by Jack Adam Weber
Celebration can have many connotations. Most often, though, celebration conjures images of excitement and explosive fun. American holidays fit this description. Our holidays largely lack spiritual context and meaning, save for expressing our love to one another and sharing good times. The former is left to the purview of religious holidays, which don’t fare much better. We are missing the sacred in our celebrations, which would honor the things and experiences for which we are truly grateful, that truly fulfill us and give us life, with more respect, as if we were truly grateful. Which collectively we may really not be.
Sacred celebration not only leaves us feeling more whole, but renews us and does no to little damage to everything that celebration touches. In some way, we feel better after sacred celebration, even if “better” is simply to acknowledge what is true — true about ourselves and about the world today, the next year, and hopefully longer. Grief and despair, decline and decay, can also be celebrated, as central to the cycle of fertility in both soma and psyche, in our relationship with nature. These are, in fact, already celebrations.
When we celebrate what is sublimely beautiful, gifted, and enchanting, gross expression is often not needed. In fact, such appreciation requires a good dose of quiet so as to be consolidated in us, sacredly and quietly abided by, not dispersed in gross outward expression. I am not saying we have to be monks, but we would do well to be more monk-like, in almost all we do.
Celebrations that cause damage not only to ourselves but to the world around us, that have little heart, and merely serve as more diversion and drama, are emblematic of our footprint on Earth. They are part of the problem. Ironically, it is on the holidays (at least American ones) that humanity collectively increases pollution on the planet. A return of the sacred to our days, and especially, ironically enough, to our celebrations would go far towards restitution.
Our short-term celebrations bear the same signature as our short-term pleasures, short-term consumption habits, short-term environmental policies, and short-mindedness. Just as we need new consumer models that ensure durability, we need celebrations that profoundly shift our focus, habits, and our effects on what surrounds us. Last night, on New Year’s Eve, amid the noise, I imagined the body of Nature cringing in disgust, as if saying, “Ugh, there go those humans again hurting my ears and polluting my veins, as if every non-holiday were not enough!”
I grow more convinced that celebrating major holidays by way of reckless banter and superficial fun is a way not only to demonstrate our lack of appreciation, but to avoid appreciating what we have, ironically enough. Many of us feel awkward in social contexts trying to find meaning and genuinely express ourselves in frivolous environments. This is why we have the sacred settings of circles, ritual, and long pauses between meaningful words uttered in such places. We feel awkward at holiday parties, especially if we want a meaningful experience, so getting drunk helps assuage the discomfort, as another form of anesthetizing ourselves from a sober reckoning of much more.
Many of us pass through holidays with excitement, anxiety, stress, and a secret desire to return to return to “ordinary life.” We party, entertain, and then can barely function the next day. What if we celebrated in a way that gave us something to make the rest of our days truly better? This would introduce a new pattern, a new signature to our ordinary days, which suffer mediocrity in the shadow of the pumped-up grandeur of holidays. This too is part of the problem.
I am convinced that humanity needs to stop partying and start appreciating if it wants any chance to survive into the future, and most definitely in a way that is worth living. I am convinced that humans need to have so much superficial fun because we don’t feel fulfilled, that we are not grateful for the gift of life. I think our celebrations are another form of consumerism driving our planet and ourselves into the ground, if only through our neglect to use such opportunities to sanctify our lives in a context of comprehensive wellness.
We have driven Nature to the brink in an utterly disgusting display of projected self-hatred. This desperate situation has created the imminent extinction of our species. There is nothing “fun” about this. Yet sacred celebration, as ceremony, can accommodate this grim reality as the ceremony of embracing darkness and life’s failing side. Like decline and decay, sadness, loss, and remorse also are celebrations in their own right. A fertile exploration and sharing of these emotions, along with their attendant revelations and wisdom, is possible largely only in sacred contexts.
Just because we are in the doghouse does not mean that we can’t be also be happy, excited, impassioned, excited, and joyous. We just have to make sure that we don’t use these feeling states to puff ourselves up into denial. We can, I assure you, be fully conscious of our plight and still find great, if not greater, meaning, purpose, and passion in our lives. Many don’t have healthy relationships with pain, and we unrealistically imagine that if we were to fully embrace our hurts and griefs, personal and collective, we could not also lead passionate, meaningful, connected lives. Indeed, the opposite is true; embracing darkness engenders a depth, passion, and belonging that we could not experience without them. They are integral to our joy and a meaningful life, even (and again, especially) in times of greatest despair.
A sober, grounded passion for life welcomes an acknowledgement of what we have done to the planet. Such sacred celebration is permeated by great humility, remorse, introspection, and heartfelt resolve. I think it’s time our president call an emergency Martial Law for holidays in which they would all be marshaled toward acknowledging environmental collapse and human folly!
