With the start of December comes an almost audible, collective tensing-up of family members world-wide. People everywhere are forming lists of tasks to be completed and items to be bought surrounded by the pressure of a competitive timeline. In addition, we may carry an unwritten list in our hearts of things that worry and scare us. We want the holiday season to be a time to focus on what matters most, yet it very quickly turns into a fast-paced game of survival. It is every man for himself! Most of us can relate to this feeling to some degree. If we merely survive the holiday season, we can be left with a sense of loss as it comes to a close.
What if we take a short break from what we brace ourselves for in order to entertain what we hope for this holiday season. Perhaps we hope for reconciliation with a loved one, reflection over a particularly trying year, time spent doing the things we enjoy most, or perhaps merely hope itself. If left unmanaged, the holidays can turn our lives into nothing more than a ‘quick succession of busy nothings,’ as Jane Austen writes. When we practice managing ourselves, we can actively create the rich, profound and blessing-soaked holiday we all hope for. My hope is that these simple steps can help each of us enjoy a holiday that vividly frames our lives with meaning and purpose.
Step One: Get in touch with your hopes. Start imagining what might bring your heart true peace this season. If you struggle in this first step, make a list of the things you value. A list might include exercise, laughter, good food, sleep, and time with a loved one or in nature. Then simply reflect on what insight your list gives you. You may find what you long for is rest, or connection, or safety. The goal here is to identify important goals and spiritual gifts that we might long for, and practice cultivating and receiving it daily.
Step Two: Guard your time. Your time is precious. It may help to budget how much time we want to spend on each task. When you reach the time limit: Stop. When we devote time to things that nurture our heart and soul, we stay connected to our meaning and purpose. Most importantly, set aside at least five minutes each day to sit in reflection or prayer. If this is a new practice for you, try to read up on ways to mindfulness and meditation.
Step Three: Free yourself! We can be the victor over the lists, the demands, the expectations and the increasing volume of the calendar. While we do need to carry on with our tasks, we are never to be made prisoner to them. If we can challenge our ideas of what needs to be done, ask for help whenever possible and practice self-compassion with our limitations – we can successfully free ourselves from feeling so trapped. Remember: We are in charge, not our lists!
Step Four: Lower your standards. In every possible moment during the holiday season, try to distinguish between the pressing and the essential. For example, a slightly messy kitchen may be the price for thirty minutes playing with the children or grandchildren. Consider it well worth the cost. Or perhaps we can let go of trying to do it all for everyone else in order to free up time to nurture our own weary soul. Each of us can likely stand to loosen our grip on perfection so as to receive what matters to us so much more. A meaningful holiday season is built on quality, not quantity. Glance back at your list of values or desired spiritual gifts, and make it a point to receive them this month.
Step Five: Entertain a fresh perspective. So much of our holiday season is contingent on the state of our family relationships. We can sometimes be steered into unrest by irritating family patterns. Perhaps this year’s holiday season is even dreaded, due to very painful family complications. Begin to respond to yourself with self-compassion and self-acceptance right in this moment, no matter the state of your family ties. Then slowly practice letting go of learned patterns. When we bring a fresh perspective to the way we see our family roles, our relationships, and ourselves, we create space to lead more fulfilling lives. Try new ways of relating to yourself and others, and let go of the expected. If the expected shows its face, show it a new side of you. Above all, we can always come back to self-compassion as we all muddle through the messier moments of the holidays; it often has a funny way of trickling over to other hearts as well.
There is an art to having a truly meaningful holiday season, and my prayer is that we can all have fun in the mess of learning it! May we each welcome this holiday season with confidence, focus and peace.
M.A., LMFT-Associate, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Dr. Amy Fuller, LMFT-S, LPC-S