This Time Last Year

This time last year, I was in Delhi, India. I woke on Christmas morning, having arrived the night before, and felt as excited as any child waiting to see what Santa brought. What would Christmas in India be like? There was a red, felt stocking hanging outside my door, full of sweets and silliness. Gold baubles and tinsel decorated the hotel lobby and breakfast room. ‘Happy Christmas, Ma’am,’ was said with a nod and a smile as I passed any of the staff. By the time I got to Jodhpur later that day, Christmas was forgotten. I wasn’t sad.

I had a festive lunch with my family, the week before I left. To me, that was Christmas. I had the fun, the feast and the frivolity without the queues, the exorbitant seafood prices and the angst of sharing the day by time slots. I would prefer to do this every year.

I was hyped by the thrill of adventure, of a journey through parts of India I had not been before. I was on my way to an ashram 28km north of Jodhpur on the edge of the Thar Desert, for a women’s festival celebrating shakti, sisterhood and spirituality, plus teachings on the environment – past, present and future – and what we can do to enhance our creativity and heal nature.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic, invited me – personally, I felt – on Instagram. I could barely wait!

A few days later, I was at the ashram and had made friends already. We were women of all ages from many countries, and thrilled to be there.

I saw films made by young, Indian women about seed banks and the Bishnois who were the first tree huggers. I learned about the school for kids with disabilities, run by Sneh Gupta, founder of Indiability, and the support offered by Urmi Basu’s New Light Kolkata for women and their children in the red-light district. I had the honour of meeting these women.

My eyes were wide open and my mind, highly receptive.

The food was pure, organic and vegetarian. Also, delicious. There was no alcohol but plenty of milky masala chai.

I watched Liz Gilbert interact with other learners, volunteers, activists, leaders, high achievers, the broken, the fragile, creatives, village women and festival organisers, and was moved by her grace, compassion, and insights. She was one of us and it was empowering.

I was okay. I was an observer and a participant in something that was much bigger than me but felt easy and right. I was part of a team. Whenever something made me sad, I went to the dogs – literally. The female ashram dogs were sweet and gentle.

I got Ayurvedic health advice from Shreejan Sita, the programme director and Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist. I discovered enneagrams and TRE (tension, stress and trauma release exercise) and had a tarot card reading, which was surprisingly accurate. I listened to women’s stories.

Apart from the cold and austerity of the ashram, I had a ball.

On New Year’s Eve, we partied. We danced in the vast red tent – friends and village girls – while Guruji and Shree looked on. We chanted around the fire, burning words on bits of paper to dispel the unwanted leftovers of 2019. No champagne. No mind-altering substances at all. We were high on the sisterhood and the freezing cold desert around us.

The year 2020 was not what I expected. The massive devastation left by the bushfires in NSW Australia was heartbreaking. A close friend died. The settlement on the sale of my marital home was difficult. Covid struck. Relationships became strained. My father’s health deteriorated and he died. Family and friends had challenges. All around me, I witnessed stress, heartache and adjustments.

And yet, I had many good times too: a new home and successful renovations; progress, albeit slow, on the writing of my book; friendships were strengthened; my sons’ lives developed, and their relationships grew stronger. I made new friends and found a new community. I have proved to myself how capable I am. And am learning to be more comfortable in my own skin.

This Christmas will not be as joyful as the last. There will be fewer loved ones at my table. Covid 19 has broken out again in NSW and state borders have closed. The virus plagues the world and India is unreachable and suffering more than ever.

But I am lucky. I have family. I have friends. I have health, a comfortable home, an abundance of fresh food, clean air and sunshine. There is much to be grateful for.

I will drink champagne on New Year’s Eve with a friend or two. I will remember last year’s NYE and the year that was. I might light a smudge stick and set some intentions. We’ll see! I have learned that plans need to be fluid. One of my intentions is to not be so hard on myself when they are.

I wish you a safe and gracious Christmas. May you maintain a smile throughout 2021 and infect the world with it.

