It’s that time of year again. Blaring TV and radio ads scream at you to buy, buy, buy with money you may not have. With relentless good cheer, they all seem to say the same thing: “It’s the holidays, and you must buy the right gifts for your loved ones, or they’ll be bitterly disappointed.” Arggh!
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Christmas season, and I’m a sucker for the Nativity story (although I read it as myth rather than history). The magical elements of that story are wonderful. I’m most impressed by the genuinely human miracles it contains: a bewildered man choosing to help his wife carry a child to term even though he knows it’s not his. Life finding a way to manifest in the most impoverished of conditions. The promise of a newborn child. Beautiful stuff!
I also love the peripherals of the season: the music, writing cards to people you haven’t corresponded with for awhile, greeting friends and family and sharing special meals together. I genuinely enjoy giving meaningful gifts to people whom I love. I even enjoy putting up decorations and pitting my wits against those of factory workers half a world away who produce lighted ornamental reindeer in some 40,000 interlocking parts.
It’s beautiful, it’s magical. But not all the magic of the season is of the white variety. Some darker forces come into play as well: frayed nerves, anger, depression, alcoholism. How can practitioners deeply enjoy the holidays while guarding themselves against the inevitable stress that the season produces?
I recommend a daily practice that includes asanas that promote balance, as well as those devoted to release, to letting go. There will be many things happening around you soon over which you have little control; practicing inner and outer balance will help you to thrive in the midst of chaos and revelry. I personally say the Metta Prayer daily during the holidays, and practice Yoga Nidra. This practice allows the practitioner to become deeply aware of her inner resources, her dearest heart’s desires, her breath, and the inner and outer sources of joy. It produces a sense of equanimity about other people and oneself. For instance, if you have a friend or relative who tends to overindulge in alcohol and act accordingly (it’s a drug that rarely brings out the best in people!), it will enable to take that in stride. If someone in your circle becomes a little obsessive about having things done a certain way, you can absorb that, too.
One trick I learned several years ago to help me with holiday stress is the “just like me” exercise. Meditate on a person who rubs you the wrong way, and say something like, “He’s so closed-minded. He makes snap judgments about people and makes bigoted comments…just like me.” You may not be overly opinionated, but if you think deeply about it, you’ll probably realize there are many things you do indeed have prejudices about (we all do, despite our best efforts to quell them). Speaking without thinking, you’ve said things you wish you could take back. Acknowledging that will help you get a sense of equanimity about the other person.
You can also turn it around to acknowledge positive aspects of other people to prevent feelings of inferiority and/or envy from arising. “She’s such a good cook. She’s remarkably talented…just like me.” You can then meditate on your own talents and abilities, realizing that you too have a great deal to offer. Again, the idea is to promote a sense of equanimity.
I hope your holidays are wonderful. May you spend time with family and friends enjoying each present moment to the fullest. And may you spend more time celebrating than you do struggling to assemble ornamental reindeer in 40,000 interlocking parts.
William K. Ferro