Saturday, November 27, 2010

How To Holiday?

A friend of mine made a very simple and profoundly true statement that has been ringing in my mind since hearing it: Holidays amplify all feelings. Whether joy, sadness, stress, excitement, peacefulness, annoyance. . . the list could go on and on. . . this time of year is unlike any other in its ability to take human emotion and ratchet it up to unprecedented levels for many. Why? Why is there so much pressure, so many expectations, so much hoopla over what at its core is a season that is meant to be about sharing time and making memories with the ones you love?

It would be easy to blame Hallmark, blame consumerism, blame any other outside target. But the truth of the matter is we are the ones who put pressure on ourselves and end up creating stress. I think for most people, we do it from a place of love, but sometimes it manifests as sheer madness even with the best of intentions. We have notions about how our holiday celebrations should look and feel. We can become inflexible trying to make things just so and end up alienating the very people that we simply want to draw close to us. These are the times when many people acutely feel the absence of loved ones lost or come face to face with the significance of other major life changes. Holidays can be a mine field that one must traverse with great care, lest you stumble inadvertently on an emotional trigger that could bring up untapped feelings in you or someone you love.

In my case, though I definitely did not grow up with it, I seem to have this overtly strong desire to create traditions around the holidays. Admittedly, I can get a little crazy on this subject. Coming from a small, Jewish family, there was no tree decorating, no massive holiday gatherings, nothing present year after year with the exception of cooking a seriously kick-ass Thanksgiving dinner. My father loved food, loved to cook, and I loved to be in the kitchen with him preparing for that meal in particular because there was tradition involved. Making "our" cranberry sauce with orange juice and a splash of Grand Marnier. Trying out some scrumptious stuffing recipe that he concocted since that was the favorite side dish of both he and I. Preparing a meal, whether for our little family, or on some occasions, a larger crowd of close family friends, was an act of love and a definite tradition. I can't recall him ever articulating those words, but looking back now and reliving those times, I feel it. And I know without a doubt that this is the driving reason why I always feel so strongly compelled to celebrate Thanksgiving with an absurd amount of food in the company of the people I love. It is the one tradition that I can continue, though, come to think of it, every single year of my adult life that I've honored it, this tradition has morphed and changed.

I remember hosting my first Thanksgiving my last year of college because I couldn't go home for the break. My table was full of a random assortment of friends that were also around, as well as my father and brother. Then there were a couple of Thanksgivings spent in Chile, adopting an American tradition to my Latin home, family and friends. Back stateside, I spent a few years once again joining forces with my dad in the kitchen, cooking for our family, expanded by my ex-husband and a variety of friends. Last year, with my father gone, no more husband and my mother in Vermont with her best friends, I flew to California to be with my brother and sister-in-law for Thanksgiving. This year, with my mother and brother each in there respective Thanksgiving spots once again, I cooked at home in the company of my best friend, my boyfriend and their little ones, then joined my adopted family for a huge dinner. Talk about variety being the spice of life!

Taken from one perspective, this may not look like much of a tradition at all, seeing as how my Thanksgivings have constantly evolved year after year. But looking carefully, looking with my heart, I see that the key elements of a tradition have always been there: food, friends, family, love. That is all I need, and it is more than enough to fill my heart. Instead of focusing on what's "missing" from my holiday traditions, if I look at the essence I see time after time that it's all there. Keeping that in mind, being grateful for what is instead of what isn't, that is the best thing I can think of to combat holiday stress and instead amplify the positive emotions of gratitude, joy and celebration. I'm still going to miss my dad. In all likelihood I'm still going to get mildly compulsive about wanting to create more traditions. I'll probably still feel moments of stress and provoke the same in those around me (sorry, babe. . . I'm trying!). But I have the ability to step back, take a breath and refocus on what really matters, which will invariably leave me feeling abundant and blessed. That is how to holiday.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My heart to hold

Being in love, new love especially, is a phenomenal thing. Mostly, it is pure joy, sunshine, bubbles and rainbows. New love is delicious, exciting and intoxicating. It leaves you feeling light as a cloud and stronger than a superhero. But as any of my fellow conscious journeyers knows, there is far more substance and purpose to being in love than all of the aforementioned delights. Each of our encounters and relationships are put in our path so we can work through our issues and karma, become better versions of ourselves and, in the best of scenarios, be a conduit for the other person to do the same. When the relationship in question is as intimate and sacred as two people in love, this is amplified all the more and has the capacity to catapult us into a new level of growth and consciousness if we are open to it. Sometimes, that is not an easy thing to do.

