Hi everyone this week I want to share with you a blog post I recently did for Make a Change Blog. Enjoy!
1. What are some of the reasons why it can so hard for us to simply enjoy the holidays? Do we have unreasonable expectations?
The holidays are a time for the sacred. To find the sacred we need to be able to go within and to hear to listen. We need some stillness. We need to be connected to our hearts and to people that we love. We need to create some spaciousness so we can enjoy what is there. We must feel refreshed to truly enjoy something. If we are exhausted no matter how incredible something is you can’t fully take it in when you are tired.
I say all of this because when I look around me I see a society where exhaustion is the norm. We’re always busy, always obligated, always running from one event to the next. Life has become this endurance race. So when we stop for a minute to “try” to experience some joy, we can’t. We’re too distracted by our pounding heart and our aching muscles, and we’re already too worried about the next leg of the race.
I’d have to say our holiday expectations are not unreasonable. What is unreasonable is the pace we have to sustain the rest of the year—the pace that’s making the holiday peace and joy we long for nearly impossible.
2. You say the S” words—“supposed to” and “should”— are the problem when it comes to holidays. How can we get those two words out of the holiday vocabulary and what do we need to replace them with?
We need to bring what is unconscious up into our consciousness. This is the first step. A good way to do this is to simply make a list. (I love making lists. It really gets me focused.) Get a piece of paper and fold it in half vertically. On one side of the paper write down the things you do because you are “supposed” to do – things you do from a place of duty. On the other side of the paper write down the things about the holidays that make your heart sing and make you feel alive and joyous.
Then decide to eliminate at least one thing from your should list. Remember you can start out with baby steps. Maybe this year you’ll forgo sending out the usual mile-high stack of holiday cards. Next year you can tackle breaking the news to Aunt Gladys you aren’t coming to her annual Christmas dinner-slash-criticism fest!
So that’s the “no” list. I believe you can’t give a wholehearted “yes” until you can fully say “no.” And that brings me to the “yes” list, the “from the heart” list.
Take the thing that brings you the very most joy and figure out what can you do to make it even better. Perhaps it is simply allowing yourself to take a nap beforehand so you feel nurtured and rested and can fully take it in. If you’re not sure what brings you joy, here’s another exercise that can help. Ask yourself “If I was given the job of creating the perfect holiday for me what would it look it?” Get a piece of paper and set the timer for 10 minutes and write as fast as you can, stream of consciousness. Read what you came up with. How can you make that into a reality? What are small steps you can take now to create that?
3. While we’d all like to have “Norman Rockwell” holidays, with everyone full of love and good cheer, all too often this is the time when family conflicts take on a life of their own. What are some tips for defusing those types of situations when they occur, or effective ways of heading them off at the pass, so to speak?
Assuming you’ve decided not to run off to an island this year, come up with an intention for the holidays, an intention for being with your in-laws, for being with your family. Get clear on your intention. Maybe it’s “My intention is to exude love for the people in my life.” Notice the intention is not “to endure Aunt Glady’s criticism or let my brother make me feel inferior or argue with Uncle Frank about politics.”
An intention is the foundation on which all actions and interactions are built. It is like a magnet. It will draw certain experiences and emotions your way. Be conscious on what your intentions are so you can attract only positive, joyful experiences and emotions. Otherwise your unconscious will bring up old beliefs that may not even be true as to who you are now or who other people are.
And of course, if despite all your positive intentions, Uncle Frank starts in on the “loopy Democrats” or the “greedy Republicans” (or whomever his personal scapegoat may be) you can hold your intention in your mind and heart and simply smile lovingly and refuse to engage in the negativity.
4. When change has occurred (moving, marital breakups, loss of a loved one), it can be particularly difficult to find a way to celebrate the holidays — especially if certain traditions are no longer an option. What are your suggestions for handling those first few holidays, making the most of them even though they are different from years past?
Don’t pretend. Let yourself feel the feelings instead of resisting them. By fully feeling you can move through them. When you resist them they are always there. Perhaps have a little ritual. Ask yourself: What do I miss? What am I angry about? Feel the feelings first and then get them down on paper. Then build a fire and release them to the fire with gratitude. Let them burn away. Get a paper and write down your dreams and how you would most like to feel. Give that to the fire in gratitude too. (If the thought of fire makes you nervous, you can always dig a hole and bury them in your garden or flower bed instead!) Instead of waiting until the holidays are upon you, you make some plans ahead of time. Look at what makes you happy. Is there favorite music you love, a certain path in the woods you like to walk? Who are the people that nurture your heart? Get out all your favorite CDs, or bundle up and walk the path, or take a road trip to visit the friends you love the most.
