Holidays have never been easy or completely blissful for me. While I do enjoy the spirit of gratitude, giving and the joy that comes with Christmas, I also struggle.
Being in close proximity with family and loved ones has become easier for me as I age, but sometimes I still fall into old patterns of resentment and disagreement. How do we begin to navigate the trecherous waters of our emotion-laden holidays with the people we care about the most?
I don’t have a single, clear answer.
In fact, I stand here in the middle wondering which way to turn. Two of my favorite spiritual guides have opposing views. I’m often caught between the wisdom of Michael Singer in The Untethered Soul, and Jill Bolte Taylor in My Stroke of Insight. Singer writes,
“If you want to be free, you have to learn to stop fighting these human feelings. When you feel pain, simply view it as energy. Just start seeing these inner experiences as energy passing through your heart and before the eye of your consciousness. Then relax. Do the opposite of contracting and closing. Relax and release. Relax your heart until you are actually face-to-face with the exact place where it hurts. Stay open and receptive so you can be present right where the tension is…just see it as energy and let it go. If you close around the pain and stop it from passing through, it will stay in you.” (Singer, 105)
In My Stroke of Insight, Taylor recounts her experience recovering from a stroke. In the hospital, she was negatively affected by caregivers who arrived in her room bringing stress and anxiety, anger and fear. This made an impact on her recovery. She now claims that each of us has a responsibility to be aware of the energy we bring to others.
So in considering these two views, I recognize that both are true. I am inclined to side more with Taylor’s view simply because it takes so much work to do what Singer is suggesting. It also takes bravery to ask the people you encounter to be aware of the negative impact they are having on you.
Both roads, whichever you choose, are difficult.
I believe that we can grow from practicing the continual release of our feelings and simply observe them as “energy” (which is hard because it’s so abstract). I also believe we can begin to heal when we are able to honestly communicate the struggle we experience when someone close to us has a habit of ranting or complaining or objecting and offering opposing viewpoints for the sake of entertaining arguments.
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lammott loved a line that one of her students wrote: “I could resent the ocean if I tried.” While that might be humorous and witty, I really don’t feel so great about hanging out with someone who sees the world through that lens. I want to be around happy people, and I want to be happy. I might not have a “right” to it, but I surely do seek the company and comfort of friends who take life in and give back light. Especially when I’m struggling in the dark.
Recently, I had to accept a diagnosis from my doctor that means I need to make changes. The first of these changes involves stress reduction. I also had to give up coffee, over eating, red meat, alcohol, and all dairy. I have to eat the smallest meals and cook and mash almost everything I eat. It’s like the baby food diet. I can have a small snack every two or three hours. None of this bothers me though, because I only want to feel better. If this is the way, then I feel so happy to have a simple solution that doesn’t involve drugs or hospitalization or surgery. So many people are having a worse time. For stress reduction, I decided to reduce my compulsive habits, and asked the people closest to me to be aware of the energy that they bring to me.
And once I asked, I experienced a deep and powerful lonliness. For days I lay on the plush loveseat with blankets and a stomach ache, feeling ashamed to ask my loved ones to stop bringing so much to my emotional table. My detachment was filled with sadness and loss. I wondered how long I could be in this place, feeling that energy. Knowing that what I asked will be difficult to give.
Then, after a few days of this internal moping lonliness, I was gifted with a day of silence. I got off the couch and cleaned the house. I followed my diet. I played my French Horn. I hugged and kissed and loved my family in the evening.
Sometimes we need to have this silence, a soothing bath of warm water for the soul.
I don’t know why I feel so lonely when I speak my truth to those I love.
It never comes out as kind as I intend it, or as eloquently as I might write it.
I used to go out on my front steps to have a cigarette when I felt like this. Yesterday, still wating for my mood to lift, I sat on those steps and looked out at a glowing sunrise through the trees. A passing aircraft spread a pink contrail on the pale blue sky. My seven year old neighbor danced alone in her driveway, delighted with her new sequin encrusted high tops. This is the kind of energy I love.
I plan to notice it more.