For many of us, what should be a magical time of year becomes one of the most stressful and least satisfying times for us. I think that the way we spend our Holidays can be a great lesson in how we are living our lives – we can see our normal behavior and characteristics exaggerated at this time of year. If you’re good at making yourself a priority and taking care of yourself, I bet you have a blast during the Holidays! If, however, you tend to put yourself last on a very long list of people you’re taking care of, then my guess is that you really ignore your needs and desires at this time of year.
A few years ago, my husband, our two daughters and I spent our first Christmas alone. My parents were unable to visit us from England and it would be my very first Christmas without them. It felt quite momentous. So much so, that we decided to plan a day that was uniquely perfect for us. How outrageous.
We enjoyed a long relaxed morning with the girls opening gifts. It felt remarkably stress-free as there was no impending disapproval lingering in the air if the girls were not angelic throughout the entire process. None of us missed a single moment as we had cooked dinner the night before and were having leftovers for Christmas dinner. What were we thinking?
We had tickets for the Big Apple Circus in New York’s Lincoln Center in the afternoon. The circus was gloriously tacky. We laughed. We groaned. We ate hotdogs and popcorn for lunch … on Christmas Day. How very dare we?
When we emerged from the circus tent, a little bleary-eyed from the bright lights, we rubbed our eyes in disbelief. In the two short hours we had been inside, Lincoln Center had been transformed into a snow-covered winter wonderland. It was an unexpectedly magical and perfect moment. It was as if Mother Nature was giving us her stamp of approval for throwing off the normal traditions and creating a day that was uniquely right for the four of us.
Why share this story? Because as I stood watching the girls laugh and tumble in the snow with my husband, I felt that it was the first Holiday in many years that felt truly magical to me. There’s something eerily quiet about snow. I felt that same eerie quietness deep inside as I treasured the moment.
“When I’m trusting and being myself … everything in my life reflects this by falling into place easily, often miraculously.” …Shakti Gawain, therapist.
In Martha Beck’s* article “The Halo Effect” (O: The Oprah Magazine, December 2003), she writes:
“Suppose that every morning of this holiday season, you asked yourself what you really truly wanted to do that day, and then did just that. Would you spend time you don’t have buying things you can’t afford for people you don’t like? I didn’t think so. … Would you engage in activities you love, in the places you love, with the people you love? Oh, yeah. That would be terrific. So do it.”
Great advice for the Holidays? Absolutely! In fact, wouldn’t this be one hell of a way to live life all the time?
The only problem is that, for many of us, it’s been so long since we’ve followed our heart’s desires that we struggle to identify the things and places we love. So let me help you! I’m going to give you an exercise developed by Martha Beck that will help you to uncover your own inner compass. This will guide you not only to make the Holidays truly magical but also to make every single day more joyful and satisfying to your true self.
The Body Compass:
Begin this exercise by remembering a very unhappy period or experience in your life. I’m sure you’re thinking “and a very Happy Holiday to you too!” Bear with me, this works!
Think about how that memory is making you feel … what physical symptoms and sensations are connected to this memory. Let’s call the memory of this sensation the “ghost of Misery Past”.
Now write these negative sensations down and give them a name. For example, the cold feeling, the tight chest, the sinking feeling in your stomach.
Now, repeat the process, except this time recall a very happy period or event in your life. Again, feel for the ghost of those sensations. This time, let’s call this the “ghost of Happiness Past”.
Write down these positive sensations and describe them. For example, the warm feeling in your stomach, the tingling in your shoulders.
These two sensations are your inner compass. When you sense the ghost of Happiness Past, you are heading in the right direction … toward a place or activity that makes you authentically happy. When you sense the ghost of Misery Past, stop! You are headed off course – more than likely trying to please someone else rather than your true self.
So how is this going to improve this Holiday season for you? I want you to list five things that you “have to” do over the Holiday season. Then read each item aloud. Notice your physical reaction to the items on the list and consider what sensation is connected to the item. Is it the sensation linked to Misery Past or Happiness Past?
Focus on the activity that you feel the strongest negative reaction to. Attach a number to the activity ranging from –10, meaning the absolute worst feeling or experience, to +10, the absolute best feeling or experience. Now, ask yourself if you really, literally “have to” do the negative items on your Holiday list. I want you to pay very close attention to your reasoning as to why you “have to” do those things. This is where you are going to discover a wealth of information about some deeply held beliefs that are in direct conflict with your true self.
Let’s say that one of the items that you react to negatively is that you “have to” cook the Holiday family dinner and then clean up afterwards. You get a very strong sense of the ghost of Misery Past when you reflect on this “chore”. Do you really truly have to cook the dinner? What are your options? Brainstorm some alternatives and see if the thought of those options are less stressful for you.
What you may discover is that you actually love cooking this special meal and that you are doing it because you want to, not because you have to. Imagine how different you will be with this thought. That tradition remains because it brings you joy and is something that works for you and your family as a whole. However, if you are cooking dinner because you have mistakenly believed that you truly “have to” then the act of cooking is not going to nurture your true self and is going to make you (and those around you!) pretty miserable. So pick one of the alternatives. As long as people get fed, who cares where the food comes from?
The Body Compass exercise can become an incredible tool to guide you in every decision – big or small – that you make on a daily basis. You will become familiar with your unique set of sensations and come to trust them. Believe me, they will serve you well!
So, go to places you love with the people you adore and do the things you love to do! May YOUR Holidays and your Everydays be truly magical!!!
With love from
“Mamacita Ho Ho” (this is the nickname my 3 year old son has given me and I LOVE it!!)