The Dark Side of the Holidays – Or the Best Season that Money Can’t Buy!

Some of us go into this season dreading it….

We have a sense of impending doom, when we think of the long to-do lists that loom, when we consider all the decorating, cooking, buying, giving and planning that goes into the season.

Some find that the financial situation is so tight that being able to live up to the perceived expectations means going into debt for the coming “happy” New Year. The resentment follows like a holiday hang-over when the presents are unwrapped. Presents that effectively will need to be paid for with uncertainty and fear in the coming months.

At this time of year, glossy portrayals of family bliss, adored children with wrapping paper piles, tons of presents, old and dear traditions, lights and lovingly prepared family meals are everywhere.

And for many of us this is far from reality.

For some money is not the problem, but they are not looking forward to the emotional toll of having family members bicker and fight over the turkey. Or they dread the disrespect that their children, their spouses or their relatives show them, even as they try to give everyone a pleasant time.

This is a time of heartache and suffering for many of us. Even the ones among us who are not looking like we are on the surface. It can be a time of  pretending as we put on a happy face and allow the merriment of the season to wash over us, at least in public!

If you or someone you know is in this situation, there are a few things we can do to create a more joyous Holiday experience. First a quick internal assessment:

  • What would you really like to experience this Holiday Season? Try to back up and focus on internal aspects. So, for instance translate “I would like to be able to afford this or that” to the feeling that is below that wish. How would it make you or someone else feel?

If the “home is where the heart is” – then what is truly in your heart?

Sometimes we discover that our focus on how to set the table, what we would like to give, etc. is a cover-up for what we really want: A feeling of love, kindness, togetherness, meaningful relationships, a way to matter to others or simply absence of pain, despair and loneliness.

  • Identify what might be holding you back from having this experience that you would like to have

Is it money? No family? Not enough time? Or is it a perception that this is what others expect? Is it the sense that you by sacrificing yourself for others at this time makes you feel important?

  • Find out how you can step out of habit thinking, and find a way to create the experience you would like by thinking about it in a new way that includes what you have and not what you wish you had.

Can you show your love for your family without having to stretch yourself thin? How can you prepare them (and yourself) for this in a way that allows a new sense of anticipation?

If you are alone, how can you plan a meaningful time for celebrating you – or where can you look to find others who are in the same situation and help create a great experience for them as well as yourself?

If you family is bickering – how can you create new rituals with them that will further a spirit of togetherness and not the same old same old?

  • What components are needed to make this new way of doing things work?

As part of the preparation we can ask family and friends for input as they help us create new traditions.  The mad dash we normally engage in is largely self-imposed. And many of our relatives actually appreciate a less stressful season with more emphasis on togetherness and less on keeping up appearances.

Convention is a town in our own head!

And it is possible that all that we need to change our “have to’s,” is to just have the conversation – first internally, and then with others. You might be surprised at what you find when you lift the veil of convention.

Happy Holidays. To coin a phrase: Have it YOUR way!

Good Grief! I Am Falling!

Yesterday morning I was walking at 4:30AM. It was foggy and dark. A delicious time to walk in peace and quiet. The fog was like thick oatmeal and the dampness of the air was invigorating, sprinkling my face with a cool mist. I was lost in thoughts as I walked. I felt connected to all and nothing in particular.

And then I got the brilliant idea: to break my meditative state and

….drumroll……

check the e-mails on my phone!

Now if I had stopped, or even slowed down, to glance at the ever-present piece of technology, well – that would have been one thing. But of course I didn’t. I walked on in the fog.

All was well until suddenly an object reached out and grabbed both my legs and abruptly stopped their forward motion and enveloped them in a sharp, unforgiving, agonizing pain. The top of my body was well on its way to the next step – and my legs were hindered by this mysterious object.

“Holy s… I am going over – gosh this hurts

My survival instincts were in full attack mode. What on earth was happening? Did someone grab my legs with metal thongs, and next thing I know I am going to be hauled into an unmarked white van never to be heard from again?

Time slowed down, as it tends to do in these types of fight or flight experiences. All I could do was to try to balance myself somehow and not fall over. I was flailing in the air, making the most ungracious moves to remain standing. I did not want to drop the phone on the hard sidewalk concrete either.

By some amazing grace, I managed to not topple, and also to keep my phone in my hand.

It was time to assess what had “grabbed my legs”.

I looked down to see an innocent, yet very unmovable-looking fire hydrant! It was down low and I had not seen it in my phone-absorbed awareness. Well, at least I did not have to fight off the imagined guys in the white van… However, what I never realized about fire hydrants is that they have really, really sharp bolts on them. HUGE bolts, which on this one were covered in black, oily grease. And on both my legs were now big black scrapes and throbbing bruises from these contraptions.

It hurt like crazy.

Now the old me would have frozen. I would have been enveloped in pain and bent over – stopped in my tracks. My first thoughts would have been along these lines:

-“Crap, I am just so stupid! I know not to walk in fog and look at my phone at the same time- Duh!”

-“Jeez, I wonder who saw that? That must have looked ridiculous… maybe someone is having a good laugh at me?”
– “I am just such a klutz!”

-“Why does this kind of stuff always happen to me?”

I would have been petrified by the pain, and humiliated by my own thoughts. The walk would probably have ended with me limping home – or calling a cab. I would have felt like crap. Icepacks would have been applied and I would have been there in my house feeling victimized by the stupid hydrant that happened to be in my way.

What was interesting about this experience this time, was the fact that after I assessed the damage, I actually managed to just keep walking. As my legs throbbed, I seemingly moved through the pain. Words popped into my head that were very different to how I would have responded for most of my life. I felt grateful for my body’s ability to balance itself. I felt competent that I had managed to hold on to the phone and not fall. I thanked the Universe for giving me this reminder that my walks (especially in the fog and with jet lag) are for feeling connected. A connectedness that does NOT involve technology! How lucky was I that I could receive this reminder without falling off a cliff or getting run over by a car?

As I kept walking, the pain became a warm almost pleasant tingle. It was as if the blood, rushing through my body, allowed the pain to transform into this awareness of new lessons learned.

There is a saying that goes like this:

“Pain is inevitable – Suffering is optional”

And yes, we certainly cannot escape pain in our lives. It is a fact of life. From beginning to end, we will run into episodes of hurt. It is what we do with it those painful experiences that makes a difference: Pain is what the world does to us. Suffering is often brought on by what we do to ourselves by how we react to it. By how we think about the it. By what we take the pain to mean.

In coaching, when we experience pain, we often look for “what is real” about it. What is inevitable. And then we work to separate “what is” from what we take it to mean. Often we feel liberated and lighter when we free ourselves from our self-imposed interpretations and assumptions. And our suffering lessens.

What might you take the “fire hydrants” to mean in your life?