As Christmas approaches we are filled with messages regarding giving and receiving gifts. The commercial frenzy that develops around Christmas can be chaotic, but there is something about giving and receiving gifts that can inspire us around the holidays.
I have to admit that I am not a great fan of the whole Christmas “gift giving” hype. I find it a bit disturbing when I see rivers of people invading the shopping districts, tantalized by shrilling jingles and dazzling light. The red and white colors of Coca-Cola reigning over the whole scene.
Personally, I will instead celebrate the winter solstice.
The winter solstice is the point that marks the shortest day and the longest night in one half of the world, and the longest day and the shorter night in the other.
It is a moment of dynamic unbalance, of change and renovation. The pendulum of time has moved all the way to one side. Now, after a deep moment of stillness, it reverses its course.
We are again, and again, reminded of the cyclical nature of our existence: and of everything that surrounds us. Just like the seasons, our physical, emotional and mental bodies also move cyclically. Light and darkness take turns and literally give birth to one another.
Tantra is a holistic approach that teaches us to embrace both light, and obscurity, with love and acceptance. Rather than dreading the moments of darkness we welcome them. We can allow ourselves to be nourished by them. In darkness lies our greatest opportunity for renovation, regeneration, and rebirth.
In tantra, the shift between light and darkness is one of the many aspects of polarity. The dance of opposites gives rise to everything around us: hot and cold, light and dark, masculine and feminine. Opposites play in an eternal ballet of attraction and repulsion.
Of course, one of the most powerful expression of interaction is sexuality. In tantric lovemaking we complement each other just as the day counterbalances the night.
This is why both giving and receiving: opening up and penetrating, holding and surrendering, are so important in tantra, which brings us back to gifts and the act of giving.
What is the tantric way to give and receive gifts?
In my life gifts aren’t necessarily connected to a specific date: not even to birthdays.
I give and receive gifts whenever the occasion arises, spontaneously. And yet, being reminded of the importance of giving and receiving is always good, no matter the excuse!
So what inspires me about Christmas is this: reminding us how necessary it is to both give and receive freely, abundantly, unreservedly.
Or, in other words, how essential it is to be generous.
The Pure Gift
Among the many ways that we can practice generosity, there is one that I especially cherish: giving a gift to a complete stranger. Not our lover, not even our friend, but someone that we don’t know anything about.
There is something fundamentally tantric in this practice. Tantra literally means “weave”, and the basic idea behind tantra is that everything is interconnected. And what better way to remember that than giving to a complete stranger?
When we do that, we are reminded that we are all part of a family where the distinction between friend and stranger fades away.
Moreover, giving to someone that we don’t know and that we will never see again means that we let go of receiving anything back from that person. In some circumstances not even gratitude.
Detaching from the consequences of our gift is paramount. A pure gift, especially when given to a stranger, may not be even understood or well received.The practice of giving to someone that can’t give anything back to us always makes me think about a “chain of gifts”.
The pure act of generosity sets into motion a powerful ripple effect. This ripple effect creates positive influences in the most unexpected and mysterious ways.
There’s so many ways we can gift a stranger: donating to a charity, giving some of our books to a public library, having some spare money in our pockets and giving it away to whoever seems to need it.
But gifts needn’t necessarily be material objects.
As I sit in a café writing this article, a man two tables across looks at me and we make eye contact. I smile at him, confident that in so doing, I am creating one more little chain of gifting that will perhaps reach far and wide.
Happy winter solstice to all!
About Raffaello Manacorda