Mr. Rogers Got It RightOctober 30, 2021
A Special Holiday Message | Chanukah Lights’ Life LessonsDecember 3, 2021
Renewal in the Coming Year
For over a year and a half we have been in the midst of pandemic isolation / re-entry, and a re-examination of racial reckoning. As 2021 comes to a close, many of us will reflect on what happened in our personal lives, focusing on specific experiences. We are also likely to look forward to 2022, and will consider what we hope for ourselves, families, communities and our country. As many of us think about New Year’s resolutions (perhaps another time I will talk about what seems to make them stick) I think the pressing questions are “How do we want to live our lives? What matters most to us? How can we consciously live our values?” And, “How do we move forward and find either a return to what sustains us OR a renewal of what can sustain us along our journey?”
Since we are still dealing with COVID-19, it should not surprise us if we are continuing to experience feelings of anxiety, grief, anger, and yes, physical and mental exhaustion. Yet, in these trying times, we can also experience hope and optimism. One way to do that is by supporting ourselves in ways that help us to be focused and healthy. When we feel somewhat in balance, we are more able to offer support to others.
Create Space to Remember Our Values
We can begin with focusing on our breath. With each breath we can create space to remember our values and what is important, even when we are in the midst of chaos. Our minds may race off with our anxieties. That is to be expected. But we can develop a practice that brings us back to noticing our breath. This helps us to feel relaxed, centered and to view things with clarity. When we fall down we can get up and start again. Each time we do, we have an opportunity to learn something new about ourselves and about our lives.
We can learn to accept that sometimes we are challenged by obstacles and feel frustrated. We may not be able to change the conditions or circumstances, but we can adapt (often by altering our attitude) in a way that helps to lay the groundwork for our renewal. We develop new skills. This is the basis for trying to change our current circumstances, but from a place of acceptance of the way things are now. We can see the situation for what it is and move forward in a different way than we have in the past. When we are open to a different approach, we make space for growth and change.
Now is not the time to be harsh with ourselves for falling down or failing to meet the circumstances and outcomes of the past year in a way we wished we could. Now is the time for loving kindness and intentional breathing and returning to what matters to us. Now is the time to realize that possibilities exist. Choices exist. We live in a world of constant change. And we can decide how we want to respond even when others’ responses to us are not what we want. This quote from Victor Frankl reminds us of the fact that we have control over how we respond to others:
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me.”
During the pandemic, when our basic survival mechanisms kicked in, we may have turned to anger to push something away or clung tightly to something hoping we wouldn’t lose it. We may have forgotten what civility meant and that there are multiple ways to respond to others, even when we do not like the way they respond to us. Most of us learn that life is messy and that we do not have control over many situations. But that does not mean we cannot have control over how we think about and behave in different, often challenging situations. We need to recognize that what may have worked for us in the past with challenges may not be working for us now. So as we begin this holiday season and move into 2022, we can create a sense of renewal in our mind, our body and our spirit and begin the year with a feeling that we can make a difference in the way we live our lives.
How to Approach the Holidays
It is not uncommon to feel anxious in anticipation of the holidays. Our emotions may be related to the holidays in general, COVID, travel, being with family, NOT being with family, financial worries (this year EVERYTHING seems to cost more than it did in the past), increased demands on our time, fatigue, caring for those who need extra attention at the holidays, committing to too many events, or any number of things. Whatever the source, feeling anxious can be quite unsettling.
Anxiety inhibits our ability to be present to fully participate in a situation because of the thoughts that run wild to what might have been or what might be. When we understand the source of our stress and anxiety, we are more able to be proactive to plan as well as keep a more careful watch on our emotional responses.
One of the most important things we can do (and the one thing that usually is cast aside) is to develop / continue the habits we have that ensure our well-being. Exercise, eating healthfully, taking breaks to meditate, being in touch with friends, getting as much done “early” as we can, and getting enough rest and sleep. If financial issues are high on your list of worries, take the time to plan a reasonable budget. Rely on your calendar to plan to do specific tasks. Go outdoors in nature and take specific, intentional breathing breaks throughout the day.
If there is something you can do about it, why worry (do it).
If there is nothing you can do about it, what use is worry? ~ Shantideva
Some people feel sad around the holidays because they have experienced significant loss and recalling loved ones who died, or other people or the life they once had is difficult. Others suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which can be more challenging during the holidays. And most of us have a vision of a holiday when everyone will somehow have seen the light and will get along and be grateful and treat one another with kindness and respect. Or we have a vision of what the holidays have been like, historically, where painful things are allowed to be said and merry does not seem to be a descriptor of anyone’s mood.
Sometimes the language we use when we talk to ourselves makes our feelings worse: “I’m so anxious.” “I’m all tied up in a knot.” “I worry about everything.” It is one thing to accurately recognize and name a feeling and another to latch onto it and keep repeating it which becomes a cycle that is hard to break. What helps is to practice relaxation as we acknowledge the feeling…even welcome the feeling. Invite the feeling and detach from the story we tell ourselves: I’ll never get my shopping done.” “I will be a nervous wreck when my mom stays with me.” It’s going to be worse than last year.” Rather, think of incorporating healthy practices as you anticipate being in situations that have, historically, not gone well. “I have some skills and some buffers that I can use to keep myself in check and this year I will practice them.”
Breathe into the space in your body where you hold tension (common places are our head, neck, shoulders, jaw, stomach, back). Walk in nature, play with a pet, watch a funny movie, listen to a funny podcast, read or listen to inspirational poems, prayers, stories, dance to your favorite music. Allow the feeling of anxiety without being attached and repeating the story. Breathe into the feeling in your body and be kind to yourself. Is your tummy tight? Is your jaw hurting? Do you need to loosen the muscles in your neck? Pay attention to your body and breathe into the spaces that hurt. Say to yourself, I will get through this. At this moment, I can breathe into the spot and “loosen it up.” When the story pops into your head, notice it and bring your attention back to your body. Breathe into the spot and stay present.
Engage In a Book
We could easily read a book each week if we were less distracted by social media. Most people spend at least two hours PER DAY on digital content, which is transitory in nature.
But let’s talk about books. Engaging in a book can be a pleasure. We can fully immerse ourselves in a completely different world of thought. Our imaginations are stirred. We can be inspired and learn new things. We can access experiences and knowledge with the turn of a page. And we can have this experience while listening to an audio book as well.
There are so many great books to read. So why not start with one? As you look forward to reading, start with 10 minutes a day. Discover or rediscover reading for pleasure. Before you know it, you will be reading for an hour or more. When you reserve the time, it becomes a special and sacred time.