What is the biggest source of stress for most people? It is not wars and natural disasters. The two major causes are worries about money and family (death, divorce, illness, marriage, children, in-laws, and friction between family members).
Holidays bring out these stresses and a lot of people dread the holidays–gift giving and being forced to be with people they would rather forget. Old wounds, losses, and painful memories well up for many people.
And yet, holidays are traditionally meant to be joyful. What happened for so many people to dislike the holidays and wish them away?
Loss of simplicity. With the advent of department stores, the simple homemade gifts gave way to the commercialization of the holidays. I remember even 35 years ago, life was much simpler. In England, we gave each other a special cake of soap, a pretty handkerchief, or knitted a scarf, or even made a simple cake. No one felt that these presents were “cheap” and there was so much joy over the thought and care each gift signified. The importance was clearly on the sentiment and joy of caring, on the spiritual, and not on the material. This has been a huge shift.
Why is this important? In my personal observations, most people feel that what they give is far more generous than what they receive. So if everyone in a particular family feels that way there is a constant brewing of discontent, inflating of one’s own sense of self-importance and virtue while diminishing that of the others. That leads to resentment and anger which spill over into all aspects of those relationships–the constant accounting of debits and credits but everyone’s accounting is totally different and it is always in their favor.
Giving and receiving. We can choose to opt out of the commercial aspect. In our family, we have no material gifts any more now that the children have grown up. No matter what the occasion, we have no gift giving. If we happen to see something that would be appreciated, we just pick it up and give it without occasion. We do things for each other throughout the year. On special days, we go out for a special meal which does not have to be super expensive. We go on long family vacations.
So we totally eliminated holiday shopping, guessing who would like what, disappointments related to giving and receiving, and the financial stress. There is no clutter in the house either! It is quite liberating for us and we love to just spend time together freed from what has generally become a warped, spiritless “act of giving.” Our relationships are much more joyful when we give ourselves to each other. This will not work for everyone, but everyone can find what is comfortable for them and simplify life.
The point is to try to give without expectation and receive with joy and appreciation.
Unpleasant relatives? If possible, avoid them! If you cannot, watch them as you would a movie and not react to anything they say or do. Just let it flow away like a stream. The day will end and everyone will go their separate ways. If people are difficult, it helps to see that it comes from their own stress and suffering.
Holiday meals will be much more enjoyable if they are simply prepared with love rather than elaborately done with stress. If done with the right attitude, food and gifts are symbolic of spiritual giving. It is the attitude of love that makes a meal special, not the expense or enormous amount of time.
Slow down. Instead of revving up for the holidays, it helps to slow down. Hibernate a little and go within–discover the inner space in the quiet, dark stillness of a winter’s night. Discover the light within–after all that is the point of the holiday.
Take time to be in touch with the light within. Candle Flame Trataka is an excellent way to see and feel the light within. Connect with spirit of the inner guide with the powerful Yoga Nidra : Up to the Summit. For difficult relationships try the Yoga Nidra: Role of Purpose and Beyond. To shake off anxiety and lethargy, try a few rounds of sun salutations. Like public broadcasting, these are all offered to everyone on www.mahasriyoga.com whether they donate or not.
Slow down, look within, connect with who you truly are as you feel the warm glow of the light within this winter solstice. “It’s a gift to be simple, it’s a gift to be free…”
This blog will be slowing down over the next few weeks.