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Turning Santa Into a Dragonfly

It’s a crisp autumn evening. My cheeks are cold to the touch. It’s just after 5 o’clock, and a cobalt blue sky outlines the silhouetted black mountains surrounding our small town. Thousands of people line the main street wearing down jackets and warm winter mittens. Kids are bundled in their strollers, perched on grown up’s shoulders, or running around with snowflake wands of light, waiting for the parade to begin.

It’s the day after the United States’ Thanksgiving. The day when Ashland welcomes Santa Claus for a brief visit. Santa and his wife sit comfortably in a sleigh in the flatbed of a bright red pickup truck, waving to starry eyed children, young and old. Dancing elves join the parade along with evangelical Christians carrying signs inviting lost souls to find refuge in their Savior.

The crowd watches as Mr. and Mrs. Claus reach their destination, dismount their chariot and ascend to the second story balcony of a restaurant on the center plaza. Once there, Santa waves again to the crowd, thanks the Chamber of Commerce for bringing him to Ashland, and invites us to join in a countdown. At zero, somebody will flip a switch that will instantly turn on the spectacular array of Christmas lights mounted on every building up and down the street.

We begin.

At “ten,” the street lights turn dark, leaving us huddled in the cold, counting in unison, anticipating the blast off. Those ten seconds are magical and when the switch flips, the light is breathtaking.

But … somewhere inside myself I am wholly uncomfortable with the entire affair.

I consider what it would take to reboot an outdated myth featuring an overweight man dressed in red and dropping presents down believers’ chimneys. I wonder what it would take to revision the gluttonous rush to consumerism in the name of gifting.

In the spirit of a sincere yearning to re-examine our cultural values and norms, I look to my own experience.

Selfistry emerged out of the stillness and silence I rested in for a number of years. I experienced this while examining my own values and beliefs during that time: once we step back from our beliefs to examine them—when we have the courage to put down our customs and traditions for review—something new emerges.

My journey was admittedly, a radical tearing away—more like jettisoning the baby, the water, the tub, and the entire bathroom in one radical toss. Though I managed to access a depth of insight and clarity, my extreme methods had unwelcome consequences.

Therefore I don’t recommend removing all cultural traditions at once. It was challenging enough for me, one person, to strip away all that I was carrying. To expect an entire group of people, let alone millions, to do so simultaneously is not only unreasonable, but it’s likely that the attempt itself would prove harmful and traumatizing.

But I do recommend a sincere and concerted inquiry.

I propose we consider putting down some of our habitual, outdated, uncomfortable-yet-familiar ways of doing and being human. I suggest that these types of shared considerations will begin to create the conditions for something more authentic and timely to emerge.

Once we’re able, as individuals and as communities, to investigate our acquired beliefs, our un-examined behaviors, our dissonant values … authentic inspirations will emerge. Guaranteed.

Where to begin?

First we can have this conversation.

With ourselves.

With one another.

Then, we can turn our attention to the still quiet space within us and the natural cycles of  life all around us and begin to listen.

If we carefully strip away beliefs while we stop to listen, the process can be gentle, exciting, enlivening, and effective.

Being raised a Jew, I have no relationship to Santa at all so I have no problem dropping him altogether. Splat. Just like that. But, I have granddaughters who believe the Santa myth. And I love the magic in their step when they feel Christmas coming. I don’t want to rip that away. So, I find myself curious about substituting some other magical being for Santa. I wonder about tethering the Christmas holiday back to what I believe is its roots, the winter solstice. I feel inspired to promote a reconnection to the cycles of nature and to our relationship with the earth we inhabit.

This is the ethos of a slow spirituality, an approach that invites us to revisit the beliefs and handed down gifts of our ancestors in order to renew outdated customs customs so that they might better serve the specific challenges and opportunities of the times we live in.

Ultimately, slow spirituality is about finding a sense of peace, purpose, and connection in our lives by embracing a slower, more intentional approach to religion and spiritual practice. It invites us to let go of the habit of simply following the crowd, and instead encourages us to cultivate a deep sense of presence and communion with all that we define as spiritual.

A friend was recently relating to me a story she tells her five-year-old granddaughter about a dragonfly. In her rendition, the dragonfly represents the Buddha—the qualities he embodied and which endure through time.

She cloaks the Buddha’s wisdom and message within an already very magical being that happens to be real: a dragonfly.

I’m captivated.

“I tell my granddaughter that, when a dragonfly lands on you, it’s a special moment, a time to pause and wonder,” she mesmerizes me with her tale. “My granddaughter can then become curious, hopeful, and search in nature for magic instead of in some fairy tale.”

I realize my friend is linking magic to something real and I am inspired. Let’s face it … reality is magical.”

So I get curious…

Can we choose to celebrate the magic of the real? Can we bring awe into our daily routines, allowing for the extraordinariness of ordinary life?

I bet we can.

I bet dragonfly tales are precisely the sort of original inspirations that arise from the depths of our own spiritual sensitivities once we put down the traditions we feel so attached to.

I believe we can renew and reignite our shared spirituality. I suspect we resist letting traditions go, not because we feel so connected to the specifics, but because we love feeling connected to one another and sharing the magic as a community. What we love way more than the fat man dressed in red is gathering in the cold, warmed by the crowd, counting down from ten, and seeing everything light up.

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