Birthdays and why they’re special

Category : General advice, Philosophy 1st July 2019

Inside Yoga 274 (1/7/2019)

I have just emerged from a busy weekend celebrating my wife’s birthday – a significant one with a 0! – and as I sit here thinking what do I write about? It is clear: write about birthdays and why they are special.

Consider this: a birthday is how we mark a special point in time. It can represent a landmark or simply an excuse to have a party, alternatively birthdays can be seen as a way of breaking up time, because without them there is risk that our existence becomes a blur of passing day into night and night into day – pretty much how I image my dog sees his existence. But then my dog doesn’t think about his existence like we humans do (or does he?). We are both plagued and blessed at the same time of being able to think about our existence – simply asking who am I and why am I? –and also able to mark the passing of time.

But time can be tricky, it can pass in a dreary crawl which we feel painfully or it might fly by because we feel on top of the world. The Buddhist perspective is that we be mindful of the moment however it feels.

Our emotions lead us up and down through time, so one way of explaining the benefit or birthdays and also festivities like Christmas and Easter, is that it helps to break up time, injecting it with a reason to feel happy and celebrate. But unfortunately, it can also be a time when we feel worse – because we are getting old or we feel alone, so why celebrate? The event in itself is not guaranteed to bring joy and harmony, but our approach and relationship with it can.

Like anything we do, what is important is how we respond to daily events – in this case, a birthday. What I am gearing up to say is that birthdays might be an important point in time for us to pause, reflect and celebrate, but perhaps we can consider that every moment is worth celebrating and enjoying? Life is precious, and as many of us have seen, it can end suddenly when we have lost loved ones, or our circumstances can change in a second and the joy can be removed. Or perhaps joy can be introduced into our life. Every moment is important: this is worth remembering and using as a tool to help us out of a down moment when the day ahead does not feel welcoming. Remember every moment passes – as does the birthday!

I am, however, not suggesting we celebrate every day as if it is our birthday! That would be too much, as the story about a spoilt boy by David Wallaims shows (Spoilt Brad in World’s Worst Children number 2) it would be too much for everyone around the birthday person!

Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh has said that we should call our birthdays “continuation days”, based on the Buddhist view that there is no beginning and no end, everything runs in cycles, because something comes from something, not from nothing. So when we are born we have come from something else, a past life for example (note that in Buddhism reincarnation part of the belief system), so the implication that it is a birthday implies nothing before birth, which is not possible.

What this view is asking us to do is to see every moment as important and not important at the same time, in other words, we seek be calm in response to every moment. This view can help in many ways, and can add some perspective to any event, but I am not suggesting we then give up the idea of birthdays, because they are worth enjoying if we are able to, but it is worth considering the big picture of one day in the timeline of our existence.

That was my thought for the day – or birthday. As birthdays do come around – every year I am told – read an article I wrote in 2018 about the same topic: birthdays… it was mine then –

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