Letting Go . . . Over the Holidays
“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” —Ram Dass
“Ha, ha, ha, bless your soul. You really think you’re in control?” —Gnarls Barkley (Crazy, song lyrics)
The notion of letting go during the holiday season may sound paradoxical for those of us who celebrate by adorning our homes with bright decorations, purchasing gifts for friends, family members, and loved ones, preparing elaborate meals, and attending numerous seasonal festivities. Nevertheless, there is no better opportunity for practicing release than over the holidays.
If we are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or burdened by holiday demands, we can choose a different path by “emptying out” our mental chaos. Consider letting go of a few of the following:
• Expectations — We often put enormous pressure on ourselves—and others—during special occasions. Every day that you are alive is a special occasion. Don’t lose sight of what’s truly important just because life gets busy or holiday plans go awry. We can always decide to make our inner peace a priority and organize our life around the values of heartfelt compassion and love. These internal choices do not depend on outside circumstances. And in the process, we may be able to extend our sense of well-being to those close to us.
• The word “should” — During the holidays, we may feel as though we “should” be happy or we “should” be more like the images of blissful families we see in Christmas commercials and on greeting cards. We need to be gentle with ourselves. It’s okay to feel sad over the holiday season (even for no apparent reason). Many people face extreme hardships over the holidays such as loss, addictions, illness, and other serious life challenges. It’s okay to spend time with a family member who is in the hospital or in hospice. It’s okay to visit the gravesite of a loved one. It’s okay to grieve.
Experiencing a wide range of emotions is part of being human! For example, even in sadness, we may also experience moments of happiness—such as when we visit a grandchild or attend a beautiful holiday performance. We might cry one minute and laugh the next. We can go for a walk, watch a favorite movie classic, drink a cup of hot cocoa, and listen to music—all while a jumbled mix of emotions freely flow. Let go of manufactured ideas of what it means to celebrate life. Instead, embrace what soothes your soul.
• Control — We don’t like to admit it, but we can’t control much of what happens in life. Even for special events, we are not in charge of the weather or how friends, co-workers, and family members behave or respond to our actions. Despite all our planning, we also cannot control how events turn out. We can only do our best. Then, let it go. Sometimes, it’s the events that don’t go as planned that we later remember with fondness.
• Grudges & Resentments — Life is too short to waste our energy, happiness, and mental health on old storylines. Grievances keep us locked in the past and block the future. Find ways to be in this moment, right now, without carrying all the heavy baggage of yesterday on your back. We can lighten our load by letting that garbage go.
• Opinions & Judgments — If we can’t let these go, we can at least be aware that we likely hold a whole slew of opinions and judgments about all sorts of things. Once we are aware of this habit of quickly forming opinions and judgments, we can try setting some of them aside for a day (or just an hour) as an experiment. Who are you without your opinions? Is it possible we could accomplish more good in the world through emptying all that out and filling ourselves instead with something more healing and more loving?
• Fear — Feeling our fear (along with other strong emotions such as anger), without immediately reacting, is spiritual warrior work. Simply being with our emotions takes tremendous inner strength. Releasing fears is a long-term internal process: we must release them again and again as they reappear (and they will). We are human. The goal is not to shut off unpleasant feelings. Rather, just the opposite. We need to become intimately acquainted with these strong emotions so that we understand better their origins. Eventually, we may be surprised at how this process softens our hearts.
Pause and ask: What really matters in my life? The answer to that question is what you want to hold close to your heart this holiday season.
Once we let go of our excessive mental clutter, we create more heart space. We can then fill our lives with the qualities we wish to embody: Compassion. Patience. Kindness. Forgiveness. Gentleness. Laughter. Joy. Gratitude. These are the gifts we can give to ourselves—and to those we love. These are the gifts that allow us to bring the Holiday Spirit to life.
In joy & gratitude,
Diana J. Ensign