As I write this column, it is early December, and I am eagerly awaiting Christmas. I think of a Christmas Eve at least 20 years ago when my husband Paul and I sat in the cozy family room of his parents, then in their eighties and enjoying good health. The four of us got along well, and this night we were anticipating a late church service on television, featuring a minister I had known in college.
The evening wore on. We enjoyed the Christmas tree, so pretty, lighted, and decorated with ornaments handmade by my mother-in-law years earlier. We talked in peace, telling family stories, glad to be together. Paul’s parents had 10 years earlier welcomed me like another daughter into their family. I felt happy and filled with the peace that can only come when love abounds. My mood was upbeat, I think, because I was following a path with a heart. I felt love given and received; I also felt protected and safe. The evening concluded with a moving church service, spectacular music and truly inspiring sermon. This was a Christmas Eve to remember.
Fast forward to Christmas morning, the next morning after such a wonderful evening. I was lying in bed while Paul took a shower. My quiet of the night before began to vanish, for I started thinking of my work. My stomach tied up in knots, for I had started worrying about my job.
I was the project leader for a day-long workshop for graduate students coming up in mid-January. All plans were not yet in place. My mind went into full gear, obsessing over details of the workshop that had yet to be finalized. Soon I was tossing and turning, very uncomfortably dreading the return to a stressful environment and new work challenges. My ego got involved. What is I failed to coordinate this workshop in a good way? What if I just plain failed to do a good job? You see, I had left a path with a heart, the path that I was on, on the previous night, a Christmas Eve to remember. I had let my mind try to take over and run my life. My heart wasn’t much involved any longer.
What does this reminiscence say about the path of the heart vs. the path of the mind? I think we need the mind, but we need our mind to be in the service of the heart, the way of love. If we let the mind proceed on its own, the ego will raise its ugly head, and all peace will dissipate.
This is what I found that Christmas morning. Just being idle, waiting to get up, triggered my being threatened by work yet to be done, work for which I could do nothing while in Mississippi on holiday. I do remember that the anguish died down when I got up and began interacting with Paul and Paul’s family again. My heart came back in the picture, for I truly loved this new family of mine.
I remember one more thing about this strange juxtaposition of calm vs. anguish. I remember that the specific trigger of my discontent fell by the wayside when I got back on the job in January. I had obsessed about how many chairs I would need to provide in a particular room, for a particular class. This seems an overwhelming problem on holiday, when there was absolutely nothing that could be done about it. But when I got on the job, and there was actually something that could be done about it, the obsession had faded, and I actually didn’t approach this part of my work until it fell into place by its own course, as the planning process developed organically.
I think that my mind had decided that I had been too calm on Christmas Eve, that I had let my guard down, and my ego spoke up and decided that all of this was just “too much.” I was used to being keyed up to handle all phases of my work in a diligent way. I wasn’t used to relaxing.
Christmas Eve provided much needed relaxation that year. Now, years later, safely in retirement, I shake my head at all the stress that I put myself under throughout my work life. I realize that I am not alone. Many of us do this to ourselves when we let the mind rule the heart.
Try letting the heart take over your life today. Try letting God’s love, available in our hearts, motivate when and if to obsess about work issues. We don’t need to let the ego rule. We would be so much better if we allowed the heart to subdue the ego in the service of a full and complete, heartfelt, love for God, and the others with whom we come in contact. Our world, the world we inhabit, and the world we seek to change, will be ever so much the better for letting the heart rule. Drop the ego. It doesn’t have to be there to organize our personality.
If you have lost, now, the spirit of Christmas, know that it can be a 365-day thing for us. It isn’t usually, but let us see if we can make it that in 2015.