For many, the holidays mean lots of exciting things — egg nog, mistletoe, buying and wrapping presents, reflection, reconnecting with their spiritual aspirations, and with spirit. And family.
Time with family. For many, that is both exciting and anxiety-provoking. Ram Dass famously said,
If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”
If you feel a little anxiety or perhaps even some dread about hanging with your family over the holidays, I have a little stocking-stuffer for you. I’ll give you a simple, two-step maneuver that might make this holiday a little merrier and bright, and also enable you to remember, tap into, and transmit spirit to the people and world around you this holiday season. Here goes…
1. Shift Your Mindset
Somewhere during this miraculous year, I heard something that spoke to me. Something I recognized but hadn’t fully realized. I wish I could remember where I read it or heard it, but I don’t.
Most of our suffering arises from our believing that other people should be acting differently than they are.”
Ponder on that when your least favorite family member is doing that thing they do that drives you to wit’s end. Their behavior may not be the primary cause of your annoyance, irritation, aggravation, or whatever it is that you feel. It may be primarily caused by your believing that they shouldn’t be acting that way.
What if you gave them this Christmas present: Let them be.
Just for this holiday season. Or for even five minutes of one day of this holiday season, let them be. Smile. Laugh. Run a little test of cutting them some slack. Play around with the idea that maybe the greatest gift we can give is out of stock at Amazon because they can’t stock it.
2. Practice Compassion for Two Minutes
After entertaining the notion that the other person isn’t causing your suffering as much as your belief that they shouldn’t be acting that way is, there’s another step — practice compassion. Literally, not figuratively. Yes, actually do an active practice. I’ll tell you how, but think about this first.
Here’s a well-kept secret. Let’s assume that family member is doing something ordinary people would concur is annoying, albeit not a huge deal. My experience of people acting out in such ways is this: they are suffering. They feel afraid, insecure, incomplete, unlovable, not accepted, pain, an old wound, hurt, or some such.
Further, people don’t do annoying things consciously. By consciously, I mean their higher self, their soul, is online and guiding them. When most people do annoying, dysfunctional behavior, they are unconscious. This always involves some degree of fear and suffering. Always.
Can you muster some compassion for someone experiencing that inner state — someone who is unconscious and suffering? Can you look past the behavior which may be like fingernails on a chalkboard for you and get a glimpse of the suffering human being behind those fingernails on that chalkboard?
To me, extending compassion to someone doing something we find annoying is a form of will-to-good or goodwill. You don’t have to love the behavior, but can you have compassion for the suffering of the person giving rise to the behavior?
If so, simply say these four lines to yourself, three times, as you are watching them from across the room:
- May they be happy
- May they be healthy
- May they be at peace
- May they live with ease
As you say those four statements, if you can feel goodwill towards them, all the better. At a minimum, say the statements. Feel goodwill if you can. Love, if that is possible.
And what if you can’t? What if you cannot say those four statements for the other person, much less feel goodwill or love? You wouldn’t be alone. Many people cannot. Especially at first. Especially if the behavior has gone on for some time, or reminds us of some other wound we have. So what then? Recognize this.
Then you, my friend, are suffering. So ease your own pain. Change the word “they” to “I” in the four statements above. Say them for yourself — practice self-compassion for two to three minutes.
Your Stocking Stuffer
That’s it. My little Swiss Army knife for being with the fam during the holidays. Two simple things:
- Shift your mindset from thinking their behavior is the primary cause of your suffering to the possibility that what is causing your suffering is your inability to accept them as they are, warts and all.
- Practice compassion for them or for yourself. Maybe both.
These things take no time: just consciousness, presence, and intention on your part. Consciousness, presence, and intention open a portal through which the spirit of the season can descend into you and move through you.
What a gift that would be.
I hope these are your best holidays yet, filled with warmth, love, compassion, great memory-making, laughter, and a child’s sense of wonder and awe. For sure, the latter. For sure.
Thanks for being you.