Yes, we love the holidays. Family, food, out of town guests, parties, long lunches, shopping, and evergreen trees in the living room. Of course we do. But it can be overwhelming. Too much family, food, guests, parties, lunches, and shopping. What happened to the tree? Is it still tied to the roof of the car?
When November arrives, we go on alert. The pumpkin is still sagging on the porch when it’s time to plan the Thanksgiving guest list and find the perfect tree. We have to do it all on top of our regular jobs, family responsibilities, and creative work. And guess what? Sometimes we can’t.
The best response to overwhelm is to back off. Let something go. Scratch a few items off that to-do list. Decline an invitation or two.
Failing that, here are some simple methods to relieve holiday tension. They don’t require long periods of time, gym memberships, or complicated shoes. When you feel overwhelmed, out of sorts, pressed for time, or frustrated, try one of these exercises.
Remember to breathe. Nice and deep. In through your nose. Out through your mouth. Bring the air all the way into your body. Imagine it as golden light filling your organs, spreading through every muscle, nerve, and tendon. Release your breath as golden energy out your hands and feet. Do this for five minutes.
Go outside. Stand or sit and observe what you see. A tree. A patch of grass. A squirrel. Your neighbor’s dog chasing the squirrel.The FedEx truck parked down the block. Stars shining through the bare branches of a cottonwood tree. Do nothing but observe your world for five minutes. (Can be combined with deep breathing.)
Remember who and what you love. People, animals, places. Ideas, books, that action movie you saw last week. Bring your attention to your chest at the level of your heart as you remember how good it feels to care about someone or something besides yourself.
Mentally step back. If you’re judging yourself or another, stop. Notice that everyone is doing their best with the resources they have. Forgive yourself. Forgive them. Notice that you may not have the whole story about why people act the way they do. You may never have it. Forgive them anyway.
Laugh at yourself. It’s the holidays and you’re the only one who can make them great.
What are your tips for decompressing? What can you add to my list?
An irresistible urge to clean out a closet came up the other day. I attacked it with gusto and deposited in a cardboard box shoes I’ll never wear again, clothes that don’t fit, worn out bags, random books, and a lamp I hate.
After finishing, I realized I had been looking for something. Not that elusive black shoe to match the one in the box. Something more important. I was looking for my point of power. The place of stillness. The present moment.
I’ve often been stymied by resistance, which is a great catch-all for negative ideas and beliefs—the programming that lives in what some call the subconscious mind. It’s taken years to understand that what stops me from 1) starting and 2) finishing projects is hiding inside me.
Every spiritual teacher I’ve encountered, in person or books, emphasized the importance of the Now. In the sixties and seventies, as meditation and eastern philosophies integrated into western culture, it became an often-spoofed catch word. Be Here Now! Allen Watts exhorted us.
The truth is, he was right.
The only way to create anything new is from the present. If we try to create from old patterns and memories, we end up re-creating old situations, even if dressed up in new clothes.
If you prefer dwelling on the past, you may identify yourself with childhood experiences, past wounds, slights, or resentments. Hold beliefs about how limited you are, how it’s too late (or too early) for what you want. Think you need more security, money, or free time before you create. You tell stories of what happened.
If you’re oriented to the future, you’re always planning. You have goals, vision, motivational tools, a to-do list. You’re so focused on what you will do that you don’t notice what is happening now. You tell stories of how great things will be.
If we don’t question where our ideas come from and if they are still true, we risk repeating patterns we don’t understand. A stuck pattern is a lens of perception.
If you feel at the mercy of time, other people, or your responsibilities, and can’t seem to start that novel, exercise program, or job hunt, maybe it’s time to look inside. The inner way is not often valued by the outer world, but it’s essential if you want to know yourself.
Here are some simple ways to start:
State a clear intention.
- Decide what you want.
- Write it down.
- Don’t share what you’re doing with anyone. Make this a private space, just you and the contents of your mind.
Spend fifteen minutes a day alone.
- Sit quietly with yourself. In nature. In your favorite chair.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe, and notice what thoughts come up.
- Listen to the voice within, even if it sounds like your dad.
Get a notebook
- Commit to three sessions a week, twenty minutes each.
- Write what’s going on in your life and how you feel about it.
A practical way of clearing the mental residue is to look around at your living space to decide what you don’t need. Cleaning out closets, bookcases, attics, and garages is a physical correlate to cleaning out old ideas. It’s satisfying to cart away physical objects. Plus, it gives your resistance a heads-up that you mean business!
And who knows, you may find your point of power hiding behind that old tennis racket!
The Book of the Center
While I was working on my novel a few years ago, a thought dropped in. It had nothing to do with the book and came with the little jolt I associate with the part of me that is NOT my ego-mind. The thought was, “The Book of the Center.” I heard the words as if a voice had spoken aloud.
The first time this happened I was 28 and it scared the heck out of me. I thought either God was speaking, or I was losing my mind. Maybe both. A self-professed humanist, I had no religious convictions or grounding in metaphysics. I sought help. To no avail. Finally, I realized the voice was a part of myself I didn’t know. It seemed prudent to record what it said. That was the beginning of my awakening to spirit.
I’ve learned (the hard way) to listen. When I heard about this mysterious book, I pulled out a fresh file folder, labeled it The Book of the Center and stuck in a file with other writing projects. Going to write that someday, I thought. Wonder what it means. Sometimes I pondered if Center meant my own center or Self, my heart, a place of neutrality, or something different.
