Are you looking forward to a holiday right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, with the whole family singing around the piano or enjoying a spirited snowball fight before gathering, rosy-cheeked and glowing, around the holiday table? Or are you dreading long days of forced togetherness, the rehashing of old grievances and the airing of new ones as your family falls into its old, dysfunctional patterns? For most, holiday gatherings with family fall somewhere between the two scenarios. These three tips will help you to navigate though the family minefields, large and small, with your spirit and sanity intact.
Put the power of forgiveness and unconditional love to work for you:
As a spiritual teacher, I encourage my students to give themselves and those around them the gift of forgiveness and unconditional love. This holds especially true during the holidays.
If you know in advance that you’ll be seeing a family member who has wronged you, take the time to forgive them before the event. Close your eyes and imagine the person standing in front of you. As you breathe in, silently say, May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease. This powerful Buddhist exercise, called “Metta,” dissolves anger, resentment, and guilt, and will help you to feel more loving and in control as you journey “over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.” When you arrive, don’t undo the good you’ve done by telling the person that you have forgiven them—that will only bring the old issues back to the forefront and put them on the defensive. This processing is for your benefit. Simply send them love, and move on!
Stay outside of the emotional fray, and celebrate your own spiritual progress:
The holidays are not the time to resolve old issues, or confront other people. Enjoy the time with family, and set the limits that you need to keep yourself healthy emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
Take care of yourself. Take walks outdoors, meditate and consume alcohol, sugar, and caffeine in moderation. If you’re tired, give yourself permission to leave a family event early. You’re not obligated to stay till the bitter end. Fighting and drama tends to escalate as it gets late, especially if the alcohol is flowing. If there is family drama, step out of the fray and observe; pretend you’re watching a play, rather than allowing yourself to be pulled in.
Finally, capture the holiday spirit by looking outside of yourself and your family circle:
Are you trying to recapture the breathless excitement and holiday magic that you remember from your childhood? Or do you have old, traumatic memories of the season that you’re desperate to replace with happier ones? As an adult, you can experience the very best of the holidays, the spirit of joy and love, but you might not find it wrapped in a box, or around the table with your extended family. For many people, the formula for a light-filled season includes not just family time, but time spent alone and time spent helping others.
Gandhi said that the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. Don’t depend on the “big event” to fill you with the holiday spirit. If, despite your best efforts to forgive and forget, an overdose of family time is causing you to dwell too much on past hurts and disappointments, shift your focus outside of yourself. Figure out a way to help others, and by doing so, you’ll nourish your own spirit. Serve holiday dinners at a homeless shelter, deliver gifts to the lonely or sick, visit a nursing home to sing carols, send cards and packages to the troops, and remember what the holidays are really about—bringing more light into the world. Doing that is a sure way to fill your own soul with the spirit of the season!