephews who, I think would prefer itune giftcards, appreciated the idea. Last year I gave them warm gloves and a coat for a Mongolian orphan. This year they will get shoes for an AIDS orphan in Kenya. And why not? How am I really showing my love for them by enabling them to download really bad rap music?

The Yoga of Giving

What about yoga and giving? No, I don’t mean giving a gift card to your local studio for 10 classes (but, come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea! My hypertension-prone older brother could certainly use it.) What I mean actually is what is the traditional idea of giving in yoga?

Couple of things that come to mind: first is the practice of guru dakshina – a gift for the guru. Traditionally, when the guru taught a disciple the practices, the disciple would give the teacher some food or some money. What’s behind the practice of guru dakshina is the idea that at the time of receiving the teachings, we offer something of ourselves as a gift. We give up some of our idea that our ego controls everything. We give up some of our clinging and offer ourselves at the service of the teacher or teachings.

Varnarghyadana – The Gift of the Colors

Guru dakshina is expressed beautifully in the practice of “varnarghyadana” which means offering the colors of the mind. In this practice, generally done after meditation, you envision the thoughts that collected during your meditation practice as beautifully colored flowers. And then you offer those thought-flowers to the guru – which means “The one who dispels the darkness.” BTW, keep an eye out – your gurus are everywhere.

There are mantras that go with this practice, but it can be done also as a visualization exercise – you offer the flowers up to the ultimate guru – the deity, entity or energy that presents itself to you as the Divine. It is a practice which lightens your burdens and directly connects you to your Source.

The Gift of Seva – Selfless Service

Then there’s the idea of Seva – which means “Selfless Service.” Even though seva ostensibly is about you giving your time, money, or talents to those less fortunate than you – the real recipient is actually you. When you have an opportunity to serve someone else you burn karma and your spiritual progress is accelerated. The seva projects that my students participate in during the Subtle Yoga Training and Personal Transformation program by far get the best reviews from the students. Connecting with sick people, or older people who live alone, or spending time with kids with challenges is incredibly heart-warming and uplifting. Also, seva in and of itself is a powerful mental health strategy – just think of how much your problems diminish when you contemplate giving shoes to an African AIDS orphan?

Reclaiming the Spirit of the Season

To avoid the stress, burnout, overload, weight-gain, and children-spoiling effects of the holidays – give yourself instead of stuff. Bake something for someone who lives alone, walk someone’s dog, take some blankets to the Salvation Army, take a kid to a movie or read him or her a story, visit your aunt and listen to her stories. We do not have to succumb to the tyranny of the retailers or the fear that the economy will fall apart without our conspicuous consumption. Or the fear that you will lose points (i.e. love) if you don’t get the latest, greatest thing-a-ma-jig for whoever.

Here are some different organizations that would love to send a card to your loved one with a message about what your gift donation did for someone in need.

Doctors without Borders
Animal Rescue Site
Hunger Site store
Amnesty International
Habitat for Humanity
Amma’s organization

Giving and Giving it Up

In the story of Vajra Krishna, he is the ultimate giver. He transforms himself into the perfect lover, companion for each of the gopis in Vrindavan – they have his complete attention and he is perfect for each and every one of them. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna talks about what really happens when we give. This popular mantra is often used before eating:

Brahmarpanam Brahma Havir
Brahmagnau Brahmana Hutam
Brahmaiva Tena Ghantavyam
Brahmakarma Samadhinaha

Here’s what it means:

The act of offering is Divine
The act of consuming the offering is Divine
It is the Divine who offers
It is the Divine who receives
And when all our karma is exhausted
We’ll become one with the Divine

That’s the path of yoga – give it all up to gain everything. Happy giving.


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