Okay, I know the thing these days is succinct posts with practical bullet points and sound bites. That’s not what I’m doing here. I’m going with
My object here is to invite you to use the holidays for your becoming, not for a habitual replay of old stories and bygone identities. Use this time of festivity, connection, and sacred renewal to honor your healing and evolution.
A Story of My Hapless Mother and Holiday Misery
In my growing-up story, the woman who played the mother character was both beautiful and flimsy. She had no concept of her own beauty, no solid grasp on her own goodness and inherent worthiness. (Both of these had always been constantly, in clipped comments and spiteful tones, thrown into question by her own mother.)
Once, when we lived in France (I was maybe seven), I remember creeping into the living room during a gathering that featured grown-ups speaking French and English with more accents than I could track. My eyes flashing across the room, I captured a live snapshot of my Arkansas mom taking a drag off a cigarette. My mom didn’t smoke! But hey—in 1960-something, just anyone can reach for that prop in a smoky social scene and get away with it. I was struck in that unforgettable moment by her beauty. She could’ve been a movie star, from where I stood in semi-hiding.
There were other such moments of brief, dazzling light shone on the subject of my mother, but they never stuck. She would always go back to her fretting self, probably jerked into that known place by the mother an ocean away whom she kept close in her mind, whose worn voice played in shrill loops over anything new my mom might try to tell herself. No certain opinion, no clear creation (she sometimes stripped old furniture and infused it with new life), no authentic laughter startled out of her in an unguarded moment ever ushered in the woman she wanted to be.
Nope, she reverted every time to the frazzled mom who could cry for days or scream for hours, because it was all too much for her. Dad’s work called him away, a lot, to spend two and three weeks at a time in Spain, Portugal, Italy—wherever; wherever the women were sexier and stronger than she was. She was stuck in a small Normandy village, alone and adrift among the Frogs, inept in every way, challenged even to ask the grocer a question.
She didn’t trust her capacity to hold her husband’s attention, to be a good mother, to put any kind of beauty into the world, despite the fact that she could and often would do all three—or dabble at least, till her insecurities ridiculed her in my grandmom’s voice into getting small again. (If she were really so small, she wouldn’t have felt so trapped and miserable there, but she didn’t have that interpretation at her disposal. She didn’t have tools for moving from her habitual thoughts to something kinder and truer.)
Holidays during the years in France actually still glitter in my memory. I believe these were actually fun events, with warmer-than-normal family feelings infusing the festive scenes, and a smattering of gifts wrapped in gold and doused in magic. But then, just before I turned ten, we moved back to the U.S., and that put us in driving distance of my mom’s childhood home, or what she still simply called home (not yet having been able, with all the corporate moves, to truly make her own).
This launched years of dreaded and dreadful holiday events. There was no choice, or any concept of possible choice, in the matter of what we were doing for the holidays. That decision was made by cultural expectations upheld with a vengeance by upright human beings: we were going to be with family. This would include predictable church scenes, predictable meal-preparation and meal scenes, predictable gift-opening scenes. Some of these things were just fine on the whole, or seemed to be, but for my mother, it all represented nonstop encounters with her demons. I learned to discern, over the years, the constant subtext in things said by her mother and sister and the increasingly obvious preference given by the one to the other. My mother always paled in comparison to her more glamorous, more confident sister.
Once returned to our nuclear-family reality, we then cycled through the predictable scenes of my mother processing the self-esteem trauma reactivated by holiday events. First, she was just pissy, peevish, prone to small explosions. As the pressure built, she started giving my father hell for all he didn’t do for her—and not that she was wrong, especially with Uncle Pill and Aunt Glam so freshly in view. As with the glaring contrast in the love my grandmom doled out between her two daughters, no one could miss how the diamonds and finery Aunt Glam uncovered from her husband's gift boxes put to shame the not-much and not-memorable stuff my mother pulled from hers.
From there, she moved to giving her kids hell for all that we thought of her (we thought she was our servant; we thought she should do everything for us that we would never have even an ounce of gratitude for; we thought that she had no right to any happiness of her own—actually, all wrong, and all very confusing to the kids involved, stated as trembling facts, punctuated with slaps). There were predictable scenes of her going silent, crying over slow, morose ironing or tense chopping of onions and slapping together of casseroles. There were the quiet moments she got lost in a book—an activity that allowed her to pretty much disappear and maybe feel only half-bad about it. (I liked the books best, feeling maybe only half-anxious about them.)
