"You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not shout I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town. He's making a list and checking it twice; gonna find out who's naughty or nice, Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good so be good for goodness sake! "
As my husband blared his favorite version of the song, he sang along to our 5 year old, pointing at her occasionally in that cool, Michael Buble kind of way. I quietly watched from the sidelines as our daughter's face morphed from delight to confusion to horror. "Not me, right?! I haven't been bad, right?!"
(cue mom from kitchen right as she lunges forward, shutting off the music, striking her best brooding-and-sightly-crazed Hamlet pose…)
"…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
Aye, there's the rub.
As Coots and Gillespie suggested, we're either naughty or nice, good or bad. And Santa, the omnipresent, all-knowing bearer or all things we wish for, will reward or punish us accordingly, so you better watch out. And whatever you do, don't cry.
As Shakespeare suggested, nothing has a preassigned or fixed goodness or badness. It's all in how we THINK about things. And we tend to think things are either good or bad.
Perhaps this is why the song became an instant hit when it was first played in 1934. It went on to become one of the biggest sellers in American history. Clearly people related to it. And maybe not just because it was a catchy tune.
I have never heard this song the way I did that morning. My protective mama bear instincts quickly rose to the surface as I responded to my daughter's plea, "No, no, not you, you're not bad!" (I didn't, in fact, jump into my best Hamlet, though in hindsight, I wish I had.)
What are we teaching our children, I've since thought to myself. But more importantly, do I hold these beliefs to be true? Do I deem something to be either good or bad as a way to determine how I'm going to respond to it?
Yes and yes.
Our tendency to label things is just one more way we strive to keep our minds and hearts safe from discomfort. If I know something is "bad" then I know I need to avoid it. If I've decided something is "good", it's worth pursuing and I should benefit from doing so.
This way of thinking perpetuates our compulsion to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Our compulsions, left unchecked, can turn into addictions. In an effort to avoid pain we continuously seek pleasure, whether to cover the pain or to make the pain more endurable. Often what we're left with, once the pleasure wears off, is a pain that is deeper than the one we started with. In an effort to make that pain go away, we repeat the cycle. Over and over and over again. Until we've solidified a habit.
But pain, as my PT assures me, is subjective. Or, as the famed Dr. Sarno claimed, is all in our heads.
If this is true, then Shakespeare was right. It's our thinking that gets us into trouble, in this case thinking something is either good or bad.
Whether subjective or not, we've all experienced pain, physical and psychological. What are we to do with it? What if we were satisfied with thinking that things just are?
In my meditation practice, I've been experimenting with the mantra "I am". The full yogic mantra is "so hum", so meaning "I am" and hum meaning "that". I find the truncated version more useful, allowing me to sit with no qualifier. I just AM.
My experiment is showing me just how disconcerting it is to sit with the idea that, "I am" rather than, "I am such-and-such."
But if I can practice just that, being with whatever is, thinking it neither good nor bad, what I'm left with is a truer experience of myself and the world around me. Because, for goodness sake, "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts…Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."