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On NOT Going Home For the Holidays

Going Home for the Hol­i­days? Nope. Just stay away from the crowds, eh? 

Maybe next year…

So, what might you do for yourself this year? Or for yourself and your home circle? Here are a few ideas.

I sus­pect none of us are going to for­get 2020. Masks. Iso­la­tion. Thou­sands upon thou­sands of deaths, mil­lions afflict­ed. And “stay at home” sug­ges­tions that sane peo­ple take seriously.

Usu­al­ly at this time of the year, I write about sur­viv­ing the dra­mas that going home for the hol­i­days typ­i­cal­ly gen­er­ates. This year, a few self-care sug­ges­tions you can do at your own home.

1. Examine your pictures

No, real­ly. Go through old pho­tos, either low tech (pho­to albums) or on the elec­tron­ic device of your choice. 

  • Take a look at pho­tos of the peo­ple you would nor­mal­ly spend time with.
  • Also have a look at “oldies,” fea­tur­ing those who are no longer with you… whether dead or moved on to green­er pastures.
  • Last­ly, dig up pho­tos of you… from when you were hatched to today (do the same with pho­tos of your sig­nif­i­cant oth­er — if you have one…)

Let your eyes flow over all those faces, all those situations. 

Pay atten­tion to the sto­ries that pop into your head. Likely, 

  • many of the sto­ries will be “inflat­ed…” sto­ries you designed to cre­ate warm, fuzzy feelings.
  • Oth­ers will be “con­flat­ed…” sto­ries you designed to con­firm your worst thoughts about the per­son featured.

Because, and this is the point of the exer­cise, all of the sto­ries between your ears are put there… by you! There’s noth­ing real or true about your stories.

That’s how dra­ma hap­pens at fam­i­ly gath­er­ings, as peo­ple argue over the “truth” of their ver­sion of past events. 

For now, just let your stories be, and have a breath.

The thing to “get” is how eas­i­ly the sto­ries pop up, and how, if you decide to, you can choose to focus on one sto­ry (go ahead! Pick one!) and real­ly flesh it out. But notice how inflat­ed or con­flat­ed it is… how, the more you focus in, the more guess­es and judge­ments pop up.

It’s just what minds do.

Now, have anoth­er breath. 

Let go of the sto­ries and judge­ments, and have anoth­er look. This time, pre­tend you’re look­ing at strangers… or pre­tend you’re look­ing at some­one else’s family. 

Don’t try to do any­thing… just look.

This is how we start notic­ing our sto­ry-mak­ing, and how “judgey” we are. It’s how we notice our unre­al expectations. 

For exam­ple, fam­i­ly din­ners with Darbella’s fam­i­ly is decid­ed­ly dif­fer­ent from my mem­o­ries of Allen fam­i­ly din­ners. And of course since dif­fer­ent peo­ple were involved…

But judg­ing one gath­er­ing “good” and one “bad” would be sil­ly, as it’s based not on real­i­ty, but on inflat­ed or con­flat­ed mem­o­ries that only exist in my head.

This sea­son, prac­tice see­ing your sto­ries as just that… sto­ries. Not true, not false, not good, not bad. Just inven­tions designed to put things in boxes.

Breathe, relax, and work on let­ting one or two go!

2. Try a little tenderness

Grinch Much?

Some decades ago I briefly coun­selled the moth­er of a friend of ours. She real­ly didn’t like her hus­band, and espe­cial­ly didn’t like him around the holidays. 

She had all kinds of sto­ries about how, every year, he “ruined Christmas.”

My favourite: she told me that he was, as we were talk­ing (it was Octo­ber…) at home, putting up the Christ­mas lights. She said. “He always puts them up wrong, just to spite me and ruin Christmas!”

I said, “Why don’t you go home and help him by telling him what you want him to do?”

Silence, with a glare. 

Then: “I’ll be damned if I’ll tell him. We’ve been mar­ried for decades, and he should just know what I want!”

