I spent the weekend at my dear friend Raha’s place preparing for our big Nowruz celebration! Nowruz, meaning ‘New Day’, is the name of the Iranian New Year. It marks the first day of spring or Equinox and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. Actually, in 2009 a bill was passed in Canada to add Nowruz to the national calendar. As well this past weekend Hindus celebrated Gudi Padwa, the Hindu New Year. The word pāḍavā stands for the first day of the bright phase of the moon, again acknowledging the Equinox. Being in India with many of Persian friends meant there was lots to prepare and celebrate.
Raha and I decorated her apartment, painted eggs (another tradition), prepared games, organized a short meaningful presentation explaining the purpose of the festivals to our diverse community of friends and set up the Haft Seen or the Seven S’s table. This is the traditional table setting of Nowruz and includes seven items all starting with the letter sīn in the Persian alphabet. The Haft Seen items are: Sabzeh, lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth; Samanu, sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence; Senjed, dried oleaster Wild Olive fruit – symbolizing love. Seer, garlic – symbolizing medicine; Seeb, apple – symbolizing beauty and health; Somāq, sumac fruit – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise; and Serkeh, vinegar – symbolizing old-age and patience.
On Saturday night, the guests arrived in their traditional attire and the party began! The guests performed traditional dance moves, ate a variety of food which included several kinds of Iranian sweets, shared many laughs thanks to silly games and of course enjoyed mixing and mingling with eachother. I spent most of the evening running back and forth to the kitchen; playing hostess and making endless pots of tea to quench the Middle Easterners caffeine cravings. But it was so lovely to see all of our friends come together and celebrate this wonderful holiday! It was a full house – at one point we had 26 people stuffed into Raha’s place. Thankfully, love expands further than concrete walls and although it was hot, no one cared because we were all together!
Many of our friends are from Middle Eastern countries which are perpetually in a state of unrest; as such, they cannot return home for if they do, they literally risk death. These people are forced to flee their countries, leaving behind everything. Then they try to start life again elsewhere which isn’t easy when you hold a passport to a country that has a wretched nation brand.
When you have nothing, you become very present to the source that truly matters – love. When my Middle Eastern friends speak of love, it’s as if I am introduced to a whole new world! They know how fragile life is and how it can all vanish in a heartbeat; as such, I find they have very little or no attachment to things. They know at the end of it all, all you have is love and being with those you love is what truly matters. While we in the West ‘know’ this and say it all the time, I don’t think most of us really ‘get’ it. Those lines become cliché quotes we splat on coffee mugs from which we drink while we return to our ostentation and uncontrolled consumptive habits. Why don’t we try practicing humility?
When Raha wakes up, for example, she checks the news to see which one of her friends was falsely accused and arrested while my Iraqi buddies check to see if their native city was bombed. I open my Canadian Yahoo page and the headline reads ‘How to dice a pepper in a second’…
In one of Lao-tzu’s proverbs he advises us to be careful about amassing great wealth and storing it away. He warns that this practice contributes to a life spent keeping our fortune safe and insured, while at the same time always feeling the need to pursue more. I feel like we often fail to know our limit and retire from the pursuit of wanting more. Obesity is a direct result of not understanding and living this wisdom. Look around you and see what you DO have. How full your cup is. When I am with these friends, I am always reminded of humility. I’m not saying that other people in our world aren’t loving and don’t know the value of life, I just think we need to make a commitment to ourselves to always step back and look – look and see why you’re doing something and for what reason. Seek the pleasure in what you’re doing rather than how it might benefit you or get you ‘ahead’. Take that moment and tell your family and friends that you love and appreciate them. Acknowledge those in your life and what you have right now. It is a ‘New Day’, practice filling yourself with love instead of artificial symbols of success.