Last night, I was sitting down in the kitchen with my housemate Julia, enjoying a lovely meal that she had so kindly prepared. After talking about the routine events that filled our respective days, the fabric of the conversation shifted to small things that make a big difference in our lives.
What she then shared with me was an experience that really stood out for her as carrying significance, not because of what she had received or achieved, but because of what she was able to give to someone else. Taking the initiative to ask out one of her new colleagues for lunch, she was able to provide a safe and open forum in which this person could discuss some of the difficulties that they were going through as they attempted to adjust to life in a new country.
Needing someone to understand and empathise with their situation, Julia allowed herself to be the source of comfort that they needed at that time, and in this she had provided a great service. What made it so great was that what she provided was what her colleague needed most at that time. She could have just as easily given her colleague a sum of money or a gift of some kind, but would this have really had the same effect in the circumstances? Was not the more precious gift, the time that she took out of her busy schedule to allow her colleague to find a semblance of peace about their situation?
In the world that we live in, it is tempting to think that money and physical gifts can provide the solution to others problems. Used to seeking a physical solution to our problems, we look to the objects of the physical world as a source of comfort and strength. But is this outwardly directed focus not misguided?
That which is not real, can never matter most, for what it contains is useless for the purposes of healing. With this, remember that there are limits on the utility of physical gifts in a spiritual world. As spiritual beings made frail in our relationship with the finite, there are holes that money and other physical possessions cannot fill. Both human and divine, we find life in experiencing emotion, and it is the balance of the physical and the spiritual that ensures our emotional wellbeing. But even in this, the supremacy of the spirit cannot be ignored, for what it creates is beyond the ability of the physical to provide alone.
Dispossessed of the physical, we continue to live; deprived of the spiritual, we are condemned to die. Serving as a testament to this truth are the lives of many who have fallen victim to the illusion of celebrity. Endowed with much in the physical world, they are not immune from the suffering that comes to visit those who are not so materially rich, because what they have denied within themselves is what their sorrowful neighbours have denied also, being the spirit which is the source of all fulfilment.
Seeking fulfilment in that which is only capable of satisfying, one will always come up short. But we need not be so useless in our guidance. Lead by spirit, we can be the bridge that connects others to a greater understanding. Seeking answers, we can allow others to see in us, only what they can find in themselves. This is the gift that keeps on giving, and never as much as you try can it be condensed into form. Finding life in that which transcends form, its possibility for transformation is unlimited both for yourself and that other person. So you need not worry that you have nothing of value to give, for your belief in your own shortcomings are as illusory as the confines of the physical world appear to be.
With this, be weary of the associations that you have made with the words ‘big’ and ‘little’, for as you label them, so have you limited yourself in your capacity to understand what they embody. In a world which believes that more is better, we come to honour the big over the small because we see in the big the potential for fulfilment. But what we do not see is what our blindness has kept from us. Finding fulfilment in the physical world is as futile as searching for water in the driest of deserts, with the appearance of an oasis being the cruellest of illusions, sparking only the fire of the ego and not the wind of the spirit.
But we need not be burnt by what the ego has worked so hard to convince us is real. Looking beyond the labels which are the currency of the physical world, we can tame the fire with the soothing winds of peace that carry the potential for a more beautiful existence. Seeing this beauty, the lust for pleasure loses its power over us, and we find ourselves free to enjoy what truly matters to the soul. With this, we start to pay less attention to the packaging that those experiences come in.
Being invaluable for what they offer in spirit, the greatest gifts need not occupy much if any physical space, for in their being they carry the humility that is characteristic of the branch of the fruit tree that bends down to offer to the earth the fruit that it knows is its blessing to bear. In the same way, we need not offer much in physical terms if we are to honour the spirit within ourselves, and as the fruit tree offers only what it was given life to create, so are we called to have love be our gift, given to us in the very fabric of who we are.
