Elizabeth Lesser is co-founder and senior advisor of the Omega Institute and the author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and The Seeker’s Guide. You can find out more about her and her wonderful work here.
She’s been interviewed on Oprah and is a wise woman! I received her beautiful words in an Omega Institute newsletter and I have been given permission to include them in this blog. I have posted them on the website before…they are not ‘new’ and were written the year President Obama was elected. However they are so wise they seemed worth sharing again.
Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas!
Love and sparkles,
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO HAVE A HAPPY HOLIDAY by ELIZABETH LESSER
Before you continue reading this, do me a favor. Put down what you’re holding (in your hand or your head),”your shopping lists, your third cup of coffee, your date book, the phone call you should be making”and sit quietly for just 60 seconds. Take in a full breath, let it pool gently in the bottom of your lungs, and then release it slowly. Inhale deeply again, and exhale with an audible sigh. If you’re at work, don’t worry what your colleagues might think ”this time of year everyone would love to sigh deeply, and often. Inhale again; exhale with a long “aaahh”. With each exhalation, let your shoulders drop and your jaw relax. Do this a couple of times, with your eyes closed. Let the “aaahh” sound emerge from your belly, move up into your heart, and drift out into space as you exhale, slowly, smoothly, steadily. Now, open your eyes, and continue reading.
Helloooo?? Anyone there? It felt good to escape for a minute, didn’t it? But come on back ”it’s that time of year again: the modern miracle known as The Holidays, when into the dark little month of December, we squeeze Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and a myriad of other celebrations, from ancient solstice rituals to the more contemporary rites of school plays, office parties, and community gatherings. Throw into that mix a generous dose of unrealistic expectations, budget-busting shopping, dysfunctional family feasts, airplane flights, darker days, colder weather, excessive eating and drinking, and no wonder that along with “peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” we get really stressed out.
But this year you can do something to spin your stress into the gold that is the promise of the season. Here are three ways to light up your holidays:
1. Believe that things can change. Look what happened this year in America! What would have been impossible just 40 years ago ”an African-American president elected by a wide majority ”is now reality. If a whole society can change its heart and habits, then so too can each of us. This holiday season, make Gandhi’s motto your spiritual practice: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Slow down for a few minutes every day and sit in silence. Perhaps down at the bottom of the quiet well of your heart, you will discover some questions brewing in the fertile darkness: Is there someone I need to forgive? Is there something I must say to a family member or a friend? Is my full aliveness being dulled by the fear of change, an old wound, addictive behavior? In the true spirit of the holidays, let the darkness show you what wants to change. The truth will lead you back up to the light, and when the New Year rolls around, your resolution will be tinged with authenticity and power.
2. Recognize that there is no such thing as a normal holiday. Let’s start with the word “normal.” I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Normal is someone you don’t know very well.” This is a good thing to keep in mind always, but especially now, when we assume that the normal people are all having happier, healthier, and more harmonious holidays than we are. We imagine their mailboxes stuffed with Christmas cards and party invitations, their homes decorated in Martha Stewart splendor, and their intact and idyllic families primed for five full weeks of good cheer. I don’t know these people, do you? The most effective thing you can do to reduce holiday angst is to wipe the word “normal” from your vocabulary. In my work at Omega, I have met tens of thousands of people from all walks of life. I have yet to meet a normal one, if normal means consistently sane, contented, and capable. And yet most of us hold ourselves up to an unattainable standard of human perfection. The 13th-century poet Rumi called this phenomenon, the “Open Secret.” He said each one of us is trying to hide the same secret from each other”not some racy or evil secret, but rather the mere fact of our flawed humanness. We expend so much energy trying to conceal our ordinary bewilderment at being human, or our loneliness in the crowd, or that nagging sense that everyone else has it more together than we do, that we miss out on the chance to really connect, which is what we ultimately long for. Especially during the holidays.
So, here’s something you can do this holiday season: Open up your Open Secret. Overcome your embarrassment at being human. Tell a friend that you didn’t get one party invitation. Who knows? Maybe she didn’t either! Or maybe she did, and she’ll bring you along and you’ll meet new people ”the ultimate Christmas gift. Or maybe together you can go to your local homeless shelter and help the kids decorate the tree”the real spirit of the holidays….Or how about this? Don’t just say “Fine!” when a colleague asks how you are at the office party. Say, “Sometimes all this ho-ho-ho makes me feel lonely.” You’ll be surprised by the response. Suddenly a mere acquaintance will open up his secrets to you, and soon you’ll feel more connected, not only to him, but to the real meaning of the holidays.
3. Be aware that the holidays are about awakening joy in times of darkness. All of the religious parables at the heart of the holidays are about this mystery: how hope can be born out of hopelessness; how home can be found in exile; how celebration can come after grief. Joy is the gold we mine on the spiritual path, but that path traverses all sorts of uncertain and difficult terrains. For guidance along this path, turn to the spiritual teachings of Hanukkah, Christmas, winter solstice, and the lesser-known December holidays. You probably didn’t know that December 8 is Rohatsu, which commemorates the day in 566 BCE when the Buddha attained enlightenment. Like Mary and Joseph who found no welcome at the inn, and birthed the baby Jesus in a manger, and like the Maccabees who reclaimed the desecrated temple and lit the miraculous light of Hanukkah, the Buddha awakened his joy after a long struggle, under the Bodhi tree, alone and hungry. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Father writes, “Truth and goodness are not always found at the top, but often on the edge and at the bottom. Not in the center of empire, but in the backwaters of Bethlehem.” Let the stories of the season help you find friendship, sanctuary, and light in the darkest month of the year.