Christmas time can be filled with joy and also with pain and overwhelm. As a coach I often find myself helping people navigate the holidays and this question from one of my readers expresses the challenges we can face:
“During the Holidays there’s a lot of pressure to be joyful and happy in an outward sort of way with parties and such, and family gatherings, to the point that if we don’t take part there is some guilt involved. Sometimes, even though I’m around loving people, I still feel a loneliness. How do we navigate the holiday landscape when we are feeling the draw inwards that might be the natural state of this darker winter time? And how do we learn to be content with ourselves during this time?”
If we pause a moment and feel the rhythm of nature at this time of year (at least in the northern hemisphere) we might be called to something quite different than what is commercially and socially mandated. Winter invites us to turn within, to gather our energies rather than expend them. It beckons us to honor our yearning for rest, rejuvenation and the gestation of new possibilities, as yet unknown. It is a time to draw together with loved ones around the hearth, to connect in simple ways. Regardless of what hemisphere we dwell in, the true spiritual significance of this time of year is about authentic connection with each other and with the divine, in whatever way we relate to that. Yet this call of nature and spirit tends to be completely overshadowed by social expectations. Real connection can become tainted by a sense of comparison and competition or by simple overwhelm in the face of all the perceived demands of the season.
Of course this time offers the opportunity for heartfelt connection with each other, and with that which sustains us. So it really helps to check in with ourselves, with the promptings of the heart, and ask:
“What activities will truly nourish the sense of connection for me?”
“What do I need to let go of?”
“Who do I long to connect with? Other people? Nature? The divine?”
“What practices slow down my mind so that I can feel the knowing of my heart?”
Connection might look like going to that Christmas party or it might be about staying at home and curling up by a warm fire, reading a great book or sharing a meal with a few good friends. It might bring you great joy to write those Christmas cards or it might be time to let that go if it has become tedious or burdensome. It might look like spending time with family or it might be that you can let them know that you’ve made other plans this year.
Some will be disappointed in us and we may feel a little guilt but often the most considerate thing we can do for others is to follow the guidance of our heart. Otherwise we tend to go through the motions of connection while actually feeling a sense of loneliness, isolation or resentment that we try to hide beneath a veneer of cheer. Our guilt and loneliness also abound when we start comparing ourselves unfavorably with others and our perception of their jovial demeanor (not realizing that they are often feeling a secret sense of loneliness themselves). If we can honor our natural inclination to slow down, to connect with the rhythm of the natural world, to turn within to the heart, or turn to the dancing fire, then we will not be affected by the expectations projected upon us. We can offer back to the living world around us from the fullness of our authentic connection.