Linda J. Wilk, MAPC, Coach
Holidays present us with many conflicting feelings. Some people love them, or claim to, but I've found that many more people are filled with dread. Fear of how to make everyone happy; fear of what may happen that has happened in the past. Grief over loss of loved ones that is piqued by the holiday joy and lights. Memories of past conflicts and things gone awry. Many of us who claim to "love" the season may just be putting on a smiley face to get through. What are you doing to cope with your angst?
I confess, my holidays have not been the best, and I have had to change my ways after many missed expectations with my kids. These were no doubt colored by my growing years in an alcoholic family, codependency run rampant. I wanted to make up for my own missed joys, and that caused me to miss my own family's feelings more than once. I had to simplify and learn to listen deeply.
THE ART OF LISTENING
In the past year, I have begun to practice regular meditation. I don't mean as a religious practice. I've just woven in a time of quietness in the morning, paying attention to my breath and inner thoughts, slowing myself down. In the evening, before bed, I do the same. I was going so fast in my daily life, that despite my desire to be present for others, I was listening even less. My mind simply could not stop buzzing with the day's activities.
Listening to my own inner thoughts has made me aware of feelings I thought I had stopped having. I was feeling dull and numb. I was detached from a lot of family and friends. I even stopped contacting some people because I just couldn't think of what to say. This simple quiet time has awoken me to the things my quick pace had erased.
Several other things have come to me as I simply devoted time to quiet this year. One was compassion. I noticed that as hard as I was on myself, so I was on others. Particularly my family, as I have lived with them the longest. This applies to my family of origin, my closest and longest friends, whom I consider like family, and my family that I live with now. I often transfer feelings that I am having difficulty dealing with onto those closest to me. I will see in them, with intensity, those things I have trouble dealing with in myself. This year I have started practicing compassion for myself and now for them. This will take me awhile, I can see.
ACCEPTANCE IS THE KEY
This is a slogan from my recovery program, and it comes back to me over and over! If I can't accept myself, and how hard it is for me to change, how will I ever find acceptance for those I have so much difficulty with? Sometimes I outright refuse to accept others, the issue is so difficult. In that moment I ask myself, what is this issue within myself. And there are times that I just can't see it. In this case I may have to take some distance, so I do no more harm to the other person. At least I can see that the harm is not mine now, instead of pointing fingers. This has been a long journey. There are many differing realities or viewpoints in a family and mine is not the only "truth."
What would "we time" look like in a healthy relationship? You may not be there yet, but in your quiet time, allow your mind to drift to a new place. If you can dream it, you can begin it, Goethe said. Can you allow yourself to begin to see that you have a role in the continuing conflict, and that your family members have differing realities than yours, not "bad" or "good"? Can you begin to see that there might be a possibility of new ways or unfamiliar places where you could meet on neutral ground? Allowing ourselves to begin to see the new is the first step. This doesn't mean you give all over. You might need to define boundaries or speak your truth and be willing to hear theirs.
This year, my friend became involved in a relationship that he felt was his heart's dream and I felt was dangerous. How polarized could a thing be? I had to admit his right to his own dream, despite what I might think. But I had to protect my family and not expose us to danger. What could be true? No one yet knows. I set a boundary that I did not want to be involved in and took a "wait and see" attitude. I have, in my prayers and meditations, extended a lovingkindness attitude. I truly don't know what will happen. Until this decision, I was filled with angst and anger. I was disturbed. Once I saw that I had no acceptance and no control, I saw what I needed to work toward -- the return of my peace of mind and acceptance of what I couldn't change. I let go of things, including my family's right to make their own decisions. I took a break, and I let my friend know. I apologized for being so judgmental and promised to continue to look at myself. I was honest about where I was. I don't like being so judgmental, but my gut won't leave me alone about it yet. So, I am doing what my best self tells me is right and trying to do no harm.
I need a structure in which I can learn to slow down and see myself for who I really am and communicate deeply with others.
I need to practice compassion for myself and others, so I can trust myself
I need to live more in this moment, so I can see more clearly and practice acceptance of what is.
I need work with loved ones to develop traditions with real meaning.
In this way, instead of trying to fake traditions of the past, we can find a way to celebrate special times in a way that has true meaning for me and all the people I love. This is what it means to celebrate the "spirit" of the holidays.