Expectations for the Holidays

Almost any client who has worked with me knows I talk about expectations a lot, because they affect everything in our lives – our relationships, our jobs, how we view our lives in general. . .

The holidays are no different. My office is busier this time of year than any other. Most years, the sun is less visible, causing a lower level of vitamin D and more cases of the blues, if not depression. Some of us have lost someone close to us, and are trying to decide how to make a holiday work in the midst of the pain and emptiness.  And then there is the anticipation of celebrations that we fear will not measure up to expectations, or the letdown when they didn’t – but mostly I hear the awareness that it won’t actually come close to what it’s “supposed to be”.

In fact, there may be more expectations wrapped around holidays than any other time of year. The media throws romanticized versions at us, dictating what is “traditional”. Many people believe holidays should be spent with loving family where everyone smiles and laughs and gets along wonderfully. If it doesn’t turn out that way – or if their family doesn’t look like that, they feel upset or down that their family is so dysfunctional. And some are just depressed because they don’t have family to spend the holidays with – or can’t be with their family, and feel they have nothing to look forward to at all.

The truth is holidays were seldom (if ever) the way the media portrays them for most of us. Movies, TV shows and songs are forms of art. Art is supposed to evoke emotions, so it often portrays things more extremely to reach that sentimental place within each of us.

My husband and I had a few years where we couldn’t be with any family for the holidays. What we did was to start a new tradition. A couple of Thanksgivings were spent in a Bed & Breakfast at a tourist location where there was lots of shopping and interesting restaurants. One Christmas, we went to a different movie each day for 3 days. The point is that we spent time doing things that we enjoy doing, but seldom have time for.

I love being with family, and this year, our Christmas is exciting because we will be able to spend some time with our daughter and granddaughter, then we’ll all four go to Chicago where we’ll be able to celebrate with our son, daughter-in-law and our grandson, who just turned 1 year old! And, as a special treat, we’re taking the train home.

My husband is a professional Santa, so occasionally I go along to the events he works. This reminds me that, while there is a religious meaning in the holiday for many; the magic of Christmas is about and for kids. If we watch, we can learn from our children.  They constantly remind us to stay in the moment and to be in awe of everything that shows up!  I’m hoping my Christmas this year will be a time full of love, but I’ve learned that the only way it can be is if I go into it without expectations of how everyone should behave. I love them for who they are, not who I want them to be. l don’t have control over them.  So if one or more of them choose to exhibit behavior that is less than acceptable, I’ll set what boundaries I need to and remind myself that their mood and behavior is about them, not me. I’ll also do the best I can to understand that this can be a very stressful time for a multitude of reasons, and we’ll move forward.

What I can be responsible for is preparing myself by allowing time for exercise, meditation and eating a relatively healthy diet.  I know those things contribute to a better mood for me, and I’m less impulsive and reactive when I do those things.

Finally, I prepare by remembering that (for me) Christmas means giving to others, remembering with love those who are not here in the same way as they once were, and feeling gratitude (and yes, awe) for the abundance that is in my life. I wish each and every one of you that same abundance and peace.

Be open to everything, but not attached to anything.

Storing Energy to Manage Loss

As I stated in my blog a couple of weeks ago, holidays are difficult when we’ve recently experienced a loss.  We sometimes dread them because we believe they’re supposed to be a happy time, and we just don’t have the energy to pull that off.

Below is a quote from Elizabeth Lesser in her book, BROKEN OPEN. In this section she is talking about grief, and how we do ourselves and our loved ones a disservice by trying to move on too quickly after the death of a loved one. Our society encourages this “quick fix” mentality of grief just like it does for other problems – take a pill, take a week off to get your affairs in order, and throw yourself back into work. This is one of the main reasons we have so many people with anxiety disorders and depression. We don’t allow the time and space to experience our feelings all the way through to the other side. (Gospel According to Patti)

What Elizabeth is saying goes for ANY loss. We need to learn to allow all the feelings to come and to sit with them. No one likes this. And sometimes it feels as if we’ll never be able to get past it, but she explains very well how it can work:

“To have a store of energy accumulated is to have a store of power in back of one. We live with our psychic energy in modern times much as we do with our money – mortgaged to the next decade.