Well, no. Not unless you want to keep your story going. 

And the kick­er: she had nev­er, not once, told him what she want­ed. Because she was deeply invest­ed in blam­ing him for her self-inflict­ed pain.

Many of us do the same.

We have mucho invest­ed in how hard-done-by we are. Evi­dence to the con­trary is ignored or demeaned. 

Because… poor me!

Ten­der­ness isn’t just for meat any­more. Give the dra­ma and “poor me” a rest. Ask for what you want, with­out judge­ment or ran­cour. If per­son “a” won’t or can’t do what you ask for… wait for it… ask some­one else! 

This Sea­son, cre­ate a dra­ma-free zone. Then, keep it all year!

3. Develop Your own Holiday Traditions

Even a blur­ry one…

Since this year is not a great one for going home for the hol­i­days, see about set­ting up one tra­di­tion for your prin­ci­pal fam­i­ly (with your partner/spouse, and your kids, if any.)

And pledge that next year, if you don’t much like your Home for the Hol­i­days trip, you’ll short­en it, elim­i­nate it, book a trip else­where… in short, change it. 

In my fam­i­ly of ori­gin, by the time I was a teen I was expect­ed to help out with fam­i­ly din­ners. In Dar’s fam­i­ly, not so much. My 30-some­thing niece and nephew and their sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers most­ly just sit there. And don’t get me going on my brother-in-law…

But see? There it is. Every­one gath­ered, repeat­ing the past, and me, want­i­ng to grouse about it.

Anoth­er option, which will hap­pen even­tu­al­ly any­way, is for the next gen­er­a­tion to start plan­ning their own events. You know, their own din­ner par­ties, fea­tur­ing them… doing all the work.

Stop look­ing back­ward and try­ing to recap­ture or repeat some­thing. Instead, cre­ate cer­e­monies, activ­i­ties and timeta­bles that are mean­ing­ful for you today. 

Your task is to cre­ate a mem­o­rable life, for you. This requires actu­al­ly doing some­thing different.

4. Take it Easy, Baby

Since you’re staying home this year, how about using this time for reflection and renewal? 

There used to be a Zen Cen­tre in Buf­fa­lo that Dar and I drove down to as often as we could. 

One thing they had was a Buddha’s Birth­day med­i­ta­tion ses­sion Decem­ber 8. We went, and sat for some hours.

Best gift I ever gave myself. Qui­et time, reflec­tive time. A chance to wind down, as opposed to the end­less tear­ing about that the hol­i­days seem to engender.

Not sure how our lives turned into an endurance con­test, but hey… you can call a halt by call­ing a halt. Take a break… take some time for your­self. If it doesn’t all get done, who cares?

Here’s a begin­ner’s med­i­ta­tion video… fea­tur­ing me!

Want more? Check out Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall for more on Zen liv­ing, and Liv­ing Life in Grow­ing Orbits for dai­ly exer­cis­es you can do for the next YEAR!

5. Deepen, Deepen

This sea­son is either a thing to be endured, with a fake hap­py face, or a time of reflec­tion, self-know­ing, inti­ma­cy and shar­ing — a deep­en­ing. You pick. You choose.

All moments are bare of mean­ing. We add mean­ing. Or, we go brain dead and numb and run (lit­er­al­ly and fig­u­ra­tive­ly) our­selves ragged as we attempt to avoid the pain we create.

Instead, cap­ture this sea­son and make it your own. Pro­vide mean­ing to every­thing you do, real mean­ing, mean­ing sig­nif­i­cant to you. Use this time to deep­en your com­mit­ment to your spir­i­tu­al path, and to find more ground­ed­ness. This oppor­tu­ni­ty exists in each moment, and it’s up to you to use it.

In the end, your path is yours, and you make of it what you will. Strive for more depth, more under­stand­ing. Bring your­self back to bare pres­ence. Invig­o­rate and enliv­en yourself. 

Cel­e­brate the gift of liv­ing and being! 

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