With twenty-seven hours to go before my house is full of family, I'm here with my advice for how we can all hold our shit together, i.e. proceed with ease, this Christmas.
But first. This is an especially rough holiday season. Many of us lost loved ones this past year and that can make the holidays exceptionally hard. Check out optionb.org which is a fantastic nonprofit devoted to helping all of us keep going in the aftermath of extreme loss. You are not alone.
And second. I have to acknowledge that thanks to the surges in COVID, you might not be seeing who you want to be seeing this Christmas. People are canceling plans because of Omicron. People are going nuts because so-and-so decided not to get vaccinated and therefore the at-risk grandchildren can't be around them. People are losing their minds because they're the ones who aren't welcome. While this virus has its way with us, we manage to continually break each others' hearts when we don't understand each others' decisions and can't have conversations with grace. It's damn hard. It's frustrating. It's sad.
So my offering to you today is, whomever you're with, whatever you're doing, even if it's all on Zoom or the phone, remember that you can't make anyone else do or not do something; you're only in charge of yourself, and let's face it, even that can be a tall order at times. But it's worth trying to be in charge of yourself. Because then you can bring light, ease, love, patience, grace, and kindness to others, which is really to bring MAGIC, which is really the greatest gift of all. Doesn't that sound good?
Here's what I'm challenging myself to do, and what I recommend to you as well. I call it the "Tiny Boat Method." This idea originated with my friend Jayesh, a guy who owns the local GreenMail store, and conducts himself with ease and grace. I asked himself if he ever fought with family and he said "No," then he explained to me how and why that is. A few days later, he WhatsApp'd me this image.
So, with props to Jayesh for being who he is and for how he conducts himself, I took that advice and ran with it, and I'm offering it to you today. I call it my Tiny Boat Method For Holding Your Shit Together.™
Prepare the Lighthouse. In advance of the gathering, I spend a little time checking in with myself to try to anticipate the stuff that might trigger me, based on the past. (Note, I'm not trying to will it to happen, nor do I want to read into every moment and presume it is happening. It's the opposite. I'm setting up a lighthouse that will be able to warn me that some stuff that's been hard for me may be happening again, so I can intentionally respond in a way that maintains ease. The lighthouse lets me see, Okay there are shoals over there, I need to steer clear. Or, Woah yep yep that's starting to happen but you've got this. In other words, I'm not in charge of Aunt Susie. I can't prevent her from saying or doing what she may say or do. But I am in charge of me. And this little lighthouse I've set up will warn me of potential danger ahead, so that I have the opportunity to steer clear. I know that if I can anticipate the attitudes and behaviors that might anger or sadden me, I am more likely to be able to steer clear of them when I see them coming this time around.
Construct the Tiny Boat. When the lighthouse gives me a warning, I remember Jayesh's cartoon and create a visual manifestation of myself in a tiny boat. I hold my hands out to my sides, waist-high and palm up, which simulates the sides of my boat. I remind myself that I have a solid little boat here and no matter how choppy the ride may be for a spell, the water isn't coming in unless I let it in. I can do this in a room full of people; no one need know that I'm creating my boat. It just looks like I'm holding my hands in a manner of welcome. Which in some ways I am. (As I remind myself that I am in this tiny boat, I am welcoming myself to be the person I want to be in these challenging moments.)
Arrange a Secret Emergency Distress Signal. Sometimes the lighthouse doesn't quite warn me in time, or, my tiny boat hits an unanticipated hazard and is in danger of taking on water. I need help. So, in advance, I've created a secret emergency distress signal which I've shared with a trusted ally or two. The signal is just a small gesture I can make with my fingers. My allies have agreed in advance that if they see me make the signal, they will make it too. It's like kids blinking flashlights to each other from one house to the next across the dark night. A way of saying Yup I see you, I get it. You are not alone. (We've also arranged that if they're not able to visually witness my distress signal, I can just text them SOS and they'll reply SOS.) I've had this technique in place for awhile now and boy, it has worked really well for me. It's like my ally is right there in my tiny boat with me, preventing any water from coming aboard or helping me bail it out or even plugging the hole if water has come in. (Credit here goes to my friend Karen Lock Kolp, a life coach who shared her family's secret signal with me which inspired me to create my own.)
Create Your Safe Harbor. And finally, on an as-needed basis I create my own safe harbor by leaving the room discreetly without creating drama, and going somewhere private, even into a bathroom. I take three deep breaths, and say this positive psychology loving kindness meditation: "May I be well. May I be happy. May I be at ease." And then, to really make the magic happen, I do the little meditation again, but this time, I do it about and for the person with whom I'm having conflict, as in "May Susie be well. May Susie be happy. May Susie be at ease." Research shows that this little meditation helps us get ourselves back to a place where we are regulated emotionally and can feel at ease again. And, bonus: we're also sending good energy into the world about the other person.
This may all sound really simplistic to you. You may wonder whether it really "works." Try it. Imagine the lighthouse in advance (so you can see trouble coming), get comfortable in your tiny boat and don't let the water in, have an emergency distress signal with that ally who can show you that you're not alone and can bail you out, and quickly create that safe harbor if and when you need to.
And if things get so challenging that you've retreated to that safe harbor, it's a good time to remind yourself that Susie (or anyone who is difficult, a control freak, offensive, opinionated, overly sensitive or whatever), has their own shit going on. Hurt people hurt people. Remember that, and maybe don't hold their really frustrating way of being against them.
If you try it, let us know in the comments below how it went for you. If you have different advice or techniques that work for you, let us know about those too. If you have an adult child at home and you're looking for tips on how to create ease specifically within that context, check out my earlier post on that topic here.
Happy Merry Everything. Here's to you being in charge of YOU!
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If you or someone you love is in crisis, please seek help. Two resources I recommend are the Crisis Text Line (simply text 741741 and a helpful and trained person will reply and chat with you) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
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