Most modern people are exhausted nearly all the time and never catch up to an equilibrium of energy, let alone have a store of energy behind them. With no energy in store, one cannot meet any new opportunity. Keeping the gap open after the death of a loved one (or any loss) is a way of storing valuable energy.”

Once we’ve allowed that energy to be stored, we can then move on.

She goes on to say something I’ve always believed. I don’t like the concept of “closure”. It sounds so final, and to me, it means that the loss we just experienced is “done” and no longer has any meaning. When we grieve someone or something in our lives, we are honoring them/it. We’re never “over” loss. It’s difficult and it’s messy. But grief changes over time – not just by letting time pass (we have to DO something with the time). And sometimes it takes years to get there, but for most of us, it eventually turns into a feeling of love and connection with the loved one, rather than the original loss and pain.

In the mean time, if you’ve recently lost a loved one, experienced a relationship breakup, or some other major loss in your life, please remember to just take a day (or an hour) at a time. You may not believe you’ll ever feel like yourself again, but you will eventually find some level of equilibrium. You have been changed in some ways, because who we are is, in part, because of our connection with others. When their energy changes, ours will too. But you will find yourself again. Your job right now is to allow yourself to feel it when those waves hit; and to put it away for a few minutes or hours when that’s possible, and to connect with others who are there for you when you can manage that. The waves will gradually become a little less overwhelming; and will come a little less often.

And you can get through it and integrate it’s lessons into your life and come out stronger – and with more energy.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched, but are felt in the heart.”    -Helen Keller

 

The Courage to Embrace Fear

We can almost get whiplash from watching the news these days! We each have issues that concern us more than others.  But most of us DO have those concerns.  Things are changing so fast that the only thing that feels certain, is that most everything feels uncertain.  I personally have really been emotionally down as I listen to so many of the accusations of sexual assault, harassment and even possible pedophilia by men of power.  At one level it’s a very positive twist to the norm we’ve been used to; at least things are more open and women and men who have been victims are hopefully a little less fearful to speak out.  But there are other issues that bring me down as well; things that appear to take more power away from those who don’t have much to start with. Even those of us who don’t mind changing things up a little occasionally don’t like too much change at once; and change that is as big as examining our cultural values, huge tax changes that have not been fully explained, and people we are supposed to trust to help run our country being arrested – ALL  bring a lot of emotional turmoil. Not knowing what it will all bring is kind of scary.

I think it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in the world, but we must be careful not to let our minds overtake our hearts.  When I allow myself to focus on it, I am overwhelmed with sadness and compassion for those who have  been affected by all the violence, ignorance, selfishness and unwillingness to explore and learn more about things and people that are foreign to us.  By the hands of active shooters, sexual abusers, politicians who espouse hate and those who applaud them, or even those who sit by quietly and do nothing – others have lost loved ones, homes, their security, their way of life and their own lives. I also feel anger that so many people purposely set out to hurt others, that terrorists are capable of committing atrocities without being traced until it’s too late and that some men have been allowed to exert their power over others in a way that damages their victims’ lives forever.  And fear.  We all feel the fear of the what if’s.  What will happen next?  Will we end up in war? And will we be able to stop them (whoever “they” are)?

What I’m about to propose may not be popular. I come from the belief that all humans originate from the same source – a source of Love and Light.  We may call it by different names and worship or understand it in very different ways, depending on our individual needs, but God (or whatever you call it)  is not religious. We are each an extension of that Light. So we have no choice, but to be like what we came from. Even the terrorists and other people who have perpetrated harm on others.  (That’s not to say we should stand by & allow them to continue to victimize others.  All behavior has consequences, and we need not accept unacceptable behavior).  But we need to realize that buried deep down inside, they’re just like you & me; and given similar circumstances, any one of us could have ended up in their place.

