12/22/2014 12:59 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2015

The Deeper Spiritual Teachings of the Holidays

A. Panagiotopoulou via Getty Images

A dismal holiday letter
I recently received a holiday mailing from an old friend. In it, he bemoaned the sorry state of affairs that our country is in, and focused his upset on the emptiness of the celebrations of both Christmas and Hanukkah. I understand his upset, but still believe that we are not so far away from the deeper spiritual teachings of the holidays as it may appear.

Christmas represents the birth of hope at a very dark time. The teachings emanating from the Source of that hope support greater love, compassion, healing, and non-violence. Surely, spiritual treasures.

Hanukkah was translated from the celebration of a short-lived military victory in the 2nd century BCE into a Festival of Light with the addition of the story, first appearing in the Talmud, of the single cruz of oil that burned for eight days until further sources of sanctified oil could be obtained. That Hanukkah miracle of Light speaks deeply to the Light of Awareness, the Light of awakening, the Light shared by all beings.

The issue is not that Hanukkah and Christmas lack spiritual teachings. The issue is why the profound spiritual teachings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, to name the Abrahamic traditions, are not observed and celebrated more fully. And the answer to that is, unfortunately, pretty simple.

Spirituality is eclipsed by institutions
On a religious level, institutions were created to support the spiritual teachings, but soon those institutions had their own needs that inhibited those very spiritual teachings. Institutions need members, funding, buildings, personnel -- and these needs wind up taking much of the energy away from spiritual teachings and spiritual practice.

If truth be told, though, we each carry our own personal institutions around with us. Our institution is called the ego, our separate self tasked with the survival of each individual biological entity. Our institution is our personality, with all our loves and fears, all our adequacies and inadequacies, all our successes and failures, all our feelings of being enough and not being enough. Our personal institution too often takes over and thinks it's the whole of us. Spirituality is not comfortable for the ego, since it requires a loosening of our hold on that individual identity.

Invitations to move behind the ego
The spirituality of both Hanukkah and Christmas urge us to move behind the ego, to witness but not collapse into the rambling judgments of our ego-minds, to release our competitiveness, our righteous indignation, our blames and our guilts. Hanukkah invites us to move toward the Light of all Being. Christmas invites us into the spaces of unconditional Love. From that Oneness and that Love the world will be transformed.

I wish for us all the willingness to allow ourselves to be embraced by the Light and the Love of this holiday season. We might engage the commercial dance of the time, but realize that this is simply the surface level of a much more inclusive yearning to Be.

May we all awaken to the spiritual depths of our holidays, so that we can move toward greater healing more peacefully and more lovingly. For that is the way of transformation, and transformation is what we need if we are to survive on this wondrous planet.