The New Holiday Spirit: Soulful Antidotes for Seasonal Insanity
December 21 represents the Winter Solstice, that time in our Earth’s relationship to the sun which creates the shortest day and longest night of the whole year. It’s a reminder to turn inward toward peace and quiet, a perfect time for contemplation and reflection, a way of reassessing our journey through the closing year with opportunity to prepare for the new one just ahead.
The ancients who literally structured their lives around seasonal fluctuations of light and dark, knew the secret to a dark midwinter’s night: it’s the perfect excuse to quit working and do very little; made much easier with the unknown invention of electricity. They intuitively knew that their metabolisms were slowing down, that the human version of hibernation was built into our DNA, and that the worshipful thing was to recognize the very special magic of the hush of new fallen snow on a dark midwinter’s night.
Of course, it’s the supreme irony that our modern holiday season that coincides so perfectly with this naturally occurring “time out”, comes with its own perfect kind of stress. The “tradition” we moderns have is one of wallowing in a consumer fest of unmitigated shopping, spending, and accruing of debt, enveloped this year with the special frosting of a recession that won’t quit. What we will invariably have on our hands again is an almost psychotic rushing about with ten million things to do, gifts to buy, parties to go to, family obligations, travel in overcrowded planes, and a propensity to overeat and over imbibe. We turbo charge through the ice and sleet and snow and come skidding into the holiday table full of resentment, a migraine, and gunning for a grudge match with with every single member of our family: joy to the f*&*()g world, indeed.
What if it doesn’t have to be that way this year? What if you were to create your own traditions and methods for righteously honoring your own definition of this time of year, gifting yourself and your family with peace and wellness?
The first approach is to try framing your holiday experiences from a green and super eco-friendly perspective. Basically, this means to simplify, simplify, simplify:
- Make gifts yourself (bake, knit, sew, create potted plants, make teas, potpourris, etc.) Your recipients will be amazed at your
thoughtfulness and ingenuity.
- Avoid crowded malls and big box stores. Instead, visit craft fairs for unique handmade items in support of local artists and craftspeople. The loving energy that gets transmitted through an artisanal product versus one that came off an assembly line, is simply immeasurable.
- No craft fairs? Try patronizing small owner-operated boutiques – avoid department stores. Store owners may very often also have other “perks” to get you into their stretch of the sidewalk: hot cider, live music, foot rubs. You win, no matter what you buy.
- Don’t buy stuff at all: make donations to environmental groups or humanitarian charities in the name of your giftees.
- Create gift certificates of your time or skill sets as gifts: 2 hours of babysitting or dogwalking; organize closets/garage, plant a small herb garden, build a bookshelf, wallpaper a bathroom, fix a broken bicycle, etc. Hanging out with your giftee while you give your “gift” is priceless.
- Don’t decorate with store bought things: if you can’t make it yourself, try browsing at flea markets to practice the concept of “recycling” – more plastic products from China does not a happy holiday make.
So let’s say the eco component of your holiday experience is actually a cinch, it’s the human component (i.e. your family, friends, co-workers) that is challenging. Some tips to help ease your way:
- Learn to say no and make up little white lies to get out of party or other get together obligations that you don’t really have to do or want to do. This is called “creative storytelling”. Practice it, use it wisely and judiciously, and in service of simplification, and you’ll be fine.
- Engage others to REALLY help you with meal planning and execution: potlucks are one of humankind’s greatest inventions. You have to trust that the world will keep spinning even though you haven’t made every single dish yourself from scratch.
- Have honest discussions with all the folks you are in an obligatory gift exchange with, and agree to spending limits. Opt for donations to non-profits instead (see above). Re-ordering the way we all perceive money and spending is an important gift the recession has given all of us (hopefully) and helps us circle back to smarter and more sustainable ways of living.
Here’s some natural stress relief which stimulates the T-Cells, responsible for your body’s immune response:
This is an Ayurvedic technique that involves tapping your first two or three fingers on the center area of your breastplate. Tap strongly on this
area (about 1 or 2 inches below the indentation in your throat), where the thymus is located. While tapping, chant “YUM” (pronounced YOOM) in a low voice (Yum is the sound mantra that activates the energy around the thymus/heart chakra.) The Heart Chakra, or Fourth Chakra, is associated with the thymus. A balanced heart chakra means we have lots of love and compassion to offer the world around us. When we are stressed, this capacity is diminished (no wonder stress makes us “sick”!). To me, the overriding theme of the holidays, is, and always had been, unconditional love and compassion for others, especially the poor, sick and disenfranchised. This exercise is a great way to remind ourselves of these ideas.
In Yoga, we recommend any pose that emphasizes the opening of the chest area, to stimulate the thymus and heart energies: Upward Facing Dog or Cobra, and any type of backbend (Bridge, Wheel, Bow, etc.). A simple back bend pose, and fun to do with children, is to lie down on your back, on your bed, and slide your head andshoulders over the edge toward the floor. Raise your arms over your head and see if you can touch the floor behind your head. The edge of the mattress should be right under your shoulder blades, which will push your chest up and out slightly. Relax your neck and let your head dangle down. With small children, you can hold their ankles down on the bed and let them hang safely over the edge for as long as they want.
Good Solstice Tidings To You and Yours!