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Bringing Gratitude and Your Best Self to the Holidays

It’s time for some holiday cheer, right? While this might feel like a natural and joyous expression for some, there are others (myself included) who despite their desire for ease, joy and celebration of life, find themselves deeply, and at times darkly, in the holiday blues. In this article, I will share a process I have recently used in several of my offerings. The feedback I have received has been that this process feels healing, builds deeper self-understanding and compassion, “moved me from victim mentality to feeling empowered,” and “lifted my spirit.”

Rather than simply “being the facilitator” for others, I chose to immerse myself in the very same process I was leading other through. My personal results were surprisingly wonderful. I will share that with you at the end of this article. Here is the process. My recommendation is that you share this process with a friend or in a small group. Invite everyone work through the steps in their own journal, and when everyone has completed the entire process, encourage each person to share whatever they are moved to share about their experience of moving through the steps including insights they may have had along the way.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Part 1: Self-Empathy, Self-Understanding & Finding Power 1. What are you mourning? What is a challenge or difficulty that is “alive” in you at this time? This could be an interpersonal conflict, or it could be a situation unrelated to any particular person in your life. Find one situation which is stressful or otherwise unpleasant to you and write just a few words or up to one sentence to describe what it is. You will not be asked to share any details about your topic with the group. This is simply to support your own process.

2. Pull out your Emotions Connected to Unfulfilled Longings words list, or grey card deck of Love Smart Cards and identify which emotions are alive in you as they relate to this person and/or situation.

3. Once you feel complete in your process of identifying the emotions that are alive in you, circle 3 emotions that best summarize the entirely of emotions you are feeling. Narrowing your selection down to three can help you clarify what is most alive in you and prepare you to share what you are moved to share about this process with others. (Sometimes listing more than 3 emotions can feel overwhelming to the listener and make it harder for them to follow what you are seeking to share.)

4. Pull out your Universal Longings/Needs/Values/Desires words list, or green card deck of Love Smart Cards. Our painful and unpleasant emotions are always connected to needs/values/longings/desires that are not met to the degree we would like them to be met. Take time to identify what it is you are longing for. 5. Once you feel complete with this words list, circle 3 Universal Longings that feel like they best summarize what you are longing for. 6. For each of these three Universal Needs/Longings/Values/Desires, take some time to think “out of the box.” What are some ideas you could ask of yourself or of others that might meet these needs? Remember that other people may or may not be responsive to your request. With that in mind, seek to come up with 2-3 ideas for each need. Part 2: Gratitude & “Filling The Emotional Well” 7. Shifting to gratitude, if the challenge you are working with is with another person, remember when times between you and this other person were good. If the challenge you are working with is situational, remember a time in which you were in a similar situation that was joyful. If this person is unimportant to your life, or the situation is one that is unusual, you may simply choose to focus on something you are celebrating that has recently happened. Bask in those feelings. I am NOT recommending you do this as a form of “spiritual bypass.” We are choosing to acknowledge and accept that something challenging IS happening or HAS happened and seeking to see how we might address that challenge in a way that is in alignment with our personal values. What this step is seeking to do is to leverage the power of gratitude to “fill our own well,” and to recognize the “Beauty of the Unmet Needs,” as is taught by NVC certified trainer Robert Gonzalez.

8. As you hold this memory in your mind’s eye, pull out your Emotions Connected to Fulfilled Longings words list, or the blue card deck in your Love Smart Cards. Identify which emotions are “alive” in you as you hold this gratitude or celebration in memory. As you do this, I invite you to not simply identify the emotions that feel resonant to you, but to allow yourself to feel the frequency of these pleasant emotions as they live in your body. Allow your body to be nourished by these energies in motion (e-motions). 9. When you are complete with this list, circle the 3 emotions that feel like they best summarize all the emotions you have chosen. 10. Pull the Universal Longings/Needs/Values/Desires words list, or your green deck of Love Smart Cards to identify which desires are resonant as being connected to this memory and the feelings you chose in #8 of this exercise. 11. When you are complete with this list, choose 3 words that best summarize all you have chosen. Part 3: Character Awareness, Being and Becoming our Best Self

12. Pull out your Character Strengths word list or red deck from your Love Smart Cards set and identify up to 3 character strengths that you feel proud of yourself for having grown in during some recent challenges. Feel the joy of self-acknowledgement. 13. Using the same list, identify up to 3 character strengths you feel inspired to grow in as you look towards the future. 14. Write down 3 actions you could take that are in alignment with your desire to more deeply embody the character strengths you chose in #13. 15. Reflect on your learnings from this process with a friend or in a small group. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ My Journey Through This Process Christmas is a major event in the holidays for me personally. If this is not your holiday, I invite you to see how these insights might map on to a holiday in which you have great hope and expectation, and perhaps are also challenged by darkness and blues.

