A Greeting for All Seasons

by Carol S. Hyman

What do you say at this time of year? Season’s greetings? Happy holidays? While these expressions may upset folks who’d like something more specific, most of us respond well to them as gestures of good cheer. Still, they can feel a bit bland. So this season I’ve been exploring the power of a wordless way to convey goodwill.

Holiday shopping can certainly challenge our goodwill, as can holiday traffic. Headed home from Costco, I saw that a drive I normally make in less than half an hour was predicted by GPS to take 47 minutes. After sitting for a full cycle at a stoplight with only marginal movement,  I remembered a shortcut I’d used in years past and decided to take it. 

An hour and ten minutes later, having sat through many more lights than I would have had I stayed the original course, I pulled into my driveway. I wasn’t particularly surprised by that – after all, some law of the universe seems to dictate that whenever we switch to a lane or a line because we think it’s moving faster, it won’t. Someone will need a price check. A delivery truck double parks. Or for simply unfathomable reasons, things just start moving slower than molasses.

What I was surprised by is that I found myself smiling about it. After all, what can you do when traffic is bad? Well, of course, you can fret and fume. You can complain. You can drive like a maniac through the congestion in a way that’s unlikely to spread joy to the drivers around you. 

Or you can notice, as I did, that you are part of the traffic. Every vehicle (at least until self-driving cars hit the road in greater numbers) is piloted by somebody who needs to get somewhere. We are all just another somebody headed toward a destination. And this has a parallel that goes beyond the time it takes to drive from point A to point B. 

Just like we’re all part of the traffic, we’re all part of the human condition. We can fret and fume about how crazy the world is, how confusion, conflict, and chaos abound, and how other people who don’t share our opinions are to blame for that. We can even broadcast our views about how wrong others are on social media. Again, unlikely to spread joy.

But there’s another possibility. And while it may not be exactly a shortcut, it’s more likely to get us where we want to go. We could try taking a look at what one brilliant teacher described as our traffic jam of discursive thoughts. We all carry within us our own personal contribution to the collective combative congestion that afflicts the world these days.

If we do, we might begin to see ourselves as vehicles containing passengers with baggage and competing agendas. We may discover we harbor doubt about our destination, about what route will take us where we want to go, about whether we have what we need to get us there. And in the process we might discover how we are co-creating the human condition. We are the traffic.

Human beings have evolved to be in community. We long for connection. If we learn to connect with and trust our basic nature, we can engage with others from the ground of our own wakeful presence. That will make it easier to recognize that they share that ground, even if they haven’t realized it yet. And, in any case, we all share the same precious planet and the same threatened atmosphere. How we treat one another matters. 

Expressing that basic decency can transform our own lives and change the world. So in this season when we’re moved to offer greetings, instead of wondering how to express them without causing offense, consider taking advice from an old song: “If you smile at me, I will understand. ‘Cause that is something everybody everywhere does in the same language.”

In Costco, I practiced that and was amazed by what happened. Waiting for an aisle to clear, or for somebody to get what they wanted from a display I also wanted to reach, or standing in the checkout line: any time I could catch someone’s eye, I smiled. And every single person smiled back. Sometimes with a shake of the head, a “what are ya gonna do about this mess?” wry kind of smile, but still.…

Science tells us that smiling is beneficial to our bodies. A smile is a way of salvaging sanity in a crazy world by propagating cheerfulness and inviting spaciousness to infuse our corner of space-time. Every one of us is a vehicle on a trip – from the bed to the bathroom, from home to work, from the cradle to the grave – and we all carry our share of the human karmic load. We have no choice. But a smile can lighten the load, not only for ourselves, but for everyone we meet.

It’s a beautiful greeting… and it’s good for all seasons!

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