It’s mid-December. Life just got a tad more hectic and will stay that way until the kids go back to school in January.
You kick yourself for not having honoured last year’s vow to be organized earlier. You harp on about the excessive consumerism and the social obligations – loud office parties and stilted conversations with people you only see once a year. There’s cooking and shopping and wrapping and planning. There’ll be food from your naughty list on offer everywhere you turn.
Your belly clenches in anticipation, even as you fear you won’t get it all done, so you run too fast, stay up too late, say yes to more events and volunteering than you know is good for you. You start to feel your life getting away from you; you’re scrambling to keep it all packaged in a manageable bundle. (Writing this, I picture my arms flying through the air, trying to gain control over some invisible chaos.)
How can you get it all done without burning yourself out? How can you actually enjoy the celebrations after all the work?
How can you maintain the spirit of the season without compromising your own spirit?
The hustle and bustle of Christmas tips so easily into stress & overwhelm when there’s no connection. If you’re anything like me, a certain amount of what you do at this time of year comes from outside expectations – your husband and kids’ needs, of course, but also what your sister-in-law or your mother expect of you, office obligations, and maybe a small dose of keeping-up-with-the-Jones’.
When you lose sight of the meaning behind the traditions in favour of trying to do it all, you end up losing sight of yourself in the process.
The other morning I headed out the door for an early appointment, into the soundless dark of that first deep snowfall. Because I’d taken on an extra contract recently, my time for all the Christmas necessities became suddenly limited and I felt that panic welling in me by the minute. My thoughts threatened to spin out of control as I walked to the bus. There was something about the peace of the day, however, that drew my attention more strongly.
It was one of those mornings when the carpet of snow muffles every sound. The only thing I heard was my breathe, so I settled into it and the way it shifted and vibrated with my steps. The sun was just coming up behind the clouds, sending the bare trees into dramatic relief against the lightening grey. No birds sang nor squirrels chattered – they were still huddled in their cozy nests. Even my usual morning petition to earth and trees for support through my day fell flat as I felt their own energy had settled deeply below the surface.
I heard a voice inside me say, “Enjoy the quiet. Enjoy the absolute peace.”
To use traditional Chinese terminology, this is a yin season – we’re approaching the most yin day of the year on the 21st – inward moving, cold, dark, moist, introspective and receiving. Your instinct is to follow that energy –the desire to curl up under a blanket with a book, have more nights in with your family, make pots of soup – that’s you putting yin into action.
Christmas is an affirmation of the return to more yang – outward, hot, light, expansive and giving. A natural celebration of those qualities we so love; they help us connect to the world around us, and traditionally offered survival as people share limited resources for food and heat through the winter. Yet, as we North Americans love to do everything to excess, the holidays are over the top, to the point of frenzy.
The stress of the year comes, in part, from the struggle between the two poles of energy clashing.
This year, in order to maintain your energy, your sanity and your joy through the season, balance those the seasonal extremes regularly.
Connect daily – hourly – with the yin energy of the natural season (of which you are an integral part) to offset the yang of the seasonal holiday.
- Soups, stews and congees – food cooked with water or other liquid – nourish deeply with their easily assimilated nutrients and gentle warmth. Eat one or the other daily. Squash soup, with a hint of curry, apple and coconut is my favourite, like a warm blanket in a bowl. Bonus points for drinking/using bone broth.
- Foods that tonify yin include millet, barley, rice (eaten as whole grains, not in flour products); beans, especially black, kidney, mung or green; beets, black- & raspberry, seaweed. Easy on the red meat, sugar/refined carbs and alcohol; remember the gratitude for the bounty along with the indulgence – celebrate conscientiously.
- Turn inward daily with quiet practices such as meditation, yoga, journaling, put on a fire (or a candle) and get lost in its flames. Give yourself an opportunity to turn off for a few minutes every day. Trust that it will all get done; trust that what gets done is enough.
- Take a walk in the early morning or the evening. Let the quiet penetrate you, and notice your limbs soften as the frenzy drops away. Though the earth is frozen, you can still tap into its energy by consciously feeling your feet connect with the snow and pavement at every step – imagine red roots running into your soles, nourishing you with the distant warmth of the core.
- Balance the giving with a healthy dose of receiving. We’re good at the first – not so much the second. Practise receiving compliments, an offer of a cup of tea or help in the kitchen. At a recent party, several people commented on how good I looked – after the 2nd or 3rd time, I noticed my shoulders curled in and my chest collapsed even as I thanked them. Open your heart and let the love, the gift, the compliment in. As Dr. Northrup says, it gifts the other person with the joy of having their words and other offers of love accepted. (You can start right now – see below for my present to you.)
What gets you the most stressed out at this time of year? What practices help you stay balanced? When you share in the comments, you open the opportunities for others.
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My Christmas gift to you:
Over the last few years, I’ve found a word to be my touchstone, my intention and my guide for the year. Better than a resolution, it creates a container in which to take action with healthy practices, it creates a filter through which to set my priorities and make decisions, both personal and professional.
On the 21st, the darkest day of the year, I will be posting an audio guide for helping you connect with YOUR word for 2017. Solstice is the perfect time to explore your needs and priorities and set that intention, so that it can come into the light as we head to the new year.
Access will be exclusively for the community in the Whole Health Dinner Party space. Learn more and join here.
Now practise the joy of giving: Share this post with 2 of your friends using any (or all!) of the links below.