We've all seen them — images of Black Friday shoppers racing into stores and fighting over merchandise. And we all probably think the same thing: How could things have gotten so mixed up? How could a celebration of peace on earth have been reduced to people fighting over flat screen TVs?
Yet the more I think about it, the more I reluctantly realize those people are us. We all often get it backwards, putting the "stuff" before our fellow human beings. Those frenzied Black Friday shoppers are great symbols of our own upside-down priorities.
We may not be shopaholics, but let's face it, we all have "stuff" that we are attached to. This can be traditional attachments like money, car, and house, or they can be more "enlightened" ones like our yoga mat and chamomile tea. Whatever it is, we've made it into an idol. There's no point in judging someone else's form of idol worship. The only question that matters is: What are my idols?
Whatever they are, they always get in the way of the one truly important thing: other people. That's what those Black Friday shoppers so helpfully illustrate for us. When your priority is the "stuff," you end up trampling on other people to get it. You may not have been wrestling with another holiday shopper over an Elsa singing doll, but you have been wrestling with someone over something. Once we identify our idols, we need to ask the next question: How do my idols get in the way of the people in my life?
We may assume that setting our priorities right-side up means sacrificing the "stuff" so we can do right by the people. The Course, however, has a very different perspective. It reminds us that the "pleasures" of the world don't actually satisfy us. They promise bliss but in the end leave us hollow. And it reminds us that real happiness comes not from things but from relationships. Happiness comes from what the Course calls "real relationships" and "holy encounters."
I say the Course "reminds" us because I think our life experience has already taught us this. Whether or not we have really listened, we have all learned from experience that what really matters in the end is our connection with others. The "stuff" is bought and eventually discarded, but the importance of those connections remains.
Imagine how different our holiday season would be if, while shopping, while preparing, while celebrating, we held uppermost in mind the importance of our connections with others and the nothingness of everything else. Imagine how much happier we would be.