It’s no secret that our personal associations with the holidays can bring us sorrow as well as joy. Extremes of happiness and sadness may have good cause. In my case, wonderful memories of warm celebrations filled with great food, gifts, and rowdy cousins to play with, are tempered by the memory of my 20th year: after enduring a 6-month struggle with cancer, my mother died shortly after Christmas.
When we experience the co-mingling of powerful positive and negative experiences, we are presented with an opportunity to challenge deep tendencies of our mind. Like me, even as you’re appreciating the aroma of a turkey dinner being prepared, the memories it calls up may also cause a pang in your heart. But instead of diving into feeling small and falling into a dark mood, in that moment we can actively choose to connect with appreciation and joy instead.
I’m not recommending avoiding or repressing our natural grief, or stuffing bad holiday memories or old hurt feelings. What I am recommending is how we can choose our experience in each moment. We can decide to experience the richness of whatever that moment contains, rather than feeling victimized by the memories it calls up.
Try This to Connect with Gratitude and Joy
1. Release any notion that it is “selfish” or “bad” to invite abundance and joy into your life. The only thing that can make it “bad” would be if you asked for good things at the expense of others. Again and again, invite abundance, joy, compassion, and wisdom for yourself and for everyone. Then relax and open to it.
2. Release the images and stories about yourself that tend to convince you that you are small, hopeless, helpless, unlovable, or unimportant. Such ideas are trances of personality and they cause us to suffer. This kind of painful thinking torments us because it goes largely unexamined.
3. Challenge the self-critical stories. Practice asking, “In order to have this problem, who do I have to believe I am?” or “What do I have to believe is true about me?” Then challenge the “truth” of the answer you come up with.
4. Practice contemplating the greatness and mystery of life. Go outside and look at the sky. Take a moment to remember the myriad lives that are sustained by this planet. Consider the many nourishing breaths you take in any given day. You yourself are a full manifestation of this same greatness and mystery.
5. Recognize that you are greater than what you think about yourself. A great saint once said about the practice of contemplating the true nature of oneself vs. the false notions of oneself: “One who meticulously measures the length of his shadow, before trying to leap over it, cannot be said to understand anything about a shadow. Similarly, the one who, after arduous study of the scriptures, comes to some definitive conclusion about the Self, has failed to understand it. Words recoil from the Self, so how can the intellect, which functions entirely by means of words, understand anything about it?”
6. Trust yourself. Practice this again and again: simply rest in the present moment, center your awareness in your heart, and ignore any thinking that judges your effort, or distracts you from this effort, to rest in simple open awareness.
7. Recognize that prayer and worry share the same basic template. They are both focused, emotion-laden thought about a given subject. Therefore, see that worry is just negative prayer. We tend to get what we pray for. So when you find yourself worrying, instead of fighting it, take the subject of concern out of worry mode and pray as joyfully and confidently as possible for the blessing that would fulfill the concern. It’s a most important empowering practice!
May these simple practices support you in having a wonderful holiday season . . . and may they stay with you for the rest of your life!
You may enjoy checking out our popular webinar on CD called Family Matters: 5 Ways to Stop Your Past from Screwing Up Your Future. This audio program includes mp3 guided visualizations, PowerPoint presentations, and class discussions.