11/17/2010 09:05 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

How Good Can You Stand It? Revising the Holiday Game With 5 Solutions

Grocery shoppers, to your stations! The race is on for that all-American meal of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and for many, football. 'Tis the season for gratitude. What might heighten the sense of joy this year at your gathering? How good can you stand it? What box might you need to step out of in order to pull this off?

This whole idea was illustrated recently by a young man who made a new choice. Stepping outside the historical frame of how to win, this quarterback demonstrated that it's always possible to mix things up a bit, and enrich experience. Receiving the ball, he calmly walked through the ranks of the other team, leaving them so stunned, that they did nothing! Once through he ran like there's no tomorrow, and scored! We get so accustomed to how things must be that we forget the power of innovation. Creative living is possible only by relaxing expectations, releasing old beliefs, and galvinizing around something that brings new life to the situation. This is exactly how he scored a touchdown. What a metaphor for the way we live, and can come to the holidays this year.

Ask yourself. What expectations do you have around the holidays that might be blocking you and your family (team) from an experience of more good, more gratitude? Where's there too much pressure?

Let's look at the possible sources, and solutions to bring about more Good:

1. Comparisons. One of the central assumptions that block us from experiencing the Good that Thanksgiving is has to do with comparing ours to a Norman Rockwell painting. We forget that the people sitting for the portrait were models conveying an ideal. It was a painting, not a photograph. As a point of truth, Rockwell had suffered his own share of disappointments. His art was to offer something fresh, a better vision of what might be.

Solution: What about us? How do we picture family this time of year? Ask yourself: What comparison do you need to release? What experience would you like to create this year, which would feel great? What would you need to shift in your thinking for this to happen? Choose to shift. It all begins with you.

2. Assumptions & Expectations. Since we canot resolve for anyone else what we've not healed ourselves, let's look at our own Thanksgiving Table. What's the old way of playing the holidays when it comes to family? Assuming yours, like most real famililes, (as apposed to fictional families) are populated with very real people, each with their own likes and dislikes, not to mention expectations, you might be interested in creating a gathering that is more nourishing, healing and joyful. This might take some tweaking, however, to break through the 'same old, same old' expectations that deaden the Spirit of celebration. Ask others what are their assumptions? Maybe grandma is tired of doing the turkey, eventhough its tradition. Who will soften the load?

Solution: Consider tweaking problematic areas, including these patterns: (1) keeping conversations superficial, gossip ridden; (2) over-indulging Uncle Harry who holds court at the table, interupting the exchange from others; (3) pouring too much wine for Aunt Sadie, pretending she doesn't have a drinking problem; (4) fueling old animosities.

To add another complexity, you might be setting extra places at the table for new family members, with their own unstated expectations. For these and others, think substitution! Incorporate discussion of what would make this a great time? Perhaps a talking stick could be passed around to each at the table so that everyone is included in the conversation of our gratitudes this year. (Children could make a simple item, using anything that delights them.) If you've got an Aunt Sadie around, consider non-alcoholic beverages, instead. You get the idea. Invite new family members to share their traditions before the event, or during it, at the table, a means of welcoming.

3. Unmended Fences, Unforgiveness. Let's address the one ingredient guaranteed to ruin your digestion: unforgiveness. People being people, we might remove our shoes at the door, but forget to leave grudges behind. Past slights, festering unspoken wounds, controversial issues taken personally, have a way of bring tension to the table, oversalting the food, regardless how gifted the cook. If you want to expand good, you've got to be able to envision yourself beyond the appearance of obstacles. (Think that football player!) Imagine forgiveness is present at the table. What would this shift? Who's going to go first?

Michael Beckwith said:

"A Lack of forgiveness broadcasts a signal to the universe that there is something that someone has done to cause a sense of lack within you ... Because everything is energy, the energetic thought-form of lack outpictures in your experience in some form, such as debt. The resistance to forgiving is an attachment to the need to be right ... The power of forgiveness is liberating because it removes obstructions to the flow of good into our life. Forgiveness is one of the most potent contributors to the transformation of our own life, as well as others...."

The Hindu Mahabharta puts it this way: "Forgiveness is holiness; by forgiveness the universe is held together. Forgiveness is the might of the mighty; forgiveness is quiet of mind. Forgiveness and gentleness are the qualities of the Self-possessed. They represent virtue."

Solution: Forgiveness Practice. Consider experimenting with the following once a day for the next week. It's best to choose the same time of day, and location, if at all possible. Notice what happens as your heart opens.

  • Go to a place that is private, and pleasant, at least 24 hours before showtime.
  • Quiet your body/mind in whatever way is natural.
  • Become Still.
  • Close your eyes. Using your creative imagination, invite a person to appear in your mind that you've not forgiven.
  • Vividly imagine yourself expressing your forgiveness, extending the wish that you both be free. Continue until you feel your hearts opening.
  • Release yourself and this person from the limiting way you've been playing the game.
  • Breathe deeply, enjoying the freedom.

4. Loss. Either you or someone you know suffers loss this season. Suffice it to say for now, loss/profound disappointment is a game changer, especially during the holidays.

Solution: Grab some new ground. Consider mixing things up a bit, this year. To illustrate:
The first Thanksgving following our son's death presented us with a choice. We could either press on, (the norm for us), set the table as always, and stare at the empty chair, or, we could do something new. That year, I replaced taking out my mother's china, and fixing the traditional meal that was in our family history, to explore something where we had no history, an inn in Delaware. Sure, stuff came up at moments, but at least there was this novel experience in a place my boy would have loved. This helped us grow and mend the heartache, and define our next step for the coming year. Here are a few other ways to play:

  • Enjoy nature. If you are in an urban area, find a shrub, bring a thermos of hot cocoa, and toast one another. Why not?
  • Create a new tradition, free to be revised next year. Anything will do. Shake things up. Maybe this year, dessert before turkey? Whatever brings some joy is fair game.

5. Boredom. It's easy to get caught in the coma of what you've always done, and to mistake the point of the gathering, for doing-ness. Remember, the real point is to create memories of the good that comes from celebrating with those you love, not the efforting for perfection. Thanksgiving has zippo to do with perfection. Think of the first Thanksgiving meal without today's creature comforts. The issue is gratitude.

Solution: Incorporate what you like from your new traditon into the future. For us, we've given up the whole hoopla of the Thanksgiving production, go away to a natural setting, have a picnic on Wednesday evening, enjoy one another, and spend the time at a lodge. We sleep in the next day, no pressure. The practice has introduced a level of thanksgiving to our gathering that, for over 34 years, included trying to replicate my mother's beautiful way. We have those warm memories, yes, including the washing of endless china, pots and pans by the men folk. But that was then, and this is now. Today, our revised game plan is all about relishing the simple ways of being with one another without martyrdom, resentment or fatigue. Life's too short!

Meanwhile, how 'good can you stand it?' I'm listening to your vision for what might delight your heart this year?

For updates, contact me at, or dr.carabarker@gmail to save time, click on Become A Fan. Stay tuned for upcoming developments with The Love Project, including "Practicing Love." Follow Dr. Cara Barker on

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