The holidays are soon upon us. For some people they are longed for; time to get together with loved ones, catch up, and bask in the familiar. For others they can be dreaded, the very thought of having to once again show up at a family gathering nauseating to contemplate. No matter what our circumstances are we have to consider our responsibilities, to our self and others, especially at this time of year when we know that expectations will be in the air, that sensitive issues may come up. Will we acquiesce as we always have, or have we moved on? Do we attend family events out of duty or guilt, or are they meaningful and important to us? Are we selfish if we make other plans?
This time of year challenges us to give pause and consider where we now stand in our lives, both on the matter of family and in the deeper matters of the heart. We might decide to do things differently, because it is right for us to do so, to take action on behalf of our changing self, simply put: to decide that family above all just isn’t what is most important in these times of change. The decision itself will be challenging for us. Once made, we will have to deal with the consequences of our decision. Can we do so with the attitude of the changing self in charge, with our spirit on board, guiding us, with our psyche alert and ready to investigate our feelings and emotions on a deeper level?
Perhaps we decide that, of course, we will attend the family affair as we always have. As we sit at the family dinner table we might notice the usual tensions arise, both within ourselves and with others. Perhaps this tension is just a slight disturbance beneath the current of joviality, perhaps more noticeable. Perhaps, just as expected, the sisters criticize each other, the brothers get drunk, the parents argue, the kids get cranky and grandma and grandpa can’t handle any of it. Do we let this get to us? Do we sit there and judge everyone else? Do we take it personally, get offended or blame others? Do we try to make it better, compensate for everyone else? These are the projections that leave us feeling tense, resentful and unappreciated, that point out where our own deeper issues lie.
If we pause, sit back and take a deep breath, we might be able to allow our observer self to take in the scene. Perhaps we might consider addressing our observations and assumptions by looking within ourselves rather than at the actions of others. Perhaps we see how hilarious the whole situation really is or perhaps it’s really just sad, or a little of both. If we have deeper issues that we have been facing regarding our families all of this might trigger something that we hadn’t expected; it might set off an inability to withstand the impact of something within our own psyche.
Perhaps we already realize we don’t want to do this anymore, that we are in fact done with repeating the same family dynamics that have been acted out our whole lives. Perhaps we’re ready to stop playing the role we’ve been expected to play and having to be in the middle of everyone else’s role playing as well. Perhaps we’re ready to face the deeper issues that plague us and that our family of origin presents us with at every holiday gathering. All of these are things to take into consideration as we prepare for this holiday season.
If we make the decision to not attend a family gathering we will have to deal with the challenges of that decision. Who will we offend? Can we let them be offended? Can we dare to disappoint, knowing that it is right for us to refuse to subject ourselves to the tensions of unresolved family situations; that in fact it might be the healthy thing to do? It might just be time to nurture ourselves in a new way now, to carve sacred space and time in a venue of our own choosing.
Perhaps it’s time for us to realize that though we made the decision to change, others have not and may never. We have to be okay with that too, letting others take their own journeys, hopeful that some day they may take a new path. We cannot, however, convince anyone of anything; we can’t change another person, heal them, or make them into something they are not ready to be. It all has to come from within. The motivation and the intent has to be instigated by something cataclysmic within each individual. We know this ourselves, either because we have experienced it or because we’ve heard it said enough times and instinctively know it to be true. On the other hand, we can be an example of what it means to change, and that is what we may be challenged with this holiday season: to honor who we truly are, a changing, healing being on a new journey.
In the end, what will we gain or lose if we decide to do things differently this holiday season? In my own experiences, I’ve felt great relief in choosing healthy alternatives, to do my own thing rather than succumb to the dictates of family and society, rather than powerlessly acquiescing to tradition. But I have also had to face the disappointments I knew I was causing others. I have had to face that I was asking others to do something they may not have been ready for, my children for example.
I have bowed out of so many family events, not because I don’t love my family or like to be around them—quite the contrary, as they are an amazing group of thoughtful, talented people—but because the reasons to get together with anyone have to be genuine and meaningful to me and not simply because it’s traditional, that time of year again, or out of a sense of duty. Duty does play a role in our lives, but that is a different matter; duty must transcend being dutiful by default to dutifully embracing the compassionate, loving beings that we all are. And there are plenty of other times when I have attended to family members and family matters, fully embracing and embraced in this attitude.
In the end, there are times to be humble and gracious and giving, and there are times when it is appropriate to decide how we want to spend our energy. We have to decide what is the right action to take for where we are in our lives and compassionately allow ourselves to make the decision that is truly right for us; a decision made from the heart, absent of guilt, blame, resentment, and anger. As you can see, it can be a complicated process, but if we stick with our deepest heartfelt feelings and pay attention to the truth of our lives, we will act in a loving manner.
Sometimes our time of journeying with people is done; there is no next step to take. It’s a mature person who can honestly and lovingly say, “It’s been nice knowing you, but I think we’re done here. Good luck with the rest of your life.” No apologies, simply time to move on.
I let my deepest feelings prompt my actions. At times it has been quite a task to pay attention to the quiet-speaking heart, easily drowned out by the louder commercial call to celebrate, to receive and give, to eat and drink, to be happy. In the end it’s really about being in the moment, allowing the changing self to be fully present and lovingly active in the decision making.
On the path of right action, difficult and challenging as it is, and wishing you well,