In the culture my mother grew up in, stepping from ill-favored daughter to hastily taken wife with no transitional time to know herself and choose her path, she certainly had no choice over how to spend the holidays. She had no concept of her guidance system that let her know which way to head through inner tugs, through sensations of contraction versus expansion, through emotions to pay attention to for the information they bring. She knew only rules in a punitive Universe, embodied by a paternal white-bearded God figure that she was not allowed to question, and wouldn’t dare re-envision.
I’m so fortunate for where I am in time. I’ve noticed a million times over, throughout my adult life, that I’ve got a wealth of resources my mom didn’t have. I even smoked freely for a brief time and inhabited my own beauty guiltlessly, if not with total comfort. I rejected the religion of my childhood categorically and took years of trial-and-error experimentation to rebuild a belief system that honored the spiritual truth of my being—something I was entirely and effortlessly in touch with as a child. (It helped that the France years meant virtually no religious constraints, as there was no Baptist church in spitting or driving distance, and my parents trusted no other religion.)
My Invitallenge to You.
If your holidays are miserable and your holiday choices are based in obligation or some lie you tell yourself about having no choice, I want to sweetly ask: what are you doing? This is not 1960-something.
Please gauge the evolution. Like me, you have healed and evolved beyond your parents. Would you like to keep evolving? Are you willing to use anything and everything to keep coming closer to your guidance system, holidays included? Will you practice presence anywhere and any time of year, especially since presence is simply about tuning in to what’s here right now, and the here-and-now still exists during the holidays? Reminder that presence allows you to access choice, because your connection to the felt, sensory experience of this moment, as it actually is, allows you to bypass autopilot tendencies; question antiquated assumptions and stories; and reach right now for a choice that actually makes sense (to you).
Actionable Bullet Points.
I just talked to a brilliant and beautiful friend who's staying away from family of origin this year during the holidays. It took her years to get to this level of self-permission. I invite you to it. What I invite you to, more specifically, is just the level of permission and boundaries you need. And if you choose to engage with anyone at all who brings up stress for you or in any way makes you question your goodness or well-being, please get lots of supports in place. (Here's a solid holiday support I offer, an audio program with written supplements, priced at $22 for 2019 Holidays.)
Why not use this time of festivity, connection, and sacred renewal to honor your healing and evolution?
Love & blessings, Jaya
Seriously: Check out my Holiday program, Before They Drive You Crazy, TAKE THE WHEEL. It's chock-full of spiritual-meets-practical supports.
And here's my free pdf that offers a formula and script for holding your boundaries during hard conversations with difficult people.
Get the free pdf lays out the premises for an experiment in conscious dating.
(hey, hit the 2 sets of bullet points for the short version!)
In my book Scooch! I wrote about my experiment with the idea that it might be a friendly Universe. Starting so broadly (the whole Universe!) naturally took me to smaller-scale experiments in life about … anything.
So why experiments and what constitutes grand?
I’m pretty enamored of the idea that all of life and aspect of life is or can be an experiment. Looks to me like it’s closer to the truth (how much do we really know for sure?) and everything loosens up a bit and feels better if you know (admit?) you’re experimenting.
Since I’m no scientist, I think of experiments as playful and fun, not serious and scary. As a life coach, I encounter people’s fears and the self-generated pressure that we human beings typically put on others or on circumstances until we realize we’re in charge of whether we opt in for pressure or not. I’m in favor of setting things up and cultivating mindsets for maximum spaciousness and ease. Hence, experiments!
Here are some ways to think of experiments:
Why a grand experiment? I do like to say, If you’re going to bother experimenting at all, make it a grand experiment.
The following could make a simple, humble experiment very grand indeed:
(Need some support with questioning thoughts or reframing?)
(Need help choosing or holding your focus?)
(Need help following a path of least resistance and/or choosing ease and forcing nothing?)
(Need help reeling it all in when you’re discouraged or distressed?)
Have fun with your grand experiments.
Love & blessings, Jaya
P.S. Hey, now you know why I set up dating as a grand experiment. Get my free pdf to support your own grand experiment.
