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The link between holidays and holy days has become fragile in our society. But you can bypass the stress that mounts for many people during this season to fashion your own holiday spirit. The words that get tossed around—joy, peace, Thanksgiving—will only have meaning if you fill them with meaning. It all happens at the level of intention and attention.
Holidays are about gatherings—first of family but also of events that embrace community and nation. It's therefore easy to feel, on the negative side, that you have little or no control over what's happening around you. Swept up in holiday rituals that are simply a given, surrounded by squabbling family members and old tensions, you can easily be overwhelmed.
The way out is by centering yourself and being clear, first on the inside, of what you intend your holiday season to be. A helpful exercise is to sit quietly with eyes closed and say to yourself, “I want joy. I want peace. I want grace and love.” As you say each phrase, pause and feel what joy, peace, love, and grace are like. It doesn't matter how you arrive at the feeling. Putting your attention on your heart is often helpful, or seeing a soft light in that region.
No one can intend these things except you, and when you feel them inside, you don't depend on others quite as much. Try repeating this exercise every day during the holiday season. You can go a step further, too. Instead of seeing this as a defense against holiday stresses, why not commit yourself to making the holidays a time for your own evolution? In other words, by asking for joy, peace, love, and grace, your intention is to arrive at the new year renewed in spirit.
Once you have committed yourself to evolving during the holidays, put your attention on this. What most people do at this time of year is brace themselves for the negative side of the holidays: the family tensions, shopping, scary credit card bills, hectic pace, and, for many, a predictable bout of depression. The gap between what people wish for and what actually happens to them is wide. You can put your attention on closing the gap, both for you and for others.
Try the following to set your intention and attention on peace and grace this holiday season.
1. Raise your appreciation quotient. When you interact with anyone, don't automatically mutter "Happy Holidays." Say a word of appreciation and offer a smile. Make them feel your good will.
2. Think less about yourself, more about others. Inner growth doesn't happen at the ego level, and it's the ego that constantly finds fault, with yourself and others. By turning your attention to others, you can give yourself a vacation from the ego.
3. Practice empathy. Focus on how others are feeling and extend yourself with sympathy. Empathy establishes an emotional bond and helps counter the isolation and loneliness that people tend to feel during the holidays. But empathy can also extend to noticing how happy someone looks, also. It doesn't have to be sympathy for negative emotions.
4. Be easy on yourself. If you aim to make the holidays perfect, failure is around the corner. Most people are weighed down by demands they make on themselves, so consciously look for ways to be easy on yourself. Taking time out every day for a few private moments to relax and meditate is a good practical step.
5. Keep away from toxicity. When you find yourself in the presence of toxic emotions, tension, stress, and conflict, don't join in. Do your best to walk away as soon as you can. Toxicity also extends to alcohol. It may be traditional to drink heavily during the holidays, but don't. In fact, if you can avoid all alcohol, you’ll be doing yourself a favor.
6. Set limits, and do it gracefully. When people drink or revive old family issues or find other excuses to drop their inhibitions, things often get said and done that lead to regret. It doesn't matter if other people stop respecting your boundaries. It is up to you to maintain them, to politely point out when you are uncomfortable. If the other person can't take a hint, don't repeat your objection but walk away.
7. Watch out for reactive responses. A reactive response is a knee-jerk response, and most people indulge in them dozens of times a day. We repeat the same words, feelings, opinions, beliefs, and judgments without pausing to think. If you want to evolve, reactive responses are the enemy. They prevent you from living in the now, renewing yourself, being open to new possibilities, seeing something good in other people, and much more. So, if you notice yourself thinking, feeling, or saying something and you know you're automatically repeating the past, just stop.
8. Look for new responses. Once you stop reacting, a space is open for a new response. Where do you find it? Look around. Open your eyes to something or someone in the room that you haven't noticed before. Or simply center yourself and be quiet inside for a moment. The point is to step outside constricted awareness. Being "tight" in your awareness supports the reactive mind; being "loose" in your awareness brings openness.
9. Focus on the spiritual. Even if you find little to inspire you from other people and outside events during the holidays, don't criticize them, or the world, for that. Inspiration is an inner quality. Turn to the poetry or scriptures that inspire you, and you will find in them something precious: intimate communication from another person's heart and soul. It doesn't even matter if you adopt the beliefs or sentiments in the words. The important thing about inspiration is its humanity, the felt presence of someone else's higher self that sparks and warms your higher self.
These nine points give you a personal agenda for the holidays, and with a little creativity, you can personalize them to fit your life. Even though the time may not come soon when holy days take on their true meaning—as times for spiritual communion—you can still devote yourself to a private spirituality that brings holiness to your inner world.
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