Rohatsu, an antidote to holiday madness

A few years back, at a small party at our house, my friend Margaret was telling us about her annual Buddhist silent meditation retreat. None of her listeners were familiar with such a thing, and we thought it was hilarious. We laughed and poked fun at weird people who would sit on the floor for a week without talking.

Oops. Be careful what you poke fun at!

Away from my cynical friends, I asked Margaret to tell me more about this silent meditation stuff. I met Jordan, who answered more questions and induced me to try some meditation at home.

Eventually, I went to my first retreat, a weekend event at Breitenbush with teacher Robert Beatty. Now I was one of those weird people I had poked fun at.

The retreat is not a silent occasion — there’s a teacher, and he or she talks, guiding the meditations and offering Buddhist teachings. There are bells, and the wind in the trees, and birds, and the sound of spoons and forks, and people walking. There’s the sound of running water — have you ever noticed how loud a flushing toilet is? Sometimes, there’s music.

We’re not trying to block out the world, and the world does not, and cannot, become silent. It is simply that the participants do not talk. I love it.

This probably comes as a shock to my family members, who told me growing up that I talked too much.

Today, December 8th, is considered to be the day when Buddha achieved enlightenment. To the list of December holidays, Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice, we can add Rohatsu.

You won’t find Rohatsu cards, Rohatsu presents, or Rohatsu parties, though.

In Western culture, celebration implies consumption. We buy things, or we get together with friends and family and gorge ourselves on intoxicants and rich food. Rohatsu, on the other hand, caps a week of intensive meditation. In Buddhist centers around the world, people gather for a day or an evening of meditation together. Instead of “celebrating,” they “commemorate” the day of Buddha’s enlightenment by practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the antidote to the crazy holiday season. Instead of laughing at people who meditate, take a few minutes today and try it. Your shopping or party can wait 15 minutes.

Sit down in a quiet place. Relax. When you breathe in, notice that you are breathing in. When you breathe out, notice that you are breathing out. Whenever some thought pops into your head, like “I forgot to take the trash out,” or “What am I going to get my sister for Christmas?” or my favorite, “This is boring,” gently send it away and notice that you are breathing. In. And out. You are alive!

That’s it. Just stop for a few minutes and be present in the moment.

I promise, nobody will laugh at you. Least of all, me.

2 thoughts on “Rohatsu, an antidote to holiday madness

  1. Buddhism teaches the importance of compassion and loving kindness. That’s probably why Buddhists get along so well with others. We’re lovers, not fighters!

  2. Thank you for this. I was not aware of Rohatsu, but I know some Buddhists. I think I get along with a higher percentage of Buddhists than any other group, including my own religion. “Commemorate” rather than “celebrate” works for me, too.


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