When you have worked hard to establish your independence and/or if, by nature, you're simply the type to take charge and be in control, it can be quite challenging to negotiate the precise balance between retaining a degree of control while simultaneously allowing someone else to step in and have a say in your life, to let them care for you too. There are issues of pride, trust, fear, ego and all sorts of other fun stuff at play in this sort of dynamic. To strike this balance, you must trust at every level that the person you are prepared to relinquish some of your control to truly loves you and has your best interests at heart. Then, and only then, can you open yourself up fully to the reciprocal joy of caring and being cared for, trusting and being trusted, genuinely and authentically loving and being loved.

Our hearts are tender things. We learn from a young age all sorts of ways to protect them, even those among us inclined to seemingly give their hearts away with great ease. We all want to love, and, of course, none of us wants our heart to be broken. We seek to find the person who will hold our heart in their hands with the gentle reverence and nurturing caress that it deserves and desires. This is the person whose eyes can melt you with their sparkle, whose smile can level you with its brilliance, whose hands are tailor-made to cradle your heart in precisely the way that allows for equal parts protection and room to grow. When you find this person that your heart has always known was there, trust. Trust that you are safe to relinquish some of the burdensome control you've been carrying. Trust that you can be yourself without fear of judgement. Trust that you have just as much to give as you do to gain and allow for it to happen. Let love rule.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Are you expecting?

I suspect very many of you, like myself, may have been told at some point or another that having expectations can often lead to trouble. More accurately, having expectations can lead to hurt feelings, misunderstandings and disappointments. Yet running seemingly counter to this adage is the notion that if you expect a certain outcome, action, etc. the law of attraction and the power of manifestation may just conspire to give you exactly what it is that you are hoping for. So which is it?!? To expect or not to expect?

My experience tells me that letting go of expectations is the better way to go. It frees you from a lot of heartache and generally makes life a lot more pleasant, while simultaneously making you a more pleasant person who people will enjoy having in their lives. . . never a bad thing! This is not to say that you should be a pushover with no standards or preferences, nor is it to say that you can't or shouldn't put energy into welcoming good into your life via attraction and manifestation. Rather, if you can let go of narrowly defined, specific, constrained ideas about, for example, how a particular plan should unfold or how your significant other should behave, you will end up far more content than if there is only your way or the highway where these sorts of matters are concerned. But alas, as with most pearls of wisdom, my experience absolutely has shown that this is easier said than done. Shocker!

Let's take it to the heart, one of my favorite places to go and to draw examples from, because, let's face it, matters of the heart are fertilizer for all sorts of creative endeavors, blogging included. If, for instance, you are a rather emotional being and your moods tend to fluctuate, and you expect that your honey should either a) not be impacted or b) know well enough not to take it personally, is that a fair expectation? We humans are tricky creatures, full of complex emotions that can be triggered by any number of external or internal stimuli. Many times we don't even understand the full extent of what's making us tick while in the midst of a difficult spot so how can we rightfully expect someone else to, even if that person loves us and knows us quite well? I think many times this dynamic comes about unconsciously, often because the partner with the mood swings may not even be aware that his or her mood is swinging. So then, is it wrong for the other partner to expect that his or her honey should strive to be more conscious of these things? If you've stayed with me this far, by now you're probably seeing what I mean about the slippery slope that is expectation.

Here's another great illustration of expectation blazing a path to trouble. Most of us have pretty clear ideas about how to express love and affection, informed, no doubt, by our upbringings, past relationships and ultimately our very nature. If you love someone, you do X. If someone loves you, they do Y. If you want to demonstrate [name that emotion], you do Z. Me, when I want to show love, I am quite fond of saying it, loud and clear, plain and simple, perhaps ad nauseam. I'm a touchy feely kind of girl, so hugs and kisses and any other kind of physical contact are sure to show up in abundance if you happen to be the object of my affection. Because this is how I express myself, I have a certain expectation that I will be shown the love of others in similar ways, ways that are easy for me to comprehend because they're being spoken in my language. Is that fair of me? Is having that kind of expectation closing me off to displays of love and affection in other ways and creating space for hurt feelings or disappointments that need not exist? Yes, I believe so. If nothing else, I'll certainly be the first to step up and acknowledge when I may be playing my cards wrong, and if rigid expectations are preventing me, or anyone, from receiving all the love and goodness that others want to share, then that definitely seems off.

I really don't know what the easy solution is to let go of expectations and remain fully open to all the possibilities and potential that life, and love, holds. Mindfulness seems like an appropriate starting point, being mindful of yourself and when you subconsciously set expectations. Be mindful and sensitive toward others. Notice if, when disappointment or misunderstandings arise, they could have been avoided by you releasing expectations of others or ones that you yourself hold, and learn from those instances. Like any mental shift or behavior change, this is a gradual and sometimes tedious process. The first step is always acknowledging what it is that needs to be modified and staying conscious of it. If you're with me still, then you're off to a good start!