Have you ever shown someone a startling blossom or alien bug and been disappointed by the way they say, Amazing, and then carry on? Like it was nothing? Like—what kind of amazement has no power to jolt them out of sleepwalking, even for a moment? Don’t do this to yourself. Drop a notch deeper into presence.
Once you think you’ve seen something, look again.
Try any of these tactics to drop down a notch, drop deeper into presence. What we’re after here is meeting the dynamic reality of this moment—not your concepts about it or all the prior decisions you’ve made, the stories you’ve rehearsed, the names and descriptors you’ve got down. (Red cardinal. Jenna when she’s moody. This much half-and-half.) These simple measures could literally take one more second—or whatever you like better in the moment.
Especially if you’ve had a thought about the being or thing perceived (and thus turned it into a concept of itself), look again as if for the first time. Apply this to the most familiar face (even in its most predictable presentation), the flower you walk by (yes—even if it did already spike appreciation), the cup steaming with the known hot beverage.
Now and now and now, just for now: just one notch deeper into presence.
Love & blessings, Jaya
(Would you, could you believe that it’s supposed to be easy?)
I just found a little note I wrote for myself with an Abraham-Hicks quote that struck me: “The path of least resistance is also the path of greatest joy, greatest clarity, and the most fun!”
Abraham’s path of least resistance is a crazy-simple concept: You watch for and find the easiest, most effortless spot to next place your foot. Don’t see the whole picture? Don’t have a start-to-finish plan? No problem. Find your next step, knowing that’s enough. Take the easiest step you have access to.
You can do it tired, scared, confused. Point yourself roughly in the right direction (as I talk about in part 4 of Scooch!) and step forward, wherever your foot can land without some big leap or forceful stomping.
You can do it with curiosity instead of dread; you can stay tuned for the guidance rather than fear you’ll get it wrong. You can trust yourself to course-correct as you go.
It’s always okay to find you’re in resistance. Watch it dispassionately, compassionately. Then find your point of least resistance, and step there. Rinse and repeat; rinse and repeat. You’ll see and feel the resistance melt away. You’ll find the momentum builds as you go, often surprisingly swiftly.
To proceed along the path of least resistance, start by noticing when you’re in resistance.
In your body, resistance can feel like
You’re in resistance when you're
It also helps to be clear about the signs that you're on a path of least resistance:
How to follow the path of least resistance:
All you need to do is gingerly pick your way along the unknown way, one step at a time, simply finding your next point of least resistance. What’s the easiest way to go that feels like it’s in the right direction? Forget the whole picture. Don’t call this one step a drop in the bucket. Your point of least resistance simply gives you access to movement. One step, and another, and the next, until you’re moving so well, you forget you didn’t know how to do this. You’ll course-correct as you go, so don’t worry about whether you’re heading just the right way. You’re meant to build and ride momentum.
Hey, it’s not just that the path of least resistance will get you to where you’re going in the most effortless way. Remember the quote I began with from Abraham-Hicks? “The path of least resistance is also the path of greatest joy, greatest clarity, and the most fun!” So when it feels like that … you’re on it!
Love & blessings, Jaya
A Formula for Meeting Feelings Well
I’ve got a sentence for you to play with—a formula, actually, with an X to plug something into, but its purpose isn’t mathematical. It’s to support you to move through any strong feeling better, with greater awareness, in a way that’s kind to yourself. It has the lovely effect of both allowing you to come closer to a feeling, while simultaneously giving you distance and perspective—thus beginning to set you free, or to disconnect overt suffering from pain or discomfort.
Unavoidable Pain/Optional Suffering
There’s no way to avoid feeling bad sometimes. It seems to be a reality of a human life on planet Earth. We haven’t done something wrong or failed at being an evolving human being when we feel bad. Grief is real. Depression strikes. We have angry reactions (and they’re actually useful, sometimes, to show us that something’s off and must be dealt with) or feel building frustration (which is useful to call us to a reset if we catch it and respond!). There’s truly no problem with feeling bad. The problem is that we let it get to us, hijack the mind, and take us down the rabbit hole—or to places far uglier and less cozy than I imagine any rabbit hole to be. We quickly go from pain or discomfort to overt suffering--and that part is typically optional.
