The boys went back to their other house today. We’ve had an amazing Christmas, sledding, playing games, making Lego and being together as a family. I spent Christmas with my father for the first time in seventeen years, and that was the greatest gift of the season. I love Christmas and this was a really good one. Now, the house quiet and the boys gone for another week, and I’m experiencing the post-Christmas doldrums.

Everything looks the same; the tree is still up and the mantel still decked with ornaments and lights and boughs, but something is missing.

There is a saying in Buddhism: before enlightenment, cut wood, haul water; after enlightenment, cut wood, haul water. Before Christmas, turn on lights and sit before the tree. After Christmas, turn on the lights and sit before the tree.

Of course, celebrating a family Christmas isn’t the same as enlightenment, but there are some similarities. Christmas is one time of the year that many people experience peace, if only for a short while. For me it often comes after all the hullabaloo of the day is over, and I can sit quietly with my family and look at the Christmas tree, and hold them in my arms and feel completely at peace. Others feel it during a once-a-year trip to the Church; others still while offering some generous charitable gift at a homeless shelter or the Salvation Army.

Whatever its cause, this harmony is a glimpse of a possible permanent peace that comes from enlightenment; the enduring end of suffering. In short, that suffering ends through unconditional love.

For a few, including Gautama Buddha, suffering can be conquered through devotion to meditation and a lifetime of practice, study, laughter and good will, the rest of us only catch fleeting glimpses.

And so it is at Christmas. The company comes and goes, the day passes, and soon the New Year is upon us and before we know it, the brief moment of peace is a fading memory.

We turn on the Christmas lights and sit before the tree, but the peace it brought has slipped away.

My favourite book on Buddhism is called After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, by Jack Cornfield. For the longest time I had only read the opening chapter, the title of the work being enough to keep my mind occupied.

Life is punctuated by moments of bliss, pure love, complete peace, clear vision, and total unity, but then they are gone, and we’re left doing the dishes again, trying to hurry the kids off to school and meet some deadline at work. We crave a return to those moments of perfection, and sometimes grow weary or resentful of the day-to-day humdrum that occupies most of our lives. We crave distraction from it; we want to escape.

But as the saying goes, both before and after enlightenment, life is almost entirely made up of routine. It can be either tedious, or blissful; the choice is ours to make. Even for those achieving enlightenment, it is a reality. In fact, for those conquering suffering, facing that choice may be the key to creating a lasting peace.

The boys are gone and the house is quiet. There is no monumental war of Star Wars Lego figures taking place across the living room carpet. Nobody is asking for one more piece of Christmas candy. I’m sitting by the fire, the tree lit beside me; and every single moment I am making the choice to be at peace with myself and my life. It is a gift that transcends the season.