The holidays can be a rough time for a lot of people. Expectations of perfect family gatherings and luxurious gifts both given and received, always with fab food, can awaken those rowdy "I-want" monsters.
There's plenty of hope, though. Mindful awareness can help lighten the emotional load of the holidays. Just ask Charlie Brown! The classic 1965 TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, has some great clues for enjoying a sweet season.
1. Beating yourself up?
"Rats! Nobody sent me a Christmas card today. I almost wish there weren't a holiday season. I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?" Charlie Brown wails.
Some of my clients use the holiday season to beat themselves up. "I can't afford it. S/he's so mean. They don't like me. I can't wait till it's over!"
It's so terribly easy to judge yourself as not good enough. It can ruin your holidays. Instead, can you pause, pay attention to what you're saying about your experiences? What if you take one minute to breathe? Just find your breath. Then ask yourself, "What's really true?"
If money is tight, let that be okay. Then, get creative with what you do have. If you don't want to load up the car and drive through (another) 100-year storm, you don't have to, you know. Surrender to what's true for you, no one else.
2. The pressure of pretense.
"I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel," says Charlie Brown.
Do you believe you're supposed to feel a certain way during the holidays? Happy, wealthy, with unlimited time and energy? What a set up for self-sabotage that is!
You get to feel exactly what you're feeling, nothing else. First, notice what's true for you. How are you feeling? Then, hear the story you're telling yourself about it. Are you adding to your own misery? As you stop striving to be anything other than who you are, the pressure of pretense lightens up for everyone.
3. Big trouble.
Lucy adds, "I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that... happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys, or a bicycle or clothes or something like that!"
Expectations. From not being able to see the gifts already all around you, to continually reaching for unattainable fantasies, expectations can be big trouble.
For many of my clients, just knowing what they want is at least half the battle. Lots of times, they have no idea. I mean, none. Sometimes, they only know what they're supposed to want. Being mindful of what you truly desire -- such as peace, or happiness rather than more stuff or the perfect meal -- can go a long way toward helping you enjoy the season.
4. It's easy!
"I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I want," Sally Brown informs big brother Charlie.
We can get awfully stuck in our ideas about, well, about everything. Attachments to things -- ideas, ways of behaving and thinking, associating actions with some sort of cosmic good-behavior checklist -- can make for a disappointing holiday season.
What if, instead, you were able to be present without expecting anything in return? It's easy! Just notice what you're noticing about yourself. Try a one-minute check-in, using your breath as the pathway. Your breath can guide you into a more peaceful presence.
5. The first one ever.
"Dear Santa Claus: Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share," Sally Brown states.
Everyone has ideas about what should be coming to them. But life just doesn't work that way. If you mindlessly accept the ego's ideas of fairness, you miss out on the richness of beginner's mind: appreciating the beauty of direct sensory experience. Smell the spices, taste each of the flavors, feel the creaminess of your next eggnog, as though it's the first one you've ever tasted.
6. "I can't stand it!"
"Oh, no! My own dog... gone commercial! I can't stand it," wails Charlie Brown.
It's good to develop a practice of letting others have their own experiences. Charlie got upset, but Snoopy was actually pretty darned happy decorating his doghouse.
Practicing mindful awareness helps develop the personal strength and self-confidence to let go of the suffocating control we sometimes try to foist onto the world. Notice what you're noticing. Does it vibe with you? No? Move on. Yes. Then come closer.
To the extent you can drop into your own feelings and let go of judging others, you increase your chances for a lovely holiday season. Which improves everyone else's chances, as well.
7. Precious gifts.
"You need involvement. You need to get involved in some real Christmas projects," Lucy advises.
Mindful awareness can help you plug into meaningful holiday projects. Maybe there's one person who would really appreciate an hour of your time. Or an animal shelter that needs extra help.
Pause. Breathe into the question of where you're needed. Get involved. Remember what a precious gift is an hour of your time!
Make a conscious choice about your gifts. Mindfully choose where, how, and with whom to share your holidays.
Because really, mindfulness is a way of knowing yourself. "Knowing other people is intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom," it says in Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching, A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way, by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Wisdom. Now there's a very sweet gift.