My expectation of the holidays was not so much of on the cheery end of the spectrum. I have come to expect darkness and blues and to become more depressed around the holidays. As I entered into this process, I felt my longing to understand, and perhaps shift, a tendency that felt “normal” to the holiday times for me. I had snapped the night before after accidentally breaking my favorite ceramic Santa decoration. “I hate Christmas!!! I hate it!! I hate everything about it!!!” I had felt the emotions building in me for some time, but this explosive expression of frustration was surprising for me to witness in myself. What the heck was going on? As I sought to identify my emotions. it became obvious to me that I was feeling many of the words connected to depression and fatigue… heavy hearted, listless, lethargic… but I was surprised to discover how much resonance I had with the emotions under the category of “disconnected”… bored, cold, detached, removed, uninterested, withdrawn, numb… ah yes… numb… that is the place I go when something in my past or present is unbearably painful to me. I was also surprised that somewhere, under the numbness was feelings of nostalgia – a longing for the family connection, ease and joy that Christmas was something I had taken for granted before my divorce of 20 years ago.

That divorce was devastating for me. I was not ready to be a single mom of my 18-month-old. I was not ready for the agony of heartbreak and disillusionment. I was not prepared to financially provide for myself, much less for my family of two. I did not have the means or the support to buy a Christmas tree or presents. The immediate contrast was sharp in comparison to every Christmas I had even known. But it wasn’t the first heart-broken Christmas, and it wouldn’t be the last. Having completed the empathy portion of this process, I moved onto the gratitude steps. What was it like when Christmas was joyful? I found myself connecting with the memories of true joy, excitement and delight – a vibrant, happy jubilance which was my previous “normal” around the Christmas holidays. I allowed myself to bask in the pleasurable emotional memories that naturally accompanied my ease around sharing in connection with my family, celebrating life together, feeling our love for each other as we shared in preparations, gifting, and rituals of the holidays enjoyed together. Tears welled up in my eyes. I hadn’t taken the time to soak in these memories for 20 years. Engaging in this gratitude felt like a healing salve to my heart, shifting my internal patterning of Christmas bitterness, stress and ‘bah hum bug’ tendency back towards the remembrance and joy of what Christmas has been and what it can be. Having gone through this practice, I was reminded of the story of the Two Wolves Within Us. An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

A light went on inside me as I realized that the breakdowns I had post-divorce sent me into a reactive cycle of “jackaling” the holidays.

· I can’t afford Christmas.

· I am going to disappoint everyone.

· Why do we have to have such a materialistic holiday?

· Cutting trees is bad for the environment.

· Why are we stuffing ourselves while others are going hungry?

· All this sugar and wheat is bad for our health.

· Etc.

I had been feeding my “evil wolf” by jackaling Christmas for years. And while my circumstances have changed, that pattern of jackal thinking remained in the background, ready to judge and complain every time Christmas was about to roll around again. Rather than listening to the jackal and discovering that values that were underneath these expressions of pain, I had simply created a numbing out strategy of depression and lethargy. How many times had I prayed that I might fall asleep in early December and wake up again in mid-January when it’s all over? I had been unconsciously feeding my jackal, and honestly noticed I had attachment to my upset. As a 14-year practitioner of Nonviolent Communication, this realization was humbling and a bit embarrassing to me as my desire is to become aware of these tendencies much quicker and to apply the tools of “giraffe consciousness” that I would seek to teach to anyone else coming to me with a desire to transform this kind of situation. This practice of gratitude was my first committedly conscious choice to feed the giraffe during the holiday season and to honor what’s been going on under the surface – what’s truly “alive” in me – what my spirit is longing to bring forth. What’s truly “alive” in me is to become increasingly conscious and to live from my heart. What’s truly “alive” in me is my desire to make the most of each day. What is truly “alive” in me is the recognition of how important it is to feed the “good wolf,” to intentionally engage with my “giraffe heart” of compassionate consciousness. I shared my insights with a few friends and discovered that with each sharing, my “evil wolf” lost energy and my “good wolf” gained power. These recognitions, in combination with one of my chosen character strengths, the quality of generosity I would like to strengthen and grown in myself, has led me to talking with my beloved about Christmas - about what is meaningful to us and to notice where we are feeling resentment – perhaps taking action from what we each feel with “should do” out of obligation rather than authentic joy. Together we have begun to explore how we might feed the “good wolf” together. We are investigating our judgments about the holidays to explore what values are seeking to be expressed, then considering new ideas that are more fully aligned with our values. Going back to my jackal list, here is how I am seeking to listen to the jackal and discover the gifts.

