By Tommy Harrison

According to the Buddha, the backdrop to all our experiences can be tied back to the Four Noble Truths. We suffer, there are reasons, there are ways to end it, and there’s a path that guides us on this journey. This is our shared human experience. How could this backdrop help one relate to the suffering experienced during the holidays?

For the past two years, end of year holidays presented some helpful reminders of how suffering affects ones wellbeing. During 2009, things that had not surfaced that often began to boil up. This included discontent, differing perspectives about the season within the extended family, a strong desire to get away from the media and crowds, and the “me, me, me—I want, I want, I want” mindset of our children. These moods affected me, which in turn affected the whole family. Although things weren’t disastrous, the vibe in the house was dampened. This was, after all, a time that should have been filled with love, joy, giving, and cherishing the preciousness of life with loved ones. There was suffering—the First Noble Truth.

After the holidays, I decided to look closer at what had occurred. What happened? Why? Where was the kindness we learn so much about? Where was the clarity? What was I hung up on? Personally, I thought my practice had taken me to a point where this could have been better managed. There was much to wade through. Aversion was definitely playing out. Resistance to what was being experienced versus what I “wanted” it to be. There was clinging—the Second Noble Truth.

After approaching things in a calm and mindful manner, two important topics surfaced. First, many members of the extended family share different spiritual/religious perspectives and this has left lingering bits of disconnect in my own mind over the years. Second, it seemed that we were purchasing gifts in an “automatic” mode without much heart energy. More like a drab “things to do” list. Aversion to the “reason for the season” and wasteful spending bubbled up as two key aspects.

Once things began to make more sense and after discussing things with my wife, we decided to reach out to our extended family to ask, “What would bring you joy during this holiday season?” The answers were interesting and helpful. In some cases, family members needed help due to the hard times they were experiencing—especially our loved ones with children. And there were (and are) still young children within the family that get great joy from wrapped gifts. In other cases, we had family members share with us that “they already had enough things” and described charities that deeply resonated with their heart and in some cases their religious perspectives. We also shared our own charities that mean so much to us. As these conversations unfolded, a door opened—a door for the Third Noble Truth, a way to end suffering.

We were better prepared to work with the holiday season as 2010 rolled around. We had a chance to bring joy to our family, extended family, and community. A deeper, more fulfilling connection was nourished. Gratitude for our ability to connect with loved ones even with differing spiritual/religious perspectives. Family-specific needs were met for those suffering through these hard times. Generosity was shared with charities involving food for the hungry and support for HIV clinics for orphans and widows in Africa. A path opened up for us to walk down—an Eight Fold Path. Part of this path teaches us to nourish and promote wholesome efforts as well as simply letting go of unwholesome efforts. This is where kindness dwells.

2010 was a better holiday season for our family. The Four Noble Truths helped make this possible—our lives can be lived in a deeper, heartfelt way. Enjoy your path—enjoy your Four Noble Truths. Next time you see or feel the suffering – smile to it, and enjoy the journey.