Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

A New Year Transformation

Fireworks 2015

Every year on this day I struggle with three questions: 1) what lessons have I learned this year, 2) what do I want to do differently next year, and 3) why do I seem to need to do this every December 31st?

Let’s start with #3. I’ve thought and written about the annual ritual we observe at the turn of each year (see last year’s blog post here), and I’ve admitted to being mystified by the burden of significance we pay to what is truly just another 24 hours. I mean, the Earth doesn’t stop spinning, the sun doesn’t stop shining, the stars don’t suddenly burst into song at midnight on what we determined a couple of thousand years ago is the 1st day of the new year. The day is only significant because we’ve decided that it is so. And we’ve given it deep spiritual meaning, and we use it as a springboard or a point of origin for the positive changes we want to make in our lives. And we celebrate its coming in a frenzy of manufactured cheer (ok, yes, I think New Year’s Eve is a humbug – I’ve never really been all that excited about it, though I’ve been to some good parties).

I’ve always been a bit skeptical about it all, and lately I’ve become deeply mistrusting about this annual rite of passage. I think the practice of making new year’s resolutions is mostly destructive, although I continue to hope that positive change is possible, for me and everyone else.

That’s it, isn’t it? Hope. It’s all about hope. That’s the reason for the fireworks and the streamers and the confetti and the kissing. We are all, ultimately, hopeful creatures. We hope that the new year will be better than the old one. We hope for better health, better jobs, better relationships. We hope that something magical will happen at the stroke of midnight – the slate will be wiped clean and we can start over. This is a good thing, I think. It is certainly better than having no hope for the future.

But something new has occurred to me as I’ve gone through my annual contemplation of the end of the year, and it is this: I think that the secret to changing the future is all in your head.

People tend to focus on what they need to do to have the life they want – exercise and eat right, go back to school, find a new job – but we don’t spend as much time focused on how we think about our lives as they are right now. Yes, I know, I seem to be veering off into new-agey stuff, but hear me out.

As an exercise, try this. Think of something in your life that is bothering you – it can be a person (spouse, kids, boss), a place (your house, your office), or a thing (your weight, your car, your unfulfilling job), and hold it in your mind. Let all of your anxiety or fear or anger associated with whatever this is flood you; don’t hold back. Feel it all.

Now, holding the image of the source of all these negative feelings in your mind, say “I love you” to it. Say it over and over again. I know you probably don’t mean it, but say it anyway. Entertain the idea that there is something loveable about it, and contemplate that aspect of whatever it is. I have an example of what I’m going to start saying about a “thing” that sometimes gets me down:

“I love my broken down, crappy old car, because it has a story to tell. I love it because it continues to get me where I want to go every day. I love it because even when it got stolen it came back to me.”

Saying “I love you” to my car won’t get me another car. What it will do is transform how I feel about the car I have, removing all the negative thoughts I have about it and freeing me from that particular source of unnecessary anxiety. The lightness I feel from doing this simple thing is amazing, and, knowing that, I have created a list of stuff (people, places and things) I’m going to hold up to the light and send thoughts of love towards.

You have to keep it up, though – it took time to create some of these attitudes, and it will take time to change them. I’m going to write down the things I want to change my mind about and keep the list where I can see it, so that when I start to fall into my customary negative thinking patterns I can stop myself and change the direction of my thoughts.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to the gym. I am suggesting that instead of focusing exclusively on changing the things outside of ourselves that we don’t like, that we also try to change how we think about them. That’s the change I want in the New Year. Yes, I’d love to be svelte and have loads of good-paying work and all that stuff. But I mostly want to be happy and at peace, and I know that no amount of exercise or new contracts will give me the kind of lasting joy that can be had by filling my mind and heart with love for everyone and everything in my life.

I wish the best for all of you. I hope 2015 is filled with joy and health and peace for us all.

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photo credit: paloetic via photopin cc

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The Ghosts of Christmases Past

Christmas Tree

If I had to explain the main message of this blog, I would say that it is about change. To be clear, it is not an advice column about how to deal with change, or an example of a person who has successfully dealt with change (hardly!). It is an ongoing narrative of a person who has been in what seems to be a constant state of change for some time.

As a consequence of my heightened awareness of this ongoing change, I’ve begun to wonder if there was ever a time in my life where there was no change, when I lived in a steady state of being, where I could count on things being a certain way. A time when I felt safe and not at the mercy of the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. It certainly seems that way when I look back, and nothing brings it home to me as the holiday season does.