Think-Feel Feedback Loop
You’ve seen yourself put a story to what you’re feeling, right? You’ve caught yourself reviewing details of the story that seems to be the obvious cause of a bad feeling. Absorbed in the story, you intensify the feeling, and that stronger feeling asks for more story. Redundantly reviewing its details and your assessments of it (not fair, not okay, makes no sense), you get sucked in deeper; the feeling gets stronger still. Taking off on some defensive inner response (not what I meant, not my fault, not what I usually do) or some wretched interpretation (unseen, abandoned, betrayed), you may successfully get stuck in a bad feeling and perpetuate it for some time.
Come Close to Feelings You May Want to Push Away
Even if you try to shove it down, you can’t quite shake it off. It colors whatever you do—certainly your sense of well-being, possibly what others around you experience. The dark cloud you carry around may dim the whole room. Or are you someone who pretends it’s all good, unaware you’re radiating something false and impenetrable that frustrates and mystifies those around you?
But you could come close to the feeling instead, even magnify it for a moment, and really let yourself feel it. (By feel it, I mean feel it, not think about it.) Hey, the feeling’s here anyway (it’s present), so you may as well give it your awareness (your presence). That’s where my formula comes in.
Tell yourself, This is what X feels like. Ideally, sit down or lie down with it a moment, but you could do this while working on the computer, or performing any rote task. Here you are, living your human life. And here’s this normal (painful) feeling: X.
If you can close your eyes, this can help you drop fully into the feeling, even for 30 seconds or a minute. I’m going to first walk you through coming close to the feeling, then have you notice you’re gaining distance in so doing.
Plug In a Feeling Name for X
Your first job is to fill in the X with your best label or name for the feeling at hand.
This is what loneliness feels like.
This is what techno-frustration feels like.
This is what worry about someone you love feels like.
This is what distress over planetary problems feels like.
Whatever it is, name it, plug it in for X, and take it in.
This Is What X Feels Like
This. This is what it feels like. The phrase itself holds an invitation to feel it, so that's your second job. Not just feel it, but feel it precisely. You could
In short, come close enough that you truly let yourself feel what you’re feeling. In this way, you get present to the feeling. By not ignoring or minimizing it, you teach yourself that you’re fully equipped to feel this painful sensation: it’s not bigger than you; it won’t get the best of you.
Into the Feeling, Out of Conceptualizing It!
Perhaps most important, this gets you out of transferring a bodily sensation to the mind, making a concept out of it, bypassing the actual felt, sensory experience of what’s moving through you. This in itself is powerful. It also allows the feeling X, I believe, to better move through you and move on: you know, that pesky the-way-out-is-through thing.
The Simple Power of Breathing a Feeling
And while you’re giving X your awareness, you might consciously give it breath, though it’s likely that will happen anyway. The breath is soothing, calming, leveling to the nervous system. The breath is kind. You might think in terms of the breath wanting to support you and get you through whatever you’re moving through.
The breath, too, is a felt, sensory experience that we seldom feel at all. When you sit with this formula, tune in to the breath (no manipulations needed, though you’re welcome to slow it down and deepen it if you like—it’ll go that direction anyway if you give it attention for a bit).
Gaining Distance from the Feeling by Joining the Human Race
As you repeat This is what X feels like, be aware that any number of human beings have felt this way over time. Right now, some are feeling it right along with you. Connect to them. Be one with them. You might even imagine specific faces. Take these from all the continents, from various races, ages, socio-economic levels, gender expressions. We are all one. You are not alone, and in holding awareness of others in the same boat, you cast your vote that they feel relief too, that they feel less alone too.
As you simply keep holding what X feels like with the gaze of the compassionate, dispassionate witness, noticing that others feel it too, welcome yourself to the human race. Take the compassion you’re able (probably more easily) to extend to others, and bring it back to yourself. (Aw, sweetheart, Ow.) And know it's okay for you to feel this: it's something that human beings, in the course of a lifetime, over the course of eons, feel and have felt. Why shouldn’t you feel it too, just for now? There’s no problem.
And you don’t have to suffer. You don’t have to add in and review and get preoccupied with the story of the hour that seems to have launched the feeling X. You can just feel this pain. You can let it move through you and move on.
Love & blessings, Jaya
p.s. Want a list of things NOT to get involved with when you feel bad? Here are my well-loved (helpful, practical) 11 Rules for When You’re Discouraged or Distressed.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.