2007 - 2022

The Revolutionary Spirit of Christmas

I remember clearly how absolutely gutted I was when I discovered that Santa Claus was a mythological figure rather than the embodiment of magic, mystery and generosity that had brought such joy to my childhood each winter. It seemed he had offered another realm of possibility which I desperately needed in my young life with paternal alcoholism, domestic violence and school yard bullying looming large. Surely another world was possible, my younger self would have hoped. And here, in that moment of being told ‘the truth’ it all seemed snatched away. 

My young mind immediately turned to protective cynicism. What had seemed like magic was revealed as simple consumerism and the substitution of love with material goods. It’s only in hindsight I see that my parents hadn’t known how to love themselves deeply and therefore couldn’t embody this magic for us children. In their own way, they were generous, giving what they could. Caught up in the pain of a deep sense of loss, I could not muster a sense of gratitude. 

It’s taken a long time to learn to appreciate Christmas again. 

Something in me was not willing to live a life of depression. Deep down, I somehow seemed to know that magic is real – that there is more to life than what we can buy. But the mysteries of the Church never spoke to me. I didn’t need an angry, judgemental and emotionally manipulative father in the sky. I had one of those at home!

When I discovered paganism at university, I discovered that God could be a woman, embodied as Nature, I became interested. Through the singing, the candles, the incense, the playing with expanding our sense of reality, I could feel something. While I was still angry with Christmas (and Christianity), I came to appreciate the Winter Solstice and the magic of the whole wheel of the year. 

A few years later, severe disability drove me into a yoga studio for the first time. I was grateful there were no spiritual teachings, no gurus, none of that. I was a postgraduate student at the time, diligently working out the answers to liberation on my own, thank you very much. I would still read spiritual texts from time to time, but I didn’t want all that getting in the way of healing my body so I could write again. That’s what I came to yoga for and that’s all I wanted. 

But something else happened. My writing became more lyrical. It had a different rhythm and a deeper sense of the connectedness between aspects of life largely assumed to be separate. I’d known intellectually from years of reading feminist theory that the dichotomy of mind/body was a false one and politically problematic, but I didn’t really experience it until I’d been going to yoga classes for some time. There was some magic hidden here…

Some years later when we moved from Edinburgh to Bournemouth (what a culture shock that was!), I found myself looking for a yoga class where that magic was explicit. Somehow, I ended up in an Integral Yoga class with a photograph of a man at the front of the room who looked like Santa with a big white beard and twinkling eyes. Distrustful of that, I went to the back of the room and listened to the chanting, did the strange breathing practices as best as I could and bent and twisted by body as suggested by the teacher. 

At the end, I sat in joyful silence. My mind was actually quiet and I was filled with a deep peace. Even though I was cautious of the foreignness of the class to all my previous life experience, I kept going. Each week, beautiful words were read aloud at the end of our deep relaxation and I never realised they were all from the man who looked like Santa.

Eventually, I discovered he was one of the yogis invited from India to various western countries to bring Yoga. His name was Swami Satchidananda and today is the 107th anniversary of his birth. He had died before I had arrived on the scene, but I met many of his students and noticed just how, well, liberated they seemed. There was so much joy shining through them and that sense of peace that I was feeling, fleetingly, at the end of a class, seemed deeply embedded in their lives.

So I did the training they did in the hopes that I would find what they had found. During that magical year, I met another one of his students, Rev Padma Devi, who went on to become my heart teacher and founder of Heart Of Living Yoga. When she gave me a hug that first time, I couldn’t move afterwards and she laughed saying, “you’ve been padmatised.” I was stunned by the feeling of stillness within me and the fact that while a hug like this was a completely new experience for me, it wasn’t for her. I felt like I did at the end of a beautiful yoga class, but without having done any particular bending or breathing myself. How is that possible, I wondered?

I have come to realise through meeting her and other amazing people that it is entirely possible to embody magic, mystery and generosity in this world.  As I continue to heal from childhood trauma, cynical intellectualism is replaced with a deep and abiding love and for life itself, I experience that magic more and more.

As a graduate student, I was convinced that I had to think my way out of my suffering and the suffering of the world. Now it seems clear to me that what is truly revolutionary is healing. And what is healing is pure love – starting with loving ourselves. Indeed, the namesake of Christmas said something similar – love your neighbour as yourself. 

If we wish to live in a nation (and a world) where the spirit of giving, the spirit of mutual love, care and respect, the spirit, if you will, of Christmas is alive and well, we can all contribute. 

The path of self love looks different for each of us. It wends and winds in its own way. So perhaps we might choose not to judge each other for that fact of difference and focus on forgiving ourselves for being human, for making mistakes and instead be kind to ourselves. That is one gift that can be given freely and its magic is unmistakable.

Comments (8)

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  1. Ian Wight says:

    Thank you – for presencing your spirit at work. It has been a pleasure being in its/your company. May the magic continue.

    1. Vishwam says:

      Thank you, Ian, for your kind comments. I’m glad the work was helpful for you. If you’d like to keep in touch in anyway, my website is on my author bio.

      Warmly,
      Vishwam

  2. SleepingDog says:

    Horrible Histories suggests that child-beating is a common feature of European Christmas spirits:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0012cgd/horrible-histories-series-9-3-cracking-christmas
    essentially the carrot and the stick to stigmatise and crush dissent and disobedience. A season of deceit, excess, oppression, crushing conformity/crass competition, intoxication, domestic violence, coercion and controlling behaviour, rebolstering of hierarchy, and an ever-increasing burden/poison upon the planet, perhaps. Merry Christmas, and here’s to uncovering more stories of (non-child-beating) pagan resistance in the New Year.

    1. Wul says:

      @S.D. Your word “resistance” put me in mind of a phrase I heard just this week; “Rest is Resistance”

      https://www.grantwritingmadeeasy.com/2021/02/22/why-rest-is-resistance/

  3. Wul says:

    Great piece. Thanks.

    I’d love to experience some of the sense of peace you describe.

    1. Vishwam says:

      Dear Wul,

      I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned with you. Feel free to get in touch via my website –FlowingWithLife.org

      I look forward to hearing from you,
      Vishwam

  4. Mons Meg says:

    When I was a lad, we Protestants didn’t have Christmas. I don’t think it was even a public holiday, just another working day. We went daft on Hogmanay instead.

    I’m all for the atonement of mind and matter, man and nature, which both the enchantment of paganism and the incarnation of Christianity expresses as a social hope. The theme of alienation and its overcoming is the grand narrative of Christmas, and for most of us nowadays that alienation is to be overcome through the Dionysian excess of consumerism rather than any form of Apollonian asceticism.

    But, of course, it won’t be Christmas until our present alienating relations of production collapse under the weight of their own contradictions. Only then will the Daft Days begin.

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