Birthday Presence

Once a year we commemorate the day we were born. Early in life, it is a day to look forward to. One gets to be the center of attention, at least briefly, and there are presents to anticipate. Later, many lose enthusiasm for birthdays. Birthdays remind us that we are aging, and strangely in our culture, that is not something everyone looks forward to. In part, the thought of aging reminds us that we are closing in on the finish line of life.

Birthdays tend to be about ego. For that one day, we are special. We are celebrated, separated from the herd momentarily, and recognized as distinct for something we did based on no merit of our own. The accomplishment of aging another year, feels to some as an empty deed, since we didn’t do anything much to attain the goal, except to exert our natural skill for not dying.

The less curmudgeonly among us celebrate birthdays as a way to honor the aging person. (Right now notice your response as you read the term aging person. Was it a little bit negative? If it was, just note that). A birthday is an opportunity to reflect on the gift the honored one brings to the world. It’s a time to affirm our joy in their presence among us. Should we be short on self-esteem when it is our turn to be celebrated, the honor may feel uncomfortable.

So, let’s consider some ways to reflect on your own birthday. You might start with contemplating your attitudes toward the day. You could make this a journaling opportunity. How do you feel about the whole idea of celebrating your birthday? If there are mixed emotions, sort them out. What are your reservations about the day? Do issues of self worth come up? Are there issues of being loved or wanted? Does the day remind you of celebrations gone wrong? Does the idea of aging bring you face to face with your mortality in a way you would rather not be? Are there issues of vanity? Do you feel inclined to lie about your age? If so, examine the thinking behind that inclination. Also consider, who do you think you are kidding?

Once past all that thinking, take time to sit quietly and enjoy your own presence. In one sense, a birthday is just a day on a calendar. In another, it is a day when the planet earth is in the same relationship with the sun as it was on the auspicious day of your birth. This day could be an opportunity to reestablish a spiritual harmony that was interrupted by your arrival in the world. Slip out of your ego frame of reference, and just be the real you for a while. To do that, you need to quiet your thinking.

Shift your focus to your breath. Just watch what happens as you breathe. Likely, your breathing will slow down as you relax. Attend to the quiet between your breaths. Notice your own awareness. Don’t think about it, just notice it. Keep coming back to awareness of the breath and the space between breaths. Notice that you are alive, and regardless of how long you have been alive, that presence has not changed. Some sense of you was there at your first breath, and it is there with you now. Look at that. Welcome it. Celebrate with presence.

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© 2010 Tom Barrett