Each year, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I’m confronted by the ghosts of my Christmases past. My feelings about Christmas are complicated; they are loaded with emotion and memory, joy and grief, surprise and disappointment. I suspect most of us feel this way about it if we’re honest.

For example, I remember the exact moment the magic of Christmas ended for me. By “magic” I mean my belief that there was a person called Santa Claus who delivered presents on Christmas Eve to everyone who had been good that year. Up to the moment of discovery I totally believed in Santa and his flying reindeer. One year I remember being very concerned that he wouldn’t be able to deliver presents to us because the apartment we lived in didn’t have a fireplace. My father soothed my fears, explaining that Santa would just come through the sliding glass door that led to the balcony. I think I still insisted on sleeping on the couch in the living room, just in case he needed my help getting in (does this sound familiar, people who know me?).

It must have been the next year that the bubble burst. We were on the way to my grandmother’s house for Christmas, all of us piled in the family station wagon. I was in the “way back” (that backwards-facing seat under the hatch back), and there was a big box back there with me. I could read enough to know that it contained a bicycle. After some deduction, I realized that it was most likely the bicycle I had asked Santa for, and I didn’t understand what it was doing in the back of our car. Then it hit me. There was no Santa. It had been my parents all along.

I may have asked Dad about it; I don’t remember. I just know that from that moment on, my thoughts and feelings about Christmas were irrevocably changed. We all go through it, that moment of truth. Maybe the realization came to you as it did to me, or maybe some mean older kid told you. To my sister’s credit, I’m sure she knew (she’s four years older than me), but she kept that information to herself. And I in turn never told my little brother. We have to face it sometime, though, the truth that there is, unfortunately, no Santa Claus.

And then we spend every Christmas for the rest of our lives trying to re-create the magic and the innocent wonder of those Christmases before we knew. Or is that just me?

As I grew up in the warm embrace of my family, I became sort of manic about Christmas traditions. In our family we got to open one present on Christmas Eve – any one of our choosing. In the morning we could wake up Mom and Dad, but we had to wait upstairs until they said all was ready for us to come down.  We had a Santa hat, and whoever wore the hat handed out the presents – one at a time. Every year my mother made fruitcake (for my grandfather – none of us would touch it, even though it smelled fantastic), divinity, and fudge. We’d have Turkey and dressing and green bean casserole for dinner. My Dad had a toy train set he’d had since he was a child, and he would set up the track so that it encircled the Christmas tree. The noise of the toy train, the music playing on the stereo, the clanking of pots and pans in the kitchen, the rustle of wrapping paper, and, most of all, the laughter – those sounds blended together in what became for me the soundtrack of Christmas. Add to that the sight of the tree too small for all the presents to fit under and the smell of pine needles and roasting turkey, and all of it became the magic of Christmas. And it just wasn’t Christmas unless all of these things happened the way I thought they should, and I did everything I could to make sure they did.

It had to end of course – you can’t stay frozen in time, children grow up and things change. My sister got married when I was still in high school. There was an unthinkable tragedy in a family very close to us that still to this day adds a somber shade to my palette of Christmas colors. My parents divorced. It’s natural – life happens. But I still wanted that wonderful feeling that all was right with the world. The love of a good friend gave me back some sense of that wonder one year, but I didn’t have a really good Christmas again until after I got married and my husband and I began to establish some new traditions.

And again, I got manically protective of those traditions. I worked hard to maneuver things with my extended family so that my husband and I could have our Christmas the way I wanted it. If things didn’t work out, I got kinda grumpy (insert apology to parent/siblings).

Over the years, though, things changed again, and now it seems like every year is something different. I’ve had to give up my ideas about what makes Christmas Christmas, because it changes all the time. For so long I’ve equated Christmas with traditions, and I’ve felt cheated when I didn’t get to have the holiday my way.

This year is even more different than ever, and, finally, I think I’m over needing to have my traditions to make it a real Christmas.

I know what is for me the true meaning of Christmas, and every year I fervently pray for Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men. I believe in the promise of the love of God. I don’t have any passionate interest in acquiring more stuff. I have been reminded, yet again, of the fragility of life, and the need to embrace the ones we love at every opportunity. That is the only thing that matters; everything else is just temporary.

So, to my Ghosts of Christmases Past – thanks for the memories, but I won’t be needing you anymore. I have my eyes fixed firmly ahead of me. I will find the joy of Christmas where it has always been, in the love of my family and friends. I know now that the security I thought I had never really existed, and, for the first time in my life, I’m ok with that. More than ok; I’m happy and content with the present. I hope all of you are as well.

Merry Christmas!

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photo credit: SurFeRGiRL30 via photopin <a

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