A Prescription for Holiday Sanity

nar_08tint2It’s Thanksgiving Day and the annual holiday madness has begun. You may have sworn, yet again, that this year will be different. You’re not going to succumb to the pressures of our materialistic culture. You won’t be part of the same dysfunctional family patterns, or fall prey to the depression that descends like a black cloak just when you’re supposed to be cheery and magnanimous. And you certainly won’t attempt to eat your way out of these feelings like you have in the past, a habit which sends you to the local gym with grim resolve in January, full of good intentions which crumble by March. No, not this year!

I’d like to suggest a different approach, one that takes advantage of seasonal rhythms rather than forcing you to swim upstream. The idea is to observe what is going on in nature, and find ways to harmonize your activities to these rhythms. For instance, look around. Notice how quiet and dark it is at this time of year. How might you change your daily routine to adjust to this quality? Perhaps less activity, more rest? What would it feel like to withdraw, just like the perennial flowers in your garden, and store up energy for new growth in the spring?

The Chinese calendar provides a good model for how to correctly align our activities with the seasons. The months of December and January are specified as a time of rest and preparation for spring which arrives in early February. The Chinese wisely note that energy for new projects isn’t available until this latter time, known as the Tiger month in the lunar calendar. Any attempts to push forward earlier usually result in failure. This is why traditional New Year’s resolutions don’t work. Instead of resting and making time for solitude and inner work in December, we exhaust ourselves with a frenzy of external activity. Instead of preparing the groundwork in January for new projects in the spring, we hurl ourselves into desperate attempts to repair the damage from an ill-spent December.

So, a more harmonious approach to the holiday season might go something like this: Go to bed early and get more sleep, cut back on activities, spend less money, eat simple nourishing food like soups and stews, find daily time to turn inward and attend to your soul’s needs. If you make these simple adjustments in winter, you’ll be ready to tackle new projects in early spring.

But, you might plead, what about all the Christmas shopping I have to do, and the holiday parties I have to attend? What will my family and friends think of me if I just check out? My tough love approach would be to remind you of Oscar Wilde’s famous quip: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” So you could just politely decline from participating in all the craziness.

There are also some simple strategies that can get you off the hook. Take shopping for instance. One year I made a contribution to Heifer International in the name of everyone on my list, including my kids. Each person got a little card thanking them for their gift of a rabbit, a sheep, a goat, or one hoof of a cow, to a needy family from another country. My kids actually thought it was pretty cool. All of this can be done easily online.

And as far as parties go, I agree with Joseph Campbell: “My idea of hell is a cocktail party.” Give yourself permission to say “no thank you” to any social engagements that don’t increase your peace and happiness. If it feels too difficult to decline in the face of social pressure, you could always feign a bad case of strep throat or bronchitis. No one will want you around and you might get some free chicken soup donations.

But perhaps honesty is the best approach. Tell people that you’re managing your energy differently this holiday season; that you’ve noticed you feel better when you slow down and take more time for yourself. Invite them to join you in this peaceful endeavor. Wish them well, and retreat back to your cozy room with a cup of tea and your favorite book. Then take a deep breath and welcome yourself back home.

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