A few days ago, driving with my daughter and her friend, we had a conversation about Christmas. On the radio were carols and as the voice proclaimed that it is “the most wonderful time of the year,” I heard the girls groan. “I don’t really love Christmas. It’s not actually the most wonderful time of the year,” friend proclaimed firmly. “Same!” my daughter replied, with what sounded like a sigh of relief from releasing this confession.
I admit my first reaction was less curiosity and more judgement. “What?!” I exclaimed, not, I realize now, because their comments were so outrageous, but because I desperately want them both to be little shiny-eyed girls who believe in magic and wonder still. I want them to search out joy and hope—and what if they don’t?
I followed up my dismay by admitting that I, too, didn’t really like Christmas at their age of 15; that it took falling in love and then having children of my own that recalled my desire to celebrate the holiday. Yet, that was only a partial truth, and not fair to the story these young women may have had to tell.
The truth of this season, like all of life, is more complicated than any simple, packaged response. Life doesn’t stop being full of incredible overwhelm, anxiety, depression, anger, or the loss of innocence simply because there are holidays to celebrate. In fact, emotions and wounds are often heightened. I like to say, “Life can be pretty lifey,” which people who know me knows I mean, full of a range of challenging experience. Any childhood perspective of magic at this time of year might feel like another lie with a pretty bow on top, another punch to the gut of reality.
In retrospect, I wish during that car ride that I’d listened more than I talked. So, this morning I am reflecting and listening to my heart and my own conflicted experience of the holidays.
In my life now I see the holidays as part of a wheel of time, a reminder of the way that life dims and shines often at once, and the ways that outrageous love can be born again. But I don’t always feel joyous during December. In fact, the quiet of this time of year lends itself less to a bubbly excitement and more to a somewhat somber state. Yet, this somber quiet is perhaps part of what is behind claiming these days “holidays,” i.e. holy days, as in “exalted, worthy of devotion; sacred.”
Lately, instead of bubbly excitement, I look to find rest in the pauses that I create as I notice time. I celebrate Advent, the dimming days leading up to the Winter Solstice, the birth of a new solar year on the Solstice, and Christmas. Each reminds me to pause and to notice time and the sacred relationships that are part of my life, giving me space to reflect on the past and wonder for the future, all while cultivating ways to sit in the present and experience what is happening in my body and heart through these days. I like to think of this as Gregory Boyle describes as the ability to swim in the river of emotions from having practiced being there over and again.
As I settle into this reflection, I consider the ways that the relationships that are most complicated require the deepest listening, the most pauses. This feels like a paradox to the initial reaction that can arise within me when I’m faced with a difficult relationship with a time of year or with other people.
I consider, what gift would l like to offer myself and others this sacred season? I begin with giving myself a light RAIN practice—recognizing the sensations that arise in my body as I contemplate my relationship to the holidays, allowingwhat is here to exist as if I am witnessing waves on the sea rising and falling, investigating a little deeper to inquire what might be underneath the surface of these sensations and emotions, and nurturing it all by holding myself in a space of tenderness as I imagine I am being held by a loving presence. Use this short meditation with Tara Brach to practice this RAIN offering.
What if the gift is to allow the experience to be whatever it is and to listen a whole lot more this season? What might be revealed as this new year births itself into being? Perhaps love. Not the simple, easily packaged kind, but the complicated, multi-layered and many dimensional love that sits in relationship to all that is divine. The whole language.
Join me, along with Jen Rolston and Kimber Hyatt, for a very special Winter Solstice Celebration
Click below to read about this live zoom event and to sign up to attend.
To claim an in-person spot to practice with me at the Harmony location in Shepherdstown, please text me at 401-440-0279. Space is limited.
Friday morning classes will resume in 2022
along with additional offerings.