If ever in recent years has the need to purify ourselves to become more Christ-like, this is certainly it. The world we live in is so connected that who can hide, and why would they? If spiritual awakening includes a growing awareness of the totality of reality (and the hidden, divine essence of all things), then our hearts should be expanding and sharing.
Yogis and other traditions teach us to face east for meditation. Also: to meditate at dawn, noon, dusk, and midnight. And, other subtle "tricks" as well. Even if I cannot say definitively how much these tricks add to the depth of meditation I can say for sure that I need all the help I can get!
So it is with the Winter Solstice season: the annual period of outer darkness is ideal for seeking the light within, where, in fact, it can always be found. Whatever month Jesus Christ was actually born in is not the real point. The inner, Christ-light of our innate divinity is always born in the humble manager of our softened heart.
There is a universally accessible "worm-hole" of divine consciousness that descends during this darkest season. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says, "To the yogi, day is night while to the worldly man, night is day." What this means is that material consciousness that attaches such value to possessions, sense experiences, and ego recognition is like a smothering, dark fog to the soul. By contrast, the state of humility, devotion, and openness is anathema, like darkness, to the ego.
So when the outer light of the sun is partially obscured, the inner light of the soul can be more easily seen with the "third eye" of intuition (in meditation, at the point between the eyebrows). There the light, like a 1,000 million suns, can appear. This is the light that gives light to the outer world.
This time of year is the time for reflection and deeper meditation. The world around us does not tug as persistently upon the sleeve of our attention. (I find it interesting, however, that the world of egos has created such "buzz" and frenetic activity around Christmas in a desperate attempt to eclipse the soul's more natural inclination to go inward.)
Paramhansa Yogananda did not spurn the joyful and social aspects of Christmas. He enjoyed giving gifts, singing carols, and having a Christmas banquet. Rather than put the one thing "down," he added a day-long meditation as the true, and spiritual Christmas.
The Ananda communities throughout the world have continued this tradition. In the beginning, Yogananda (his disciples addressed him as "Master" in the way Christ's disciples did: master of himself!) held the 8-hour meditation on Christmas Eve. But this made it difficult for the disciples in his ashram to prepare the Christmas banquet (which took all night).
So Master moved the meditation day back to December 23. Some Ananda Communities continue this latter tradition; others, like Seattle, hold the Christmas meditation on the Saturday preceding Christmas Day. For 2015, for example, the Christmas Meditation takes place on December 19, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell. (www.AnandaWA.org)
Don't see this meditation as a standalone feature of Christmas. NOW is the time to prepare yourself to receive the blessings of the Christmas / Solstice season. Here are some tips to spiritualize your holidays:
1. Get up a little earlier each morning to sit in prayer and meditation. The amount of time is less important than the heartfelt effort.
2. Take time, at least once, during the day to pause, internalize, pray and be still. Jesus may have been born in a humble stable long ago, but the Christ (immanent in each atom of creation) can be born in your heart at any moment, and indeed, in every moment.
3. At night or at the same time every day, offer prayers for peace, sending vibrations of peace to loving hearts yearning for peace and willing to be peaceful "warriors" standing up for the light in the face of darkness, crises, and troubles. The Christ light needs lightbearers to combat the darkness of our times.
4. One day a week do a fast. Some can do a water fast; others should do a juice fast (using ground almonds for protein); others, yet can fast until lunch, eating raw or freshly cooked food for lunch; skip or repeat same for dinner. Fasting is not only extremely healthy for your body, but see it more as a deliberate act of will: an affirmation of your soul's freedom from bodily imperatives; and, finally, as an act of sacrifice to help others. Good for the body; good for the soul! [For some, simply fasting from sweets or junk or processed foods one day a week would be a victory in itself. Choose your weapon, make sure you know how to use it, and then enter the fray!]
5. There's only a few weeks before the Christmas meditation day. Begin lengthening your meditation periods or at least do a two to three hour meditation once a week. I have a handout we use for "How to take Longer Meditations" I can send you: let me know.
6. Your gift-giving is important but let it be from your heart. Money is not the measure of value. Goodwill is. Let your gift be something you feel good about giving and let it be not merely a thing, but a container of soul joy: heart to heart. It need not be overtly "spiritual."
7. Let your Christmas spirit flow out in practical ways: at work; at school; in your neighborhood, church, and while shopping. Give the precious gift of your smile to all (when "safe" to do so, of course!). Good deeds, especially unseen by others, are precious to the living Christ in your heart.
8. Visualize the infant Christ resting in the cradle, the manger, of your own softened heart. Do this anytime and all the time! Expand this to see the infant in the hearts of others.
Remember: it is not a coincidence that down through the centuries acts of kindness and devotion are received or felt by all, even those who otherwise never express or feel the same during the rest of the year. The "Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens pays silent homage to this reality. Dive deep and consciously, therefore, into the darkness of the solstice to discover the candle light of Christ within you and within all. Nurture that infant light by devotion, kindness and goodwill, and by meditation upon the inner light. It will grow and will light your life far beyond the solstice time.
May the light of Christ shine within you,