On this 14th day of December, the holiday season is now in full swing. This year the energetic weather changed abruptly around the 1st of December and we’re thrown into the season of existential intensity.
By existential intensity I mean a mood which includes some or all of the following elements: Excitement, anticipation, a sense of it’s being a meaningful time, uncertainty, anxiety, and apprehension. I imagine everyone would concur with the first three aspects in this description of the holidays. But this time also has its shadow side.
For anyone with relatives who have drinking problems, the holidays can be a time of remembrance of trauma and upset. For anyone whose family life or personal relationship life is not what they would like it to be, this time of year can be one of intensified unhappiness.
To avoid sounding like Scrooge incarnate, let me preface my further reflections with some personal appreciations of the holiday season. I like some of the Christmas stories with Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol my favorite. I find Christmas lights awesome and beautiful.
I enjoy the many opportunities for community and social connection that come with holiday parties. I love going to movies at this time of year. I appreciate the tangible sense of charity and good will that people often have. I relish the opportunity to start on the 1st of January by being congruent with my goals for the coming year.
For almost everyone, whatever kind of work you do, the holidays have periods where everything comes to a dead stop and work responsibilities are greatly diminished.
However, this does not mean that the holidays are a vacation. A vacation is a self-structured time when you get to go where you want and engage in whatever recreational activities you fancy.
On the contrary, the holidays are a time of frenzy. The days are often stressful and overscheduled. I imagine there are some who thrive on the frantic pace, the crowds, and the confusion. That would not be me.
So why do we do what we do? More importantly, does our habitual holiday routine really serve us? With due respect to other holiday traditions such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, let me reflect a moment on Christmas.
Christmas is supposedly a celebration of the birth of Jesus although no one knows when Jesus was born. The December 25th date was picked by the Church because there was already a Roman holiday on that date and they wanted to upstage the pagan rituals that had been celebrated for a long time around the time of the winter solstice.
We traditionally exchange gifts on that day but why? What does this mean? There is also a culling of millions of trees which are bought into homes, decorated and then discarded. We would be hard put to articulate what that tradition signifies.
Of course, we’re doing more or less what our parents did before us and so on for hundreds of years into the past.
I do not mean to denigrate ritual, ceremony or tradition. These things are very important for us as individuals and as a culture. When archetypes are activated, we need these frameworks to help us channel the emotional energies that are aroused into life affirming activities.
The archetypes are ingrained patterns of response to times of special significance such as the longest night of the year and the return of the light, the end of the calendar year and the beginning of the New Year. The archetypes are expressed as symbols and metaphors.
Christmas has come to symbolize home, family and relationship.
With respect to the cultural transformation that we’re going though in the early years of the 21st century, we’re suffering from a loss of symbols and metaphors that have a living meaning for us and that speak to our souls.
When we unconsciously follow tradition for the sake of tradition alone, we’re vulnerable to acting simply to meet the expectations of others. Then what is most meaningful to us can get lost in the shuffle.
But we have another option. That is to create our own rituals and ceremonies and to pioneer traditions that have deep personal significance. Then we can have authentic Christmas, authentic New Year’s irrespective of what others are doing or have done in the past, irrespective of how eccentric or conventional that might be.
We can move forward with a reinvention and re-envisioning of the holidays in alignment with what feels most important for us.
Should it be case that we have past holiday trauma or present social unhappiness at this time of year, we have options there too. We can begin by giving ourselves the gift of forgiveness for any persons who have caused us pain or upset in past holiday times or in personal relationship. With forgiveness everyone wins.
We don’t have to build monuments to our past trauma or our past unhappiness. Instead compassionately witness whatever feelings are present and shift attention to your deepest heart’s desire.
The pain that you experienced then or may be experiencing now is not your fate or your destiny. It’s just a fact of your life. Your future is still what you make it to be.
Find empowerment in taking on the challenge of transforming unhappiness into what you want there to be. Whatever challenges you have now are just what there is to be transformed.
Don’t waste your energy comparing yourself to other people and their circumstances at the holidays. Some people have a happy social life and the holidays are an opportunity to rejoice in that. But no one has a perfect social life. Social discontent is an inescapable feature of the human condition.
Put your focus on being the person you want to be and be grateful for the challenges that you are given that motivate you to expand and grow. In a life of total contentment, there would be limited opportunity for positive change.
Should you find the holidays a stressful time, it is helpful to remind yourself of some basic strategies of stress resilience. A more important point in this respect is to allow generous margins of time for every endeavor. A cramped time is almost always stressful. Whatever cannot fit comfortably in the time frame can be put over or let go completely.
Practice slowing down the pace of your activities. Whatever is done with full attention is more enjoyable and generally more effective as well.
When, in spite of your best efforts, stressful events occur, fall back on the disturbance protocol. Distressing thoughts may come into our mind or perhaps something relatively unimportant causes us to go into upset. There may be conflict with someone else.
Begin by compassionately witnessing the disturbance. Acknowledge the feelings, whatever they happen to be, and then go to place of loving yourself in your limitations because you’ve just stumbled over one.
Ask yourself how are you with how this is? Then go to even though I feel … I still love and accept myself. Even though this has happened, I still love and accept myself.
In the second step go for an intention to strive from Grace in this moment and in this circumstance. Striving from Grace means opening to an inner source of wisdom and inspiration beyond your immediate conscious inventory. I envision this source as the Higher Self.
The third step is asking for Guidance from the source. Two direct questions can take you there. What’s best? and What do I need in this moment? The expectation of Grace will be an experience of Grace. The fourth step is to follow the Guidance given.
Taking a minute before you react to a disturbance is often the difference between sanity and insanity. In my acronym speak, I called this taking a MONOT, a moment of noticing.
See what you can notice about what’s happening within you and in the outside situation. Noticing calms the brain and allows some space so you can respond from choice rather than reflex.
If, for some reason, you have to act before you have time to do all the steps, fall back on step 3 and just ask your inner source What’s best?