As the holiday season winds up for its last big week before Christmas, here are a few spiritual tips to help you remember what the season’s all about. This is part two of a two-part article (part one is here).
4. Celebrate your truth.
I have a friend named Wayne who had an awful life. He was maybe 12 years old when, looking around the dinner table, he finally did the math that estranged him from his family.
You see, Wayne had four older brothers, each a year apart, and Wayne was born four years after the last. He knew immediately that he wasn’t supposed to be there; he knew immediately that he was an accident. Even worse, he knew that everyone in that household hated and resented his existence.
By the time hand-me-downs got to him, they were ragged and torn, so Wayne always got new clothes, which he knew his brothers resented. And the food and clothes didn’t grow on trees, so he knew his father resented the extra mouth to feed and clothe. His mother had already raised four boys, so he knew that she secretly resented being tied down to this one last child; that she wanted to be out with her friends doing whatever she wanted . . . and so Wayne began to run away from home.
Eventually, as these things often pan out, Wayne wound up in the foster care system and was bounced around from family to family as he delved deeper and deeper into a life of crime and drug addiction. By the time he was arrested, he was living in a broken-down Ford Pinto and selling drugs to stay alive. But, he turned his life around in prison, and when he was released at the age of 26, he made it a point to go home and let his family know that he had turned out okay. And wow, were they glad to see him.
It was a huge Sunday dinner, a tradition he remembered from his childhood, only this time his siblings were there with their own wives and children. And, as was the custom when dinner was over, all of the men moved into the family room to watch the game while the women tended to the children and the happy gossip from the neighborhood.
Disenfranchised, but determined to be of service, Wayne set off to do the dinner dishes and his mother joined him in due time. “You wash and I’ll dry,” she gleefully instructed. “It’s just so good to have you home.” Wayne let the silverware clatter into the sink and turned to her and explained that she didn’t have to bother; he could see through her act. He knew that he’d never been wanted because he’d done the math. He defiantly counted on his hand for her the one-year gaps between the births of his brothers and exaggerated the four-year gap that had vexed him so when he was a boy.
His mother surprised Wayne by bursting into tears. “It’s true your brothers were born one year apart, but what followed were four years of my suffering miscarriage after miscarriage. By the time you got here, you were very wanted. You were this family’s miracle.”
And that was when Wayne’s belief system finally caved in. He’d spent his whole life making decisions based on a truth that wasn’t even his, and it had led him down a path of misery and regret and lost time, which — for me — always begs the question, “What have you accepted to be the truth that doesn’t serve your happiness? And what in your belief system is making you miserable?”
Because that’s what lies do, you know. It’s always the lies we tell ourselves that hold us back. And it’s always our fear of investigating what the truth really is that keeps us chained to the lives that make us unhappy. Because the truth will always set you on the road to real happiness once you find the courage to investigate it and know it and share it with others. Spirituality is about feeling connected, and you will never feel connected to anyone as long as you’re living a lie.
5. Appreciate the value of “me” time.
I was vacationing with my wife and kids in Hawaii. At some point, we left the kids with my brother and his wife and stepped out to get his and her massages. The hotel we were staying at had a full-service spa, and we felt it would have been remiss for us to have not at least tried to partake of the pampering. My masseuse was a large, gracious woman who pointed out before beginning that I should try to relax first as she lit the candles in the sunlit room.
Now, I’m sure you could imagine how mortified I was to discover that I couldn’t relax — I simply had too much on my mind at the time — and it became a personal goal of mine for about three minutes to consciously relax my body before this woman laid her hands on me. It was awful. I’d become so tense in my day-to-day dealings that being bunched up had become my natural state.
Granted, after the massage, I was so relaxed my wife and I went back to our room and took a nap, but that massage was a wake-up call of sorts for me. It taught me to pay more attention to what I was doing with my feelings. The holidays are about reaching out and connecting with family and friends, but they’re also about preparing elaborate meals for guests and shopping for gifts and all the while still having to wake up each day and go out into the world to earn a living.
“Me” time is important, but it is only effective if you use it to really focus on relaxing. When you’re giving yourself some “me” time, use it to focus on your breathing and try to take deep breaths. Pay attention to how tightly wound you are. Your body is like your soul and it needs to be unwound, too, from time to time.
6. Invent optimism.
I’ll admit, I’m not good at processing bad drivers. More often than not, I’ll have my kids in the car when someone decides to cut me off or make a left-hand turn from the right-hand lane. It’s enough to make me want to shout obscenities (but, like I said, my kids are often in the car, so I don’t). Instead of reacting, my kids have become fond of inventing reasons for the interruption of my serenity. “He’s late for his son’s baseball game!” my daughter will gleefully exclaim. Or “he has to get to the hospital because his wife is having a baby!” my son will report. My personal favorite, however, is my youngest daughter’s, “she has to get to the bathroom and she’s running out of time!”
These tiny glimpses into others’ lives are a great way to defuse frustration and anger with other people. Is the cashier at the check-out sporting a bad attitude? She’s probably been on her feet for the past three hours and missed her 15-minute break because someone needed her help. Someone bump into you while walking past without excusing themselves? They could have just received some very bad news.
The point is, there are eight billion of us swarming all over the planet, and each and every one of us has stuff going on. Granted, we have social contracts that dictate how we should (and shouldn’t) relate to one another, but I think sometimes that simply wanting to be a better person is enough to make a difference in anyone’s day. I can choose to be an arrogant, narcissistic rage-a-holic. Or I can choose to be a man who tries to set a strong example for his friends and loved ones by making a conscious decision as to whether retaliation is even necessary.
7. Lighten up.
I used to hate holiday parties. I mean, to some extent, I still do, but they’re more bearable now that I’m married. And, I’ve got to tell you, we really do marry our opposite numbers. My wife is the outgoing “party-person” in our family; a social butterfly who creates a space among our friends that promotes laughter and connection. And it’s wonderful to watch because the truth is, even with a gun to my head, in the old days, I just couldn’t do it.
I used to be the guy who went to holiday parties and used them to underline the fact that I was single. It was a terrible existence. You shouldn’t go to parties to feel even more alone than usual; parties are about people coming together to laugh and eat and exchange ideas. And I realized really early on that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life not knowing how to deal with social situations; I had to put my hand out and try to be the example I wanted to see. I had to reach out to other people and discover what their unique experiences were.
I discovered that I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was. Shouting over the holiday music and sipping egg nog with friends and business associates, I learned how to live in the moment and laugh at anecdotes. I learned about other cultures and swapped opinions about current events. And, sure, until I met my wife, I (more often than not) left the parties alone. But I went home feeling good about myself, and it helped keep me away from feeling sorry for myself; it kept me from feeling like a victim.
Holiday parties can be hard. But so was your first day at school, and — if we’re getting really honest here — a lot of our first dates. It’s hard to want people to like you and know that you never get a second chance at first impressions. But spirituality is about removing yourself from the equation. This way, you can focus on what the other person’s first impression is. Because, when all is said and done, that’s what the holidays are really all about, aren’t they? They’re about connecting with other people.
This is the second of a two-part series. Read the first article here.