Reading The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself recently, I remembered how my Book of the Center appeared. Finally, I’ve started it.
Journaling for Healing
Between the first intrusion of the voice of my Self and the title of a book I didn’t understand came a lot of years of journaling. In the beginning I journaled to deal with the drama of my life.
In midlife, I was embroiled in a difficult relationship that made no sense. By then, I had learned to meditate, work with my own energy, and use healing methods to address my issues. With this situation, nothing worked.
One day I sat at my computer, opened a new file, and wrote my latest take on The Situation. Although I judged my relationship problems as too petty to bring to the attention of my deeper parts, I decided to try anyway. I typed a single question: “What is going on with me and this person?” Then I sat with my keys on the keyboard and waited.
After a few minutes I wrote whatever came up, without thinking or judging. No voices spoke, no visions came, I just wrote.
What I wrote was not profound or particularly clear, but it made enough sense that I asked another question, waited again, and wrote again.
That was the beginning of me using writing to connect with Self.
The more I dialogued with my Self, the more useful the exercise became. It took several years to convince me I was talking to more than my ego-mind (one of my issues is self-doubt), but I kept going. No one read my journal. I didn’t talk about it. I just kept writing because it seemed like the right thing to do. Also, I’m a fast typist and the faster I write, the easier it is to bypass the mental critic in my head.
Many others have discovered this method. It’s even mentioned in books on journaling. I teach my journaling students how to do it. The great thing is you don’t have to learn to meditate, take a class, or learn special techniques. All you need is a notebook and pen or a computer, and a mind willing to open.
An Easy Exercise for You
Have you tried it? If not, this could be the time. This is how it works.
- Assume you have an aspect of your identity that knows more than you do, that loves you, and is willing to communicate.
- Settle yourself and clear your mind.
- Ask your Self a question in writing. About a crisis, a choice, a pattern you don’t understand. Anything you want to know about yourself.
- Write what comes.
- Refrain from judgment.
This works. I swear. You may have to be patient, but persistence counts.
If you give this method a try, send me a comment about your experience. I’d love to hear your reaction.
Does your inner critic stop you from accomplishing your goals? Maybe with sabotage?
There’s no time. I’m too old to start. Too busy to make time. Too involved with my job to exercise, eat better, start a journal, follow my heart.
The voice of negativity can be a harsh critic. Or, it can be the voice of guilt.
Why waste time on your development when your friends and family need you to care for them?
It might be mildly reproving.
You want to stay safe, don’t you? Have enough money for your retirement? Avoid potential disaster?
The voice of the critic is the voice of resistance.
Resistance does not always have bad intent. Mostly, it wants to keep us safe. Which means, taking no risks, not trying for anything better.
As long as we go along with the program, it bubbles along below the surface like an underground stream.
The minute we have an idea to change our life for the better, it rears up and spouts its negativity into our ears. Suddenly we get busy with worthwhile projects. People need things. The car breaks down. The refrigerator starts making an awful grinding sound.
We have to take care of these things, right? Wouldn’t a responsible person do exactly that?
If you are not doing what you want to do.
If you make decisions to change your life, but don’t follow through.
If you want to be more creative, but bog down due to time constraints, overwhelm, or conflicting demands, it’s time to look at your relationship with your own intention.
It’s time to clear the decks.
Intention is a habit. All habits are formed through repetition. What we hear all the time becomes familiar. What we get validation for, we repeat.
Maybe it’s time to allow our creative, life affirming part to lead the way and validate us for what will move us forward in the larger sense.
The first step is to clearly state our intention.
Take a few minutes and think about what, specifically, you want to do. Then write the statement in the present tense, first person.
I write in my journal for fifteen minutes every day before I go to work.
I walk four times a week for thirty minutes.
I no longer eat sugar.
I finish a chapter of my novel every month.
I take a painting class every Saturday afternoon.
If you have a robust inner critic, you might hear the voice complaining, protesting or arguing with you. You can ignore it. Or, you can simply tell it that you are developing a new habit and would appreciate its support. Whether it acquiesces or not, you go on.
It takes thirty days to develop a habit, so give yourself at least that amount of time.
It can help to track the days when you complete your goal. Post the list in a place where you see it every day.
Is Intention a Force I Can Call Upon?
Many people believe intention as a force in the universe. Lynne McTaggert calls it The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe, the energetic, invisible connection among all living things. Many spiritual writers refer to it as an aspect of Source, the divine, the creative self, the superconscious mind. I think of it as an aspect of myself that Knows.
From this perspective, intention can be called upon. Once we understand that we are more than our ego-mind, more than the physical, more than the inner voice of the critic, we can take active steps to connect to the force of intention. It will help us stay on track when the inner voice advises us that we’re too busy, too tired and too overwhelmed to do what we decided to do.
Writer McTaggart’s studies of the field resulted from interviews with scientists who relayed experimental results that could not be explained by “normal” means. She went on to develop The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World that enlists people via the Internet to change the world through their thoughts.
Scientist Emoto discovered that intention clearly stated, thought or written, changes the molecular structure of water. The Hidden Messages in Water
Physician Larry Dossey writes about how prayer can assist in the healing of physical illnesses. Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine
Intention is powerful. It is available. You too can use it to change your life.
What about you? Do you have an example of when you used your intention to make a positive change?
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now!