So. Here we are. Pandemic Holiday Season, Redux. A year ago I offered drop-ins that put out the welcome mat for whatever was arising during the holidays, and there's one this Thursday and next Thursday (register for the link here). Last year I called them: Being With What Is During The Holidays.
However you're currently feeling, well, that's how you're currently feeling. And it doesn't have to continue exactly that way. I'm just here gently inviting you to ask what's here now? and reflect on your answer.
Turn it to 11! Or not.
We can amplify our emotions—turning them to 11, just like in Spinal Tap. And we can also reduce the intensity of our emotions as we are experiencing them. Unsurprisingly, once you learn how to work with your attention by investigating the way it operates, you realize you have some agency. Your emotions don't just happen to you; they're constructed by you. And you can influence that construction, as well as how loud and consuming emotions are once you've constructed them.
The Holidays and I Didn't Get Along
Every holiday of my childhood was spent with my first cousins, whom I adore. The problem was their dad, who was physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive (to my mom's sister and my two cousins). No alcohol involved, by the way. We all continued to be subjected to him because—get this melodrama—my maternal grandmother threatened to kill herself if anyone broke up the family.
Four grown adults (grandma included) sat quietly as this person was allowed to destroy every holiday. At least it was only a handful of times a year for me. For my cousins and aunt it was every day.
Holiday after holiday, we drove hours for this misery, and the lesson was that you don't call people out (or, um, call the police), for the good of "The Family."
When My Mindset Met My Husband
Fast forward a few decades, when my husband-to-be invited me to a family get together during the holidays and I was all kinds of dreading it. "Why do you so passionately hate the holidays?" I shared a few choice anecdotes and he reminded me that all of that happened decades ago. "What does any of that have to do with coming to Texas to meet my awesome first cousins, with whom every holiday has been a total blast?"
Crickets. The man's a genius.
My death-grip on my childhood holiday misery was just that. I was keeping the misery alive and amplifying it, both of which are optional. If I had a mindfulness practice at the time, I probably would have moved through all of this a lot earlier, but here we are.
A New Way of Being With the Holidays
For more reasons than I can count, 2021 wasn't exactly a banner year for many people. And for some, as they say, the hits keep coming. Wherever you landed at the end of 2021 is where you landed, and every moment leading up to right now is gone. For all of us. I'm not one to say that all of it happened for a reason. There are reasons things happen, as in proximate (and not) causes, but the idea of a grand design for it all isn't something mindfulness provides.
What mindfulness does provide, which for me is more powerful, is the reality that every single one of us can begin again with each moment. Screwed up five minutes ago? Begin again. Screwed up a year ago? Ten? You can still begin again. There's no rule that says you need to carry anything, although sometimes it feels like there is. Sometimes the subsequent questions feel like too much to bear. Questions like: Who am I if I'm not the person who dreads the holidays due to my unhappy childhood memories?
You aren't your memories; you don't have to be. Furthermore, your memories are reconstructions, or as Jerome Bruner* wrote, "interpretive feats." We don't observe and recall the world; we interpret it. And boy do we have lenses for our interpretations.
What's your lens this holiday season?
May ease find you.
*Bruner, J. (2004). Life as narrative (p.693). Social Research. 71, (3) 681-710.