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Posts tagged ‘mindfulness’

Reinventing the holidays (or confessions of a Christmas overachiever)

My Christmas Tree

My Christmas Tree

Early in this walkabout I said goodbye to relationships and ways of life that no longer served me.

Now I’m ready to tackle a holiday.

You know. The one coming up . . . Christmas!

I am having to be a little bit brave because this is hard. Changing how one celebrates the most beloved holiday of all is akin to stepping into a minefield. Terrible and wonderful memories begin exploding left and right.

Christmas with my family of origin was a mixed bag, but mostly nice.  My mother pulled out all the stops and my father disapproved, so joy in our bounty was mixed with guilt. My favorite memory is of my family gathering in the dark of a Sunday evening and lighting the candles of the advent wreath. In that golden glow we sang, laughed, took turns reading aloud and told stories.  This was love, pure and magical.

It was only when I became a parent myself, that I turned into a Christmas overachiever. Months before Christmas I started creating handmade personalized ornaments for everyone I knew. I drove kids to and fro, baked countless batches of cookies, decorated lavishly and stung yards of popcorn and cranberries. I crafted Christmas cards, wreaths and my own wrapping paper. I attended and gave parties. I shopped like a fiend, making sure everybody got what they wanted. And then after Christmas, I took it all down and packed it up again for the next year’s marathon.

I was the ring master for it all. But truthfully I found Christmas stressful. I gave myself too many things to do in my mission to make everything perfect. I was my own worst enemy.

So in my year of reinvention, I asked myself the following questions:

  1. What do I love about Christmas to incorporate into a new tradition?
  2. What has become meaningless for me?
  3. How can I take better care of myself during the holiday season?

Here is the first incarnation of the new Christmas for me:

My sister, the food blogger

My sister, the food blogger

Family and friends: In smaller doses. This year I spent several wonderful days before Christmas tooling around Portland with  my sister Robin. We tried out new and old ways to celebrate.

Décor: A few minimal but beautiful (to me) decorations. For more about this, read my note on Facebook about  mindful ownership.  No  tree for me. I can visit 20 beautifully decorated trees at the Pittock Mansion in Portland or take in the city lights twinkling below  my apartment window.

Sacred: I am lighting lots of candles this time of  year, just as I did when I was a child. They make sacred the dark days of winter. I listen to the Christmas music of my past. I plan  a day of mindfulness and Tonglen on Christmas Day.

Events: One or two small — or none at all. This year I went to Portland’s Crafty Wonderland Show.

The Hubbub factor: I like all the excitement of Christmas and being anonymous in crowds, so I went Christmas shopping without buying anything. I visually soaked in the beautiful things for sale and enjoyed being part of the crowd.

Eating and Drinking: In moderation. I don’t need to make or taste every possible Christmas cookie or dish. My sister  and I celebrated simply, slowly savoring a glass of port and one huckleberry chocolate truffle each (from Portland’s Moonstruck Chocolate Co.) No more turkey, ham or huge dinners for me. I am trying a spaghetti squash meal on Christmas Day from my sister’s blog.

Port and Huckleberry Truffles

Port and Huckleberry Truffles

Smells: Fresh greenery is at a premium in an urban setting. I bought two small sprays of red berries and a  friend brought me some clippings from her tree. When I walk by, I inhale deeply!

Children: I can’t be with my kids or grandson this year.  While in the children’s section of Powell’s Bookstore, I watched with delight the little ones about my grandson’s age. They fill me with joy.

Giving: In honor of a family member who chooses to be homeless, I  buy a sandwich or two when I grocery shop and hand them off to the many homeless folks I see in Portland. I hope someone does something kind for my relative too.

Christmas Day: I discovered on Thanksgiving Day that the city of Portland goes quiet and still on holidays. With only a few cars and dog walkers about, it feels rarefied and magical. I will be walking there again come Christmas Day.

Crafty Wonderland-Mt Hood Morning 027

My way is not the way for everybody.

And — as with everything — it’s a work in progress.

What do you love about Christmas? What family traditions to you cherish? What traditions would you like to change? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Holidays!

Betsy Lewis

The Walkabout Woman

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“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning”

Daybreak, Thanksgiving morning 2012 . . .

I stand for a moment at my window taking in dawn’s red sky, the streetlamp still glowing below. I can’t remember if this is a delight or a warning?

And then it comes to me . . . ah oh . . . it’s a warning.

I refused to accept it. I had planned a nice meaningful Thanksgiving of solitude – candles, mindfulness and gratitude. If ever I was to take a spiritual by-pass from the real world – this was it!

The night before, however, I had been haunted by dreams of Thanksgivings past. As I took in the sunrise warning, I knew that my internal alarm clock — now chiming Thanksgiving o’clock — wasn’t going to let me sleep through family drama quite so easily.

My dreams weren’t even about my close family. I dreamed of my former in-law family – a group of people I was well and truly done with – or so I thought.

It still bothered me that I was never accepted or valued by my ex-husband’s family.

My ex and I were a case of “opposites attract”.  He was an outgoing extrovert from a large, Midwestern, Irish-Catholic family — and a frat boy to boot. I was a quiet introvert from the West-coast and my family had mostly disintegrated. I was bookish, intellectual, and had a small circle of close friends– and to boot also, I worked for Planned Parenthood. Partying, beer and football figured large in my ex’s life. For me it was social causes, soulful conversation and reading.

My ex was drawn to my intelligence and depth.  I was impressed with his confidence and ease with people.

You can see where this is going.

Holiday visits with his family were rough. I worked hard to ingratiate myself, but I just couldn’t gain a foothold. His family wasn’t unkind, but they kept their distance. Gatherings took place in the small familial home, which would become crammed with the six grown children, their spouses and kids, cigarette smoke, alcohol, and noise. I would escape to bed early. They didn’t understand. I began to suspect that something was wrong with me, and my ex was more than happy to believe that also.

Now 10 years post divorce these people, who had been in my life for over 20 years, no longer talk to me.

So they come to me in my dreams.

A friend suggested I imagine the difficult people in my life surrounded by angels and held safely and lovingly high up in the sky — well away from me.

So this Thanksgiving, instead of putting my in-law family in an imaginary hand-basket to hell — I gave the angel version a shot.

This healing must have been ripe for the picking, because I started to feel myself emerge a bit from the foggy, pain filled maze I had wandered for so long. My perception moved from dream state to 3D. Both my internal and external vision became sharper and clearer. My surroundings and and body sense solidified. Even colors were brighter and more saturated.

Everything seemed simpler and made sense.

No one was to blame, including myself, and I felt compassion for the orphan I was — for my hopeless quest to complete myself with an extrovert and a family who could not live up to my idealized wishes.

That day I began to separate myself out from an enmeshment with these people who I saw now as  ordinary people — maybe not “my people” — but people who I had made placeholders for my pain.

Damning them would damn me.

Putting the demonized version of them in the care of angels also held my demonized parts safe, and I was better able to find may way out of the fog and confusion.

I saw also that  this was self-compassion.

About this time a quote showed up on my Facebook wall:

“If we don’t embrace our confusion, we remain trapped between worlds—on the one hand, old ways of being ready to die; on the other, new ways of being eager to be born. By holding the space for all the possibilities at once, clarity emerges on its own terms. The bridge from one side to the other is confusion. We must learn how to cross it on the way home.” Jeff Brown

So this holiday season I give thanks for red skies, for parts ready to die and be reborn, and for that blessed confusing bridge and its crossing. I also celebrate my increasing ability to live  in my own skin, angels holding the space for my pain, the fog’s lifting, and my own two feet — now planted firmly on the planet earth.

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