So since we come from the same place, whether we are Christian, Muslim, White, Black, Republican, Democrat, gay, straight or transgender, it’s the ego, the human side, as opposed to the spiritual “Light” side that brings us down to these lower levels of energy.  And terrorists are not that different from some politicians, or many of the men who have been accused of sexual harassment in our daily news. They are addicted to power.  People who need to feel power to feel OK about themselves will do whatever it takes. It’s a narcissistic, fear-based, isolationist mindset, and they need more and more power to continue to feel OK.

Fear is at the base of all prejudice, covered by hate and anger that expresses itself in extreme radicalism, homophobia and racism. Although they would have us see it differently, the anger and aggression (or the emotional disconnect) we see in the terrorists, and hear from some in the political field is NOT the same as courage. Anger and emotional numbness are both like a bullet-proof vest we all occasionally put on to protect ourselves in order to feel a little more powerful.  They are covering what we’re really feeling deep down – our vulnerability.

Courage & fear are  also intricately interconnected.  Sometimes our fear is very rational (as in the case of severe illness or real harm being perpetrated upon us); but often, it comes from an irrational belief about our situation.  While there may be an aspect of interpreting doctrine or situations differently; I believe the primary issue is that the perpetrators and the politicians (and those who follow and applaud them) are terrified of feeling vulnerable. They don’t understand that’s the very element that connects them to the rest of humanity! And that connection is what would eventually give them the strength they so desperately want.

The people with real courage are those who have experienced the fear –  and then moved forward,  because they knew the odds of staying in their comfort zone are far outweighed by the risks involved in changing their lives and the world.  People who have risked everything (and sometimes lost it all) to be able to live their lives in a way they choose – refugees; victims who have spoken up; those in the military, police and first responders; people with fatal illnesses, who choose to enjoy their lives and live in the moment, rather than shrivel up and die; minorities, who have to fight for equal rights because racism and prejudice has not been eradicated; people like my LGBTQ friends and clients, who have risked not only ridicule, jobs and abandonment by their family and friends, but often their lives to come out and publicly be who they really are instead of shriveling up as they hide.  We can name any number of people in many threatening situations who take risks and allow themselves to be vulnerable in order to find their courage.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to combat all the fear and pain that saturates our world.  But I do know that, if handled appropriately, fear is the door to growth.  It’s going to take each of us to individually conquer our own fears and feelings of inadequacy in order to move society forward. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Allow yourself to acknowledge and feel the fear.  Sit with it for a few minutes at a time, feeling it in your body & shutting out the intellectual violence in your head.  Use it as a motivator to change. After the few minutes, put the fear away, take the focus off the negatives and visualize the life you want! Look for a more positive way to look at any given situation.  Your perspective is what feeds your attitude.
  2. Educate yourself about the situation or people involved.  When you see someone who looks different than you, start a conversation.  Get to know the PERSON.  Learn more about their values.  I’ve listened to interviews with Muslims who are very faith and abundance-oriented.  I’m currently listening to an audio book about the Muslim faith that challenges and explains both of the sides we hear about in the news.
  3. Look for ways to give. Volunteer where there has been a disaster – sponsor a family or child in need for the holidays, or to help provide food or clothing for the homeless or families who don’t have enough. Get involved in the issues that matter to you by calling or writing your representatives and voting.  (Nobody has all the answers, but listen for those who actually have specific plans and are not just spouting off everything that’s wrong with the world).  Action can give us a sense of accomplishment, personal power – and HOPE.
  4. Go inside and find your center.  Meditation, prayer, or just sitting in silence on a consistent basis will reconnect you to your higher self – that part of you that is the extension of the Light I mentioned earlier.
  5. Send Love to others – those with whom you agree, and those you do not understand.  I sometimes silently repeat the word “Love” or “I am Love” to myself throughout the day.  It helps me feel love towards myself and others.  The Course in Miracles says the only two emotions are Love and Fear, and whatever is not love is fear.  So the best way to combat fear is to love.