Utsava Maa, Shri Jasnath Asan, 2019

Namita’s Blog

Lisa’s Blog

Bishnois

Perfect Aussie Christmas

Another Christmas has passed. In one day, all the weeks of advertisements, gift shopping, Christmas carols, angst, menu-preparing, tree decorating, colourful lights, Santas, parties and feasting, have climaxed and left us sated, in our stomachs and our desire to get together with family at one table.

I realise I’m talking about my experience and everyone’s is different. Some aren’t so lucky. Some are much more so. And some just do it differently. But most of us like to get family and friends together over food.

My Christmas isn’t about religion. It is about all the above. Overall, it’s about thoughtfulness, togetherness and feasting.

This Christmas, mine was close to Aussie perfection. A swim in the ocean with the kids (my life-guards), followed by an excess of simple food – prawns, bugs, oysters, pork, ham, chicken, salad and pudding with custard, shared with good people. The sun shone. The pine tree sparkled and perfumed the air. Later, some of us had other places to go. Some of us lazed around like overfed seals.

The modern family may be more complicated than it was once, with mum and dad living in different places, or children choosing to break traditions or family members living in different countries, but if we remain flexible and thoughtful, we can all still enjoy the idea and practice of Christmas Day.

If we’re not religious, Christmas Day can be any day. The delight is more important than the date. If it makes our lives easier, our families can celebrate their togetherness on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day. Or any day. If it will be more conducive to joy and calm, then let it be.

I got lucky this year. My family were together on the official day, for lunch. I also got The Bonus, being included in a friend’s family Christmas gathering in the evening. I got my fill of thoughtfulness, togetherness and food. In excess! I felt well and truly blessed.

Christmas Cheer or Cheerless

‘I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas,’ one friend says at the wise-old-birds meeting we hold once a month. While we feast on sponge cake with cream, strawberries dipped in chocolate, rocky road and fruit mince pies, we discuss such important matters of the world – our world. Looking at this indulgent spread, I couldn’t agree more!

Each one of us takes turns in re-living our best and worst memories of Christmas. When we get half-way through the group, someone declares, ‘No one really likes Christmas. It’s always a debacle.’

This is countered enthusiastically by another who says, ‘That’s not true. There are people that like Christmas and have normal Christmas gatherings. We’re just from dysfunctional backgrounds.’

I look sideways at my friend, you know the way you do when you don’t turn your head? We’re all getting a bit red-faced. Someone else pipes up, ‘What’s normal?’ Maybe the meeting is getting out of hand. It must be all that sugar. Or pink champagne.

The question remains; what’s normal? I don’t know many people like that. Or Christmases. (Even that word looks abnormal.)

Maybe, it’s just Christmas in Australia isn’t normal. We’re all too hot and we’d rather be swimming. The flies, swarming in through open windows, litter the prawns and potato salad, looking like tasty currants until swatted away, to be swatted away again every three seconds. We’re too irritable to be joyful.

The conversation of the group settles when one woman declares her Christmases have always been nice. Okay, there is hope! But I don’t remember what she said next. I only remember the bad stuff. Which was sometimes quite funny. But usually a bit sad.

Best and worst Christmas presents was a safer subject.

There was much laughter over the worst, but sadly, the worst was tainted by malice, lack of thought or ineptitude. (Ineptitude: haplessly incompetent – don’t you love that?) For example, a plain pair of socks to each child, every year, from an aunty. A bolt of cloth, also to a child, the colour of baby poo. Toe separators and Russian Matryoshka Nesting Dolls.

The best presents were delightful: a holiday organised by a husband including a babysitter to stay at home with the children, a doll’s dress made by mother but ordered by Santa, a bathing suit of aqua and pink, a home-made letterbox designed like a ladybird, and mine – a giant fur koala.

For me, there’s one definite highlight to Christmas. And that’s the pudding: fruity and rich with a dob of brandy butter and lashings of vanilla pouring custard.

The conversation left us with full heads of memories and hearts full of emotions. We decided that trees, decorations, pre-Christmas gatherings, families and friends getting together (despite the drawbacks) and Christmas food, made it all worthwhile.

Having eaten more than my share of special afternoon tea, my belly felt like it was getting a practise run in for the day when we don’t stop eating. That’s Christmas. It should be called Indulgence Day.