Living in a world that is characterised by opposites, it is the smallest things which have the greatest impact in the physical world, and while this impact is not always perceptible to the eyes, it is forever recognized by the heart that never misses the opportunity to honour an act of love as it never misses a beat as it dances with life. See in this, the power of an unexpected greeting, a call to someone asking how they are, or a simple “I love you”, whose fragrance lingers long in the lives of both giver and receiver.
With this, learn how to measure what is valuable in the eyes of spirit. If what you have to give touches and moves the spirit in another, then what you have given makes irrelevant any imposition of the physical world. Being of the nature of what God has given to you, what you present with every spiritual gift is a promise that cannot be diluted in what it has to offer.
With your heavenly father bearing fruit, so will you bear fruit also, in the light that he has given you to shine. As you live in him, so will the profound nature of his existence be the source of joy for you to experience, and from this space nothing that you have to give will fail to shape the world as his hands do. Learn here never to underestimate what is immeasurable in its power. Being beyond labels, it is beyond measure and the limitations that accompany what only the mind can conceive.
The mind is only unlimited when it has surrendered itself to the heart, for without this act of service, it supports itself not fully and inadequately in the world through which it seeks to navigate. Ignoring the heart, it abandons the compass that is the source of wisdom. Knowing not wisdom, the mind loses itself in the chaos in the physical world, preferring what is false over what is real, and what is insignificant over what matters most.
This is why we honour what brings about our death. Consumed with the world of form and what it can bring to us, we die before our time. Not centred in the spirit of giving but receiving, we become dependent on the physical world to make us whole. Seeking always to bring things to ourselves from the outside, we find not the peace and contentment that comes with a genuine appreciation for what we have.
To appreciate the small things, one must come to see the big things as they are. Being what comes into our lives with extravagant packaging, we must not get confused and let the beauty of the packaging outshine the beauty that radiates from the one who has bestowed the gift. Finding this love for the giver, we are able to see the true value of the gift, and though the gift may not last, what does last in the memory is the joy and gratitude that was experienced in receiving that blessing.
Rather than honour the gift, we must make it our focus to honour the giver, for without their presence in our life, the possibility of receiving would not arise. With this, a flood of memories come back of the Christmas days of my childhood. Blessed by so many people who loved and cared about me, I would receive many presents, and it was not unusual for me to receive more than one present from the same person.
Caught up in the excitement of what I had then understood Christmas to be about, I would get up early in the morning before either of my parents, and begin to unwrap my presents at a rapid rate. Wanting so eagerly to find out what was inside, I would tear off the wrapping paper as a lion does to the flesh of the prey that they have just caught, often not even noticing that a card had been attached to the gift.
Once the object of my desire was revealed, I would then quickly move onto the next present, clawing away at the paper without any regard for what I had just received. Wanting only to get the next sensory hit, what escaped me was that which was most important. Rifling through the gifts alone, I had not enjoyed the company of my parents being there to share with me these blessings that had been sent my way. Searching for only what was in it for me, what I completely ignored were the lovely people who cared enough to buy me the gifts. In not acknowledging them, I had dishonoured and disrespected them, and this worked to contaminate the joy that I felt in receiving.
Temporarily satisfied with what I had received, I was far from fulfilled because I had allowed what should have been a sacred moment to be contaminated by the workings of the ego. Looking back on these holidays, I realize now how hollow they were in many respects. Honouring not a holy day for what it is, I had stripped it of the significance that it carried in spirit.
To truly honour the day would have been to honour the spirit of givenness, which is what Christmas is all about. Immature within myself, and completely ego identified, I had suffered much in my selfishness, and while it was all that I knew as a child, I cannot comprehend succumbing to the same impulses at this time. Labelled a man, I should have learned my lessons by now, but I am not always so wise, with each day being a challenge that comes to test whether I have left childish ways behind.
Still a child, I am prone to fail, and I will no doubt continue to do so. But I pray that amidst my failures are not those that will see me lose the ability to appreciate and give gratitude for what is beautiful in my life, for as I am meek, so do the simplest and unassuming pleasures become my greatest treasure.