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Going home for the holidays?

Om! Om! Om! I received numerous questions about the obligation of visiting family, returning home for the holidays - wondering if they had to visit. Holidays can be so stressful! Such pressure to go home and visit the family. And sometimes, family do not act like friends, either to their own relations - or to those whom they married or are in a relationship with. And sometimes, it is too expensive to visit. Or a person suffers asthma or allergies, and will become injured by a family pet in the house they will visit. Or they are too sick to leave their home. And quite a few of you are concerned about stressful debates on politics and religion!

Relax. Even I have also had similar difficulties. My first wife's family really did not like Me, or My wife for marrying Me. They invited EVERYONE to their party. Well, almost everyone. Everyone but me. They invited my wife - only her - to dinner, and did all kinds of things to make sure I wouldn't come, and that would make Me feel unwelcome and uncomfortable if I did come! I told her that I couldn't come. We agreed, it was inappropriate for her to go without her husband - but she decided to ignore social etiquette and go anyway. She was not actually being made to feel welcome: her husband was a part of her, what she loved most. How could she leave her husband behind and celebrate? Yet some kind of guilt bound her to a false sense of obligation: in fact, now that I remember it, her family did make her feel guilty about not coming.

But there is a reason why we have social etiquette: it is to encourage respect, friendship and love, and protect people from hurting each other. Whether accepting or declining or participating in social events. When she arrived, her family treated her very poorly (they always had a bad relationship, and they were very impolite, especially to her). They made her feel very uncomfortable, insulting her, insulting Me, insulting everything she loved and held dear. They were very mean - in all kinds of ways. They even made her feel embarrassed by Me - my clothes were not fine, or stylish, my manners "rustic," I was not "proper!" And yet, even though they made her cry, they were laughing, and enjoying hurting her! And I was so far away, she had no one to comfort her! Falling into despair, she actually started believing some of the mean things said, and growing more and more depressed, actually became suicidal. Now THAT is a bad party!

But, brave woman! She understood her foolishness at the last moment. She remembered how devoted I was to her, how much I loved her, how her numerous imperfections did not matter to Me, and said to her father, "my life and body are not worthless, though you think them so. They are worthy of my husband, Shiva, to whom I give them!" She sat down in the poses I taught her, and through profound yoga devoted to Me, ignited a sacred fire within her body, and by this immolation offered herself wholly to Me. The fire burned brighter and bigger! The guests understood that in hurting My wife, they had hurt Me - and at that moment, a squadron of Ganas avenged My shame and began to throw the guests onto the fire!

Of course, though I was very far away, that very same moment I knew what had happened. Now, you and I both know NOW my wife was not truly gone, but at the time I really did think my wife was a mortal woman. In grief, I tore some of my hair out and it took the form of a hero! Fulfilling my heart's desire, it went to the party and began to kill everyone, throwing their corpses upon the sacrificial fire kindled by my wife. I had originally been uninvited to the party, it is true, but now everyone was calling out my name and I came! Those who had not yet been killed by the Ganas or my hero asked for mercy, and it was granted. They asked I restore the dead to life - and this was done. My father-in-law's head had been utterly destroyed, though - so I gave him the head of a goat. It suited him, and he thanked me for his new life, calling me Shiva Shankar, the kind and benevolent one. Her family's grief taught them a valuable lesson that day, and all of them became better people for it.

Friends and family should not make you feel guilty or ashamed to goad you into coming to a holiday gathering - how can you be celebratory when struck by guilt and shame? A party cannot be enjoyed when it impoverishes the guests to attend - how much less can the holy purpose of the day be achieved when the worldly comforts of the guests are given up to satisfy their host, instead of for the more noble purpose those comforts should be sacrificed to? A ritual which requires the destitution or injury (economic, physical, emotional, or in any way) of the participants is bad practice. Defend yourself and your family against injury - economic, physical, emotional, or in any way. Practice right, holy sacrifices - not to a host. Do not be ashamed if you are too weak (economically, physically, or otherwise) to attend. You do have a duty to your family - but you also have a duty to yourself!

It is too easy to get a lot of ideas on how things should be: family should gather, people should behave a certain way, certain foods should eaten. But it is because we imagine things should be one way, or another – or that family members should be one way or another – or that we ourselves should be different somehow – that we come to think: things are not as they should be. And this is a troubling conclusion, especially since it is not true.

What would be more truthful is to say that things are always as they should be, but not always the way that we want them to be, nor how they might yet be. Staying present, and accepting, is the way to consider how to improve ourselves, our situation. Or if our situation needs improved at all. That your family does not agree with your political or religious beliefs, has different sexual orientations, or different skin colors – or that your family has gathered, or not gathered, will or won’t share a common experience – these are problems which result from how we think things should be. Such beliefs are easily taken up – and let go. Love cannot be separated by distance or difference. That our neighbors are different from us, that our experiences are not shared with our families and are unique to our own existence, that we feel alone in so many ways – these we can make reasons to celebrate, and say “thank you.”

But I would emphasize that it is necessary to say that “thank you.” Even after years of practice, few Yogis are true mind-readers, and so it is necessary to communicate - with words. When we say anything, it permits someone to read our mind: and how it is said can sometimes mean as much as the words themselves. It takes great skill to say “thank you.”

Yet more importantly, when we say something, it also lets us read our own mind. Saying "thank you" permits us to recognize our love for something or someone, or even the fact we wish to be polite to them. It is by our courtesy that we help them learn that we love them. That we learn that we love them.

Giving is not inherently difficult. We often give in exchange for money: we let go of this to take hold of that, and come to expect something in exchange – and say thank you when we get our change. Shouldn’t we give thanks when our life gives us change? When we give money in charity we expect that money to be spent in some way or another, to help the charity. When the plate is passed, a gift is given to sustain the one accepting the gift. Giving is not difficult. But it is difficult to give generously, expecting nothing in return!

Imagine, then, giving not only without any expectation in return, but entirely selflessly, giving both the good and bad results from that giving to someone else, working, acting - living - completely anonymously, unimportantly, alone, without recognition. Such Yoga is difficult, but begins by merely practicing saying “I love you,” by saying "thank you." Eventually, you can give love unconditionally, without expectation or exchange.

Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!
Shiva Shankar
(PS, Parvati sends Her love)