These are the practical steps you can take. But in a larger, more philosophical sense, you can become aware of your need for outside forces to fill you up, for other people to love you and fill the void. The secret is that it is all an inside job. How can we love ourselves? How can we forgive ourselves? How can we be kind and gentle to ourselves? How can we give ourselves love and nurturing? It is not true that to love ourselves is selfish. Because only by truly loving ourselves can others love us. The outside is a mirror to what we feel and believe inside. What gift can you give yourself?
One way is to look at what you really love and what would bring you happiness on the holiday. I love candles and music. Going to an evening service where candles are lit in the dark and everyone sings Silent Night touches my heart deeply. I love going to a midnight mass. Singing devotional music from India and practicing Kirtan brings me immense joy and makes me feel like I am “home” to the deepest part of myself. For me, it doesn’t matter what religion is being practiced or what the outer form is. What matters is that place in my heart that gets touched. Sacred music lights that flame in my heart. Also, find some way to be of service to others. What do you love to do that is in service? Do you love to feed the homeless? Do you love to help out at the local animal shelter? If you don’t know because you’ve always been too busy to serve—just listen to how sad that sounds!–this holiday season might be a good time to start.
6. When it comes to gift-buying, often we equate the cost to the emotion we feel for others, which can lead us to over-spend. What are some other ways we can “share the love” without breaking the bank?
• Have a get together with a small group of people you truly love, where there is a real connection between your hearts. Instead of buying presents for each other take turns honoring one person at a time. You can have a special chair with a beautiful cloth on it and it can be like a throne. One person sits there. The other people take turns saying what they most love about that person, what gifts they see in them, what they most wish for them.
• Do a Native American Potlach or “giveaway”. You can do this with a group of people you know very well or one you hardly know at all. I have done this with classes I have facilitated, where we have met as a group for an extended period of time and gotten to know each other. Also, I am leading a group of women to Guatemala for three weeks and we will be there over the holidays. It is a new group and we are all doing this for Christmas day. The KEY thing is you bring a gift from your home, a gift that really tugs at your heartstrings. It should be something that you truly love and that is hard to even think of letting go of.
My aunt who is one of the dearest people ever in my entire life, passed away a few years ago. She loved me my entire life unconditionally. After she passed her children gave me this little figurine of a mother image carrying a big gold heart in her arms. I treasure this so dearly as it reminds me of my aunt and the love we shared. I am thinking of bringing this as my give away because I love it so much it is hard to part with it. When it is hard to part with the item you know you are on the right track!
You wrap your gift before you bring it. When you get to the Potlach you place all the gifts in the center of the room or on a table. You draw numbers and whoever draws “one” is the first person to choose a gift. They choose a gift and open it and then share what that present means to them. Then the person who gave the gift comes forward and shares what that gift meant to them and to their heart. Profound synchronicities show up in what is given and received. It is really a beautiful expression of love.
Give the gift of humor. We have started a tradition of giving what we call a white elephant. For several months we are on the look out for the most hideous, garish, silly, horrible thing we can find from a thrift store for just a few dollars. This is done the same way as above. The person drawing “one” starts and the person who gave the gift goes next, either taking something new or taking something someone already has. The items people come up with are so hilarious we sometimes laugh until we cry. It is so much fun!
Guiding Signs 101 cards are fun and playful, and at the same time, the messages hold deep wisdom. Here’s why they’re so important: We are bombarded by small and large decisions constantly. The cards help you tune in and make wise decisions. They are a mirror to what is going on inside of you or to the specific question you are asking them. So they are specific to you and to your questions or concerns. Also, they bring about authentic sharing with spouses, families and friends. Children and others can spend vast amounts of time on computers or watching TV and they can become “shut off” from the people who love them most. The cards provide a fun tool for opening conversation to what is going on within each person. You can simply ask “What is my road sign message for right now?” Each person takes a turn doing this and shares what the card they chose means to them in their life right now. I have a friend with two sons aged 11 and 13. The family played with the cards the other night and the boys loved them. It brought forth connection and closeness and great conversations.
Certainly you can use them during holiday gatherings. But you can also use them to decide how you really want to spend your holidays. If you’re feeling stressed or uncertain or torn between various options (and the holidays really have a way of bringing these kinds of situations to the forefront of our lives), the cards can help you make the “right” decision…not the right one for your extended family or your spouse, but for you.
8. What are the three key takeaways you want people to use during the upcoming holidays?
One, become really conscious of what you are doing, with whom you are doing things with and how you are doing them. Let your heart lead the way. Instead of being a victim to how things have always been done, co-create what brings joy and love to you and those in your life.
Two, let the people you love know how much you love them. Don’t just go through the motions or let gifts stand in as symbols for how you feel. Have authentic conversations. You may never have another chance. Let yourself and those around you bask in the sacredness and miraculousness of love.
Three, be grateful. We’re surrounded by beauty and bounty and opportunities to love and give and grow. We are blessed to live here. The holidays help us remember we live in Universe teeming with love and lights and hope and dreams and magic. Say thank you to the Source as you understand Him or Her and enjoy how good simple gratitude feels.