Finding contentment for the holidays
As I sit here preparing my mind for the holidays, I can recall a moment in the office of my superior for a job long since lost. I was talking with him while looking out of the large ground floor window behind him on a sunny day in Southern California. As I looked behind him, I noticed that were two guys smoking cigarettes while standing next to an onsite fuel pump.
“Hey, look behind you. You might want to tell those guys to stop smoking by the gas pump,” I said. “I think we all want to see Christmas this year.”
Since then, I flash on that moment just about every fall or winter. And it seems like every year around this time, I see accidents. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but already I’ve seen the aftermath of two accidents in one day. People have gotten an early start for a mad rush for the holidays. Buy this, buy that. Do this, do that. I need to get somewhere in a hurry. Thinking about the wife, the kids, the job, the next party, the next gathering, the next thing to do, while driving. Go, go, go, goo, goo, goo, gah, gah, gah.
Sometimes we think like this during the holidays: I can’t get someone to do what I want them to do. I don’t have enough of what I have and I want more. I feel inadequate. Nobody really loves me. Nobody takes me seriously. Nobody is listening to me. If I just do A, B and C, they will be happy with me. If I just do X, Y and Z, I will get what I want, and I’ll be happy. And there are a million details between points A, B, C, X, Y and Z, that could go wrong.
I see all the people rushing around. I see the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles in the distance. I roll past deformed cars, ambulances and people exchanging insurance information. I see the police waving me forward. And I know they were not paying attention when the path of their cars intersected.
I know that for many people, there is a certain desperation in the air of the holiday season. We reflect on the year passed, and we think about the mistakes we made and things we’d like to have done better. Sometimes we think we can make up for our perceived failures during Christmas with more gifts, more time. We think we can be more forgiving, be more patient, more joyful, or just be more.
But I think that most of our frustration with the holidays, and for some, this can go to extremes, like violence and self-harm, most of our suffering, is from a lack of acceptance. It seems like the phrase, “suicide hotline” gets some emphasis during the holidays. More often than not, starting in November, I see a billboard that says, “I’ve had a few drinks, I p̵r̵o̵b̵a̵b̵l̵y̵ should get a cab”.
Thoughts of suicide are signs of not accepting the way things are. Drinking is a sign of being unable to accept things the way they are. Buying things, being busy, being unavailable to others, are more signs of not being able to accept things the way they are. And at the center of all that is not being able to accept ourselves, without reservation.
I’m writing this from the perspective of a man who has been lonely a very long time as an adult. I got married late in life after working through many of the fears that I carried with me for much of my life. I could not have done all that alone, and did so with help from so many people who have been a part of my life at one time or another.
I have arrived at a time and place in my life where I am experiencing true contentment. I’m content because I’ve learned things like “The Four Agreements”, “The Wisdom of Insecurity”, and that I can intuitively solve problems that used to baffle me. All of that springs from a certain skill I picked up along the way: acceptance. It is this skill, acceptance, that is the basis of contentment. For how can I be content if I do not accept my life, my circumstances, exactly as they are now, without reservation?
It seems to be a common expression that the holidays can be a stressful time for all of us. I know because I’ve seen that stress first and second hand. I’ve seen it in myself, my family and friends. I’ve seen it in the news with stories of people barricading themselves in, police pursuits, gun violence and altercations during the holidays. I believe that all of that comes with a lack of acceptance.
The holidays are a time of reflection, a time for a break, a time for family and friends. The holidays are a time of taking note of all the things we have now, a time to find a reason to be grateful. At least, that’s what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about, right? It’s not really possible to grateful or thankful, without acceptance of the way things are.
I feel now content because I make a decision to accept what I have to be enough. I have food to eat, a place to live, clothes to wear and so on. Such a low bar gives me resilience because I know that even after a minor upset or disturbance, I can fall back on acceptance of what I have right now. It’s not forever.
Sometimes, in periods of restlessness, I have counted my blessings to lull myself to sleep. As I grew older, I learned to call friends and family during the holidays. I learned to take in a movie, read a book, or just take a walk when I felt restless. I have found easy ways to get back to balance, harmony and peace, and they all rest on me making a choice to accept things the way they are and to err on the side of peace.
I learned to watch other people to see if they have what I wanted and to ask them how they do it. I’ve read many self-improvement books, attended many seminars and workshops and meetings and gatherings for the purpose of finding a better life. All of them had one common thread: discovery and acceptance of oneself.
As a firmly middle-aged man, I can tell you that acceptance, even on a small scale can lead to some contentment and peace during the holidays. I avoid criticizing people. I avoid condemning things. I avoid complaining about anything. All of that behavior gives my power away to others, and only diminishes the happiness of others and I. I sometimes feel the temptation to criticize, complain and condemn, and I think through to the last time I did that, and how things worked out. It seems to work out in the movies, but never does in real life.
So give yourself that extra time you need to get where you’re going, so that you can take your time getting there. Allow yourself to be early to that gathering or event. Allow yourself time to acclimate to the surroundings of your destination after you get there. Allow others to be who they are, for if you criticize, condemn or complain about them, you are only making it more difficult for them to accept themselves as they are, too.
Letting all of that go, will allow you to relax and enjoy the holidays. It’s seems such a simple thing, if we can just let the people we love, be the people we love. There is nothing to change about them, there is only acceptance. I often tell my kids, “I love you just the way you are. You don’t have to change for me, change is automatic,” because it’s true.
It is when we let go of our resistance to anything and everything, that we can finally see all that is good, all that we are grateful for, and all that we love. When we can say, “I am enough”, and see that what we have is enough, we will find peace on earth. Even if for just a little while.