Namaste (The Light in me recognizes and honors the Light in you.)

Courage is only courage when we’re afraid. 

Coping with Holidays After a Loss

Holidays are clearly some of the roughest terrain we navigate after a loss. The way you handle them are as unique as you are. What is most important is that you accept is that things are not going to be the same as when your loved one was with you.  For many, it helps to speak about the person they’ve lost and make them a part of the holiday in some way. Avoiding thoughts of the loved one might help temporarily, but in the long run, it makes the loss more difficult.

There is no timetable for grief.  Grieving someone honors them and the relationship you had with them.  Holidays are part of the journey to be felt fully. They are usually very sad, but sometimes you may catch yourself doing okay, and you may even have a brief moment of laughter. You might feel guilty if this happens, but the reality is that your loved one woudn’t want you to be miserable. Whatever you experience, just remember that sadness is allowed because death doesn’t take a holiday. And feeling joy does not negate the impact your loved one had on your life.

Your friends and relatives might think they know how your holidays should look, what the family should and shouldn’t do. They may just be uncomfortable with your pain, and want you to feel better. But grief is one of those things in life for which there is no detour. We HAVE to go through it in order to come out on the other side. However, we each go through it in our own way, so don’t let anyone else dictate how you manage your holiday. There are no “supposed to’s”. Now more than ever, be gentle with yourself, but do it your way.

When preparing for the holiday, think ahead about what you can comfortably handle and bring others in to help with the parts you can’t – hanging lights, putting up a tree, cooking a meal or ordering food, etc.  Speak up when you feel friends and family are leaving you alone a little too much, or if they’re trying to keep you too busy.  You may not think you know what you need at any given moment, but you have to go with what you’re feeling in the moment – and ask for it.

And feel free to change your mind, even if it means cancelling plans at the last minute if you just can’t find the energy to cook the meal or put up the tree, or something else you’d planned.

Let traditions slide if you just don’t feel up to them this year – or change things up to give new meaning to this time.  If there are children involved, be sure to acknowledge that the holiday will be different this year.  Have them help with various planning and preparations if possible, so they feel more a part of it, especially activities that honor the loved one.  Remember that your loved one did LIVE, he/she didn’t just die.  Honor the life.

Here are just a few suggestions on how to honor your loved one. But, be creative and do what feels right to you:

-If you miss shopping for your loved one, buy something he/she would have liked, then donate it to a shelter or some other organization that adopts families for the holiday.
-Light a candle
-Say a prayer
-Donate time or money in their name
-Do something you loved to do together on that day
-I’ve even known families who set a place at the table for their loved one, and share fond memories of him/her during the meal, or set aside a specific time to do this.

Keep things simple, and be aware that the anticipation can be more difficult than the actual holiday. It isn’t as important how you remember. You honor them by the fact that you remember.

Just Remember.

Sending you peace for your holiday season.

Thankfulness

While I try to practice gratitude for everything that is in my life on a regular basis, this time of year I’m always reminded that one of those “things” is the people in my life – my family, friends and clients.

Since I meditate on a regular basis, it gives me occasion to reflect on all that I have been blessed to experience. Much of that comes from you.

I believe who we are is directly related to those with whom we choose to connect on a consistent basis. The fact that each of you have, on occasion, taken me into your confidence and trusted me with your deepest feelings and concerns humbles me. And as I have gone through my own personal issues, many of you have sent positive energy and prayers my direction, and some of you have even listened as I shared. I’m honored to be in your lives and appreciative of what you’ve each taught me.

As we go into this holiday season, I wish each of you peace, love and abundance.

Namaste