These thoughts are near and dear to my heart; please let me know how they strike your own!
Christmas and Other Holidays
Past — Present — Future
Christmas (which is my holiday) and other wintertime holidays can be a joyful and love-filled time, but this can also be a difficult time. And that contrast, between what we think we should feel—joy!—and the mixture of intense feelings we actually experience, can make those sadder emotions we might feel painfully poignant. Denying the bittersweet elements of the holidays, though, coupled with the idea that those feelings are wrong, that we should be in a busy tizzy of bliss, can make us feel disconnected, ambivalent, and bad about ourselves, and not only that, our denied and excluded feelings can sneak up on us and surprise us, because they really don’t want to be left out or ignored. Those feelings have a life of their own, and they demand our attention.
During this holiday season, more than any other time of the year, we feel the past-present-and-future blended together intensely. Time has a different sense to it as the year ends, it’s more permeable, and our past experiences and our future dreams feel vivid and very much with us. We remember and miss times that are gone, people we have lost or who are far away, places we’ve left, and even our best and happiest memories can feel nostalgic or even deeply sad when we view them as gone from us, as losses, as things we’ll never have again. And in that way and others, we feel the future more powerfully than at other times, especially as we think of the new year, and we may wonder what will be missing then, whether we’ll live up to our own and others’ expectations of us then or ever, and all together, this pressure of sadness, of past, present, and potential loss, can make the holidays pretty blue. But denying them is not usually the best answer.
Recognizing that this is a powerfully poignant period and embracing our past-present-future Christmas, Chanukah, New Years, we can stop running from those bad feelings and turn around and give them the hug they need. Rather than trying to avoid thinking of those we miss, we can include them and feel their loving presence in real and meaningful ways. Instead of being angry or feeling judged when old traditions and expectations seem to be wagging a finger at us, telling us we are letting them down, we can take that hand and invite those expectations to dance with us in new ways that make sense and have meaning for us in the present. —How do we do that?
Let’s start with the toughest one first: Loss of a loved one. I want to invite you to consider this: We never really lose anyone or anything important to us. The relationships we have continue forever, even when the other person is not with us physically. Whenever we tell a story to someone about our mother, our grandfather, our friend, we are introducing that person and sharing that relationship, whether that person is here on Earth or not. When we see a photo or hold an object that belonged to them or engage in doing something that we used to do with them, how do we feel? Yes, there can be a sense of loss, but there is also a profound sense of connection, especially if we realize that that relationship is never gone from us, it lives in us and with us always. Rather than turning away from such memories at the first twinge, consider embracing them and inviting them to be with you, especially at such times as this when the past seems especially strong. Feel the love and pleasure of that relationship. Engage in activities that make the relationship feel more treasured, more tangible. Embrace it courageously and joyfully. And realize, again, that it will be with you always. And share this relationship with others—and bring those relationships into the present and future—which I’m going to talk about more in a moment.
There’s also loss of a certain time; things are different now. This can be a loss almost as intensely felt as the loss of a loved one. But in the same way, we can recognize and fully embrace the fact that we never lose these things; they are an everlasting part of us. This time of year is a wonderful opportunity to share these memories and bring them alive for others, to enrich their experiences and enhance your appreciation and gratitude. And to tie them into visions of the future, what we hope for, what we will create.
So how do we do this? The best ways I know are through Stories and Rituals. By sharing our memories and relationships through stories and rituals, we bring them forward and pay them forward by gifting them to others. Creating and sharing from a heart-based perspective that is confident and knows that we should be embracing ALL of our feelings, that a plethora of emotions is ok, normal, and good; Sharing and connecting; Making old traditions our own, breathing life into them and giving them purpose and meaning through our focused energy and attention, and bringing them fully into the present, and through the present sharing, into the future.
Stories and rituals. Powerful stuff.
I’m going to tell you the story of two people I never met: my father’s mother’s father and mother. I never met them, but their story is very important to me, and through this story, although they died long before I was born, I feel I know them. In the early part of the last century, my great-grandfather was a wildcatter in Texas. These were men who risked everything, life and fortune, in the hopes of striking it rich. My great-grandfather, they used to say, had oil in his blood, and indeed he did strike oil many times, he had a knack for it, it seemed, but only, time and again, to sink that fortune into another venture, where like as not he lost it all, only to return to the fields to do it all over again.
During one such venture, there was a terrible explosion and fire, and my great-grandfather’s eyes were burned, and he spent some months in a hospital with his eyes bandaged, in the terrible state of not knowing whether he’d ever see again. The nurses were nuns and novitiates, nuns who have not yet taken their final vows. During this time of darkness and despair, there was one voice that awakened his heart as she sang softly while she tended the ill— “the voice of a nightingale!” he said, and a woman of great sweetness and care, a young novitiate. Indeed, he fell in love with that presence, that voice, but he kept his love unspoken, because he believed a blind man would be unable to care for a wife and had no business speaking to a woman in that way. Eventually, the day came for his bandages to be removed from his eyes, and he would know. The young woman with the nightingale voice was there as they removed the bandages—how could she not be?—and he was able to see his love for the first time. He immediately, the story goes, proposed to her, and she happily accepted.
They later had two children, a son and a daughter, my grandmother, who had her mother’s voice and sang opera on the stage, and her son, my dad, also sang, and in college, that is how he met my mother. So, you see, singing is literally part of who I am and why I’m here.
I wonder, do you feel that you know my father’s mother’s father and mother, now, perhaps just a bit? My father used to tell us these wonderful stories on Christmas Eve. He didn’t talk about his family the rest of the year very much, but there was something about that night that made him reflect and share a treasure trove of stories about family members whom I’ll never meet on Earth.
I’ve shared this story because,... well, I think it’s a good story, and maybe another time I’ll tell you the one about how my grandparents met because she hit him with her car, luckily not going very fast. Or how my other grandmother first laid eyes on my granddad while she was hanging upside down in a tree, and why she knew that he was the love of her life one sentence later.
I’ve also shared this story to illustrate this idea, this principle to you that stories are a powerful way to connect with those we love, to bridge from the past to the future. Realize that relationships live on forever in us, and we can intensify and share valued memories to enrich ourselves and those with whom we share them. Think about, right now: Whose story might you share with others? With your children, with a friend,… You can make a commitment to do that this holiday season.
Rituals are another powerful way to connect our past-present-future seasons: old and new family traditions. Keep in mind these ideas to consciously foster the spirit and meaning you intend and want to create, as you think about the rituals and stories you want to enact and tell this holiday season.
From the Past:
· Consciously connect with people and times you love.
· Embrace nostalgia and remember old times, hold onto both the sadness and the joy of it
· Remember loved ones who aren’t with us, and include them in your thoughts, acts, and words
· Personal traditions—like seeing the lights on Candy Cane Lane, caroling, playing old-fashioned games like charades, making ornaments, baking, decorating, telling stories
In the Present:
· Feel the joy of the season, be present, be aware, be receptive to what is here
· Consider family traditions and how they speak to connection and identity today
· Incorporate familiar family recipes, photos, music, decorations—savor what they mean to you
· Something old, something new—bring the past forward, make it current and present
· Introduce children to family stories and rituals
· Live up to personal expectations—but only the ones you choose
· Practice mindfulness and being fully present
Toward the Future
· Pay it forward, share stories and rituals with others to carry forward in their own lives
· Express dreams and goals for the future, during this time when possibilities can seem so real
· Bring it all together this holiday season, with awareness of the continuity of time
Most of all, recognize that past-present-and-future are especially powerful during this season, and embrace that aspect of the holidays for all it offers.