“I can’t afford Christmas” is not currently true. If it were, I would be inclined to make gifts as I did when I was truly without financial means. I drew pictures and wrote heart-felt cards to the people I love. Now I can afford Christmas, but I want to be certain that the gifts I give are meaningful and wanted – not trinkets. And part of my Christmas budget is dedicated to giving to those who are short on resources like I once was.

“I am going to disappoint everyone.” Nonviolent Communication has taught me that other people’s disappointment is not my responsibility. What is mine is to express my heart according to my values, which includes my desire to be considerate, generous and loving. When I give from this place and others are disappointed, I can give the gift of empathy while feeling good about my desire and alignment with my personal values. “Why do we have such a materialistic holiday?” I get to make Christmas whatever I want it to be. And my question points to my value for heart-connection and quality of relationship over physical gifts. I can choose to create the holidays in accordance with my own values while honoring that for other people, physical gifts might be a strategy that serves to meet their values for love, connection and appreciation. “Cutting down Christmas Trees is bad for the environment.” I recognize I feel torn when I consider this one. As the Christmas ritual has been a stronghold of my life and the life of my beloved, I am not ready to go without a Christmas tree. I recognize I could get a fake tree, but I am yet to find one that looks real and is any more environmentally friendly than a cut tree. I do care about the earth and recognize that I am motivated to find more ways to live in deeper harmony with our earth systems. I accept that this year I have chosen to celebrate with a tree. I allow myself to feel the joy of having a tree and smelling the fresh pine in our home. This choice supports my connection to the joyful memories of my youth. “Why are we stuffing ourselves while others are going hungry?” I notice my values for health and well-being, but also for consideration and contribution to those who have less than I do. I can choose how much I eat, and I recognize that I feel greater joy when I eat in ways that make my body feel wonderful. Stuffing myself once seemed fun but is no longer of interest to me. What lights me up more is the joy of bringing food to people who are truly hungry. I can celebrate this choice in me and perhaps inspire others to join me. “All this sugar and wheat is bad for our health.” Immediately I recognize that while I have significantly reduced sugar and wheat in my diet in service to my health, there are still times I enjoy it and experience it as a treat. I know many people still enjoy Christmas cookies and sometimes I enjoy making them, especially if I’ve got “Santa’s helpers” (kids) enjoying the process with me. In a post-Covid year, I could imagine the joy of making cookies to share with my spiritual center. This year, rather than making cookies, I am going to make handmade heart-shaped ornaments out of air-drying clay. It’s a similar process to the art of making cookies, but without the calories ;) This is how I can honor the messages that are in the energy of my holiday jackals without feeding the jackal. This is how I feed the “good wolf.” I am amazed at the shift I have felt in my being in the days since I completed the process I shared with you in this article. It has lifted my spirit far beyond anything I could have preconceived. My hope and prayer is that it might do the same for you or someone you love. Happy Holidays.

Art by Katrina Vaillancourt. This piece is called "Heart of The Sun" "Heart of the Sun"... the Son of God and the Sun of God are represented in this image. They had been combined by Constantine in the writing of the bible and creating of the Christian Religion. Our Sun enters the astrological southern cross on the Solstice, creating the longest day of the year. It says down for 3 days before it "rises again" on Christmas morning.

In this image the Sun is a blue star on a gnostic cross. The Universe is seen behind the cross, sparkling with it's many stars.

The lotus rises like a kundalini serpent, opening and causing awakening.

As there is no more suffering, the thorns have been transformed in to golden flowers, embracing this passionate heart with loving adornment.

On the Solstice and on Christmas, we celebrate The Light of the Sun of God as the Christ Consciousness - the ever awakening consciousness of Love and Compassion that shines in each of our hearts and expresses as gifts of love in our world.

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