When most of our holidays include extroverted displays of extravagance, noise, and the production of trash no matter what the state of the world, what are we really celebrating? Life? People toss around notions of celebration as if to not join the party were a sin (sin’s original meaning is “to miss the mark”); I imagine they are uncomfortable with their own relationship to holiday and celebration. To me, it is a sin to blindly participate and not speak out. If we truly appreciate life, it seems there would simply be less need to announce it so loudly and desecrate what supports our very lives.
The tradition of New Year’s resolutions is a worthy sacred function of the holiday. Yet these resolutions mostly fall unconscious to the priority of partying and superficial socializing. If we cared enough, we would consider our resolutions after a good night’s sleep, or during sleep in our dreams, not tanked out on too much food, stimulation, and distraction.
It is taboo to be against fun. But fun comes in different flavors. I, for one, am nourished and vitalized by honesty, care, depth, sacred space, laughter, absurdity, genuine conversation, exercising my creative imagination, the awe and beauty of nature, and healing. I celebrate by experiencing them. In the spirit of sane absurdity I often celebrate the holidays paradoxically — I don’t celebrate them, not literally anyway. I abstain from celebrating as way of commemorating every other day, committing to make sure I celebrate their message every day of the year. I don’t expect you to have my kind of fun, but I do hope you will consider whether the fun you have is truly fun for you, and if your brand of fun enlivens or injures the world around you. And if your fun desecrates others and the environment, then I encourage you to consider what sort of fun doesn’t do this, if you can celebrate this way, and if not, then at least be conscious of why not.
I think we need to start having a lot more of a very different kind of fun on the planet and spend a lot less time being frivolous, unless you are a child. Sacred fun is embodied, has persistence, recycles and conserves, uplifts in an enduring fashion, leaves us truly renewed and has vision and respect for the future. At the very least it does no harm. We need to rekindle the fun of watching the simple fireworks of nature and let that overflow our hearts and instill in us a relationship with the quiet, with the ordinary. For, it is the ordinary that is suffering so desperately all around us. Most of our major holidays have pagan, earth-centered origins. Yet, ironically, the sacred beauty of nature usually goes unnoticed by us, especially on these holidays.
We wish each other well and for a healthy new year; this also serves a sacred function. But perhaps we could spend some time on New Year’s Eve reflecting and sifting through what we do with our time and energy and resolve to make changes, which might include a commitment to keep checking in with ourselves and supportive others to stay on track. Yet this sort of discipline we loathe and reject, as we reject most discipline that does not serve our immediate gratification hunger. Can we then be mature enough to act responsibly by rooting our issues with commitment and discipline, especially as it affects our environment?
It seems that the more we need to celebrate externally and superficially the fewer emotional-spiritual resources we might actually have. And the more we celebrate outwardly, the more we inwardly stand to lose. Our collective dearth of internal resources mirrors the resources we plunder externally. Our excessive partying and meaningless social distractions serve to further impoverish us and the planet.
With the world in collapse, it is my prayer that more and more of us, if only as a last gesture of honor and humility, commit to celebrating in ways that remedy a fraction of the sacred wound we have collectively inflicted on the planet … and that these celebrations be every day.
Jack Adam Weber is a licensed acupuncturist, Chinese herbalist, author, organic farmer, celebrated poet, and an activist for Earth-centered spirituality. He is currently at work on his next collection of poems for personal and planetary transformation. His books, artwork, and provocative poems can be found at his website PoeticHealing.com. He is also on Facebook.
McPherson’s latest essay for The Good Men Project was posted 3 January 2014. It’s here.
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The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 14-day seminar, 12-25 March 2014, Izabal, Guatemala, Central America.
The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 7-day seminar, 24-31 May 2014, Moho Creek, Belize, Central America.
The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 14-day seminar, 12-25 June 2014, Izabal, Guatemala, Central America.
Going Dark is available from the publisher here, from Amazon here, from Amazon on Kindle here, from Barnes & Noble on Nook here, and as a Google e-book here. Going Dark was reviewed by Carolyn Baker at Speaking Truth to Power and by several readers at Amazon. An excerpt follows.
As Arundhati Roy wrote in her 2001 book, Power Politics: “The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”
I saw it, and I recognized my accountability. Even though I was doing exceptional work, and doing it well, I was participating in an immoral system. For me, it was time to let go because I could no longer both participate in the system and look at the face in the mirror. I could no longer expose the dark underbelly of civilization and live at the apex of empire. By this time, I had come to recognize that my generation’s legacy—the curse my generation leaves behind—is a world depleted of resources, ruined by Empire, and ruled by fascism masquerading as democracy.