I was walking the dogs in west Seattle my mind deeply immersed in the planning of the upcoming Teacher Training lecture when I looked up and realized that holiday decorations are up already. Cobwebs and skulls, the usual beauties of Halloween. I grew up in Hungary. Much like in Mexico, Hungarians celebrate the day of the dead instead of Halloween. We buy flowers and go to the cemetery with candles to remember our loved ones. I have to be honest, I still don’t get the American version. Where did all this candy and costume get mixed up with the day of the dead? How can the same holiday be celebrated so differently?
It turns out today’s Halloween may be rooted in Celtic Christianity. Some folklorist have detected its origin in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds or the festival of the dead called Parentalia. Somewhere along history old Pagan Roman customs mixed with the Celtic festival celebrating the end of the harvest and the beginning of the darker half of the year. These celebrations had much eating and drinking and games. All these ancient customs got superimposed onto Christianity. Thus now mixing imagery such as skulls into the celebration. In case you are wondering, skull is a reference to Golgotha, in the Christian tradition it serves as a reminder of the death and the transitory quality of human life. Throw all this in a blender with Catholicism and Protestant culture, mix a bit of American identity into this recipe and you are left with today’s mixed versions.
You can study over 2000 years of European and American history just from this one holiday! I haven’t even scratched the surface. It is complex and fascinating, there is an amazing amount of symbolism and tradition that is left in our modern culture, but most of the time we are too busy to stop and think about our own history. This thought made me pause.
Do we even know and understand our own culture? And if we don’t understand our own culture how can we understand our place in society?
This question made me reflect on a book that I just re-read; Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Talk about an appropriate Halloween read. If you have not read this book in the past 15-20 years I highly suggest you give it a whirl. It was written in 1954 about a fictional future, a world where books are outlawed. Everyone has huge television sets the size of their living room walls. Television only plays reality shows where you are part of the show. No news, nothing with substance. The principle is keep people entertained and keep them moving fast, keep them busy so they don’t have time to think or interact. I was amazed how Bradbury’s imaginary future is so close to our reality! It gave me chills.
In addition to our large TVs we have little “TVs” called I-phones. We spend our time running from job to spending our money. There is a new statistic out that we may actually spend more time on social media than with real human interactions. It is understandable since social media is easily conducted on the run. Just like in the book our relationships have deteriorated. We consume more and more and we are less and less happy on average. We have so many choices that we stopped asking questions. Our life is so busy that we pay less and less attention to really understand politics or our history. So how does all this play out in the novel. Without killing the book for those of you who want to read it…let me just say; it is not all that bad. There are always people who stop, remember and make a difference.
Don’t get me wrong. I would much rather live today than at any other time in history. Even though I don’t sound too positive from what you have seen above, we live at the time of amazing blessings. We live longer and healthier than ever before. Even though there are wars around the world, we still live in the most peaceful time in history. But here is a clincher. When it comes to happiness, we are still not happier than our ancestors. Why is that?
Well it turns out that happiness is a funny thing. Our mind is not very good at registering our reality. We can only project our reality in relationship to something else. For example if you only have vanilla ice cream to eat all your life you don’t really know that you like vanilla ice cream. You get used to it. But once it is gone you may miss vanilla ice cream. Or conversely somebody brings you chocolate and strawberry ice cream and all of a sudden you realize vanilla is boring. Feel free to substitute ice cream to any other things, even relationships.
It turns out – to be happy one must remember. We must have time to sit and reflect in a positive way. Now sitting and reflecting on how the glass is half empty is not beneficial. But there is a need to pause time to time and ask questions. Such as: What are the origins of Halloween? Do I really like vanilla ice cream? Do I enjoy my job, my relationships? Why is it that I cannot do a handstand? Why is it that I want to do a handstand in the first place? Do I want to feel my body and the wonders of being upside down or do I want to post yet another thing on social media to share with others that I can do a handstand. And if so what drives that need?
It is when we stop and observe our thoughts that we gain an understanding to our feelings. We will feel no matter what, but an unobserved feeling much like an unobserved mind leads to an unconscious existence. What makes us human is our mind’s ability to observe.
Consciousness not only makes us human in the scheme of evolution, it makes our humanity valuable in our own life. We can run and get tasks done, we can run and eat fast, and we can run and give a high five to a friend via FB. OR we can slow down once in a while and discover how much we like strawberry ice cream with our best friend while he or she tells us about life, love and all. We can run through the holidays shopping for stuff or slow down, spend time with friends and family and discover the origins of our family traditions.
Our reality is so much richer if we know our history. If we understand our history we realize that our actions today make history for our children….and hopefully this will make us act with more pleasure and consciousness in the present moment.
The above paragraph in short is the meaning of yoga. We do yoga when we pay attention to our thoughts, when we feel our body. The poses help in the questioning process, but they are not the goal! Who the hell cares if you never do handstand! Really, who will honestly think less of you as a person? Or for that matter who the hell will think more of you as a person, and what does that say about that person? But how much fun is it to be curious about how it feels to be upside down? Or how amazing is it to overcome fear?
Everything that is important happens on the inside, whether it is a handstand or our life, the meaning comes from interpretation, understanding and experiencing. And for that we occasionally need to make time…
Here are some ways that Spira can help.
Inversion workshop– figure out why you are afraid, if you are… Realize why you can do things or why you tell yourself that you can’t… just because you like to feel your legs lighter or because you like to see others make funny faces while upside down.
40 Days introspection – because you want to figure out what makes you happy. How you could be happier and because you are curious about who you are on the inside!
How to work with injuries – because yoga is forever and for everybody. It is what happens on the inside that matters and thus you may want to learn how to be gentle with your body…
Sound Bath – because you much rather be in savasana with your own stream of consciousness than to get stuck reading mine ever again! 🙂
And if none of this helped you in any way- well at least now you have a good pick up line at Halloween parties when you meet a handsome skeleton. “Are you exploring a deep rooted existential crisis or simply bringing back the old pagan holiday of Parentalia? – guaranteed to work on every geek!