Holiday Fantasies

This is not a love story about the value of family. This journal entry is instead dedicated to all those scorched souls out there who are still recovering from being with family and finding out that they’re no better this year than last. Especially those who are kicking themselves for knowing better, and falling victim to hope nonetheless. What is this compulsion to swim upstream to the dream of family, despite our better wisdom? In part, I suspect it’s due to the nature of memory, in which experiences that are linked with strong emotion–either of pleasure and of pain— result in more durable, Technicolor recollections. Even in the brain, memory and emotion are linked, quite literally. Strong emotions tend to lock in stronger sensory impressions. Think of a fairly recent day in which you truly enjoyed yourself; can you, even now, not only get a picture, but also recollect the sounds, the flavors, the way an embrace felt, almost as if you were back there.

The ending of the year, regardless of your religious background, is rich with meaning. It is the omega of this year, just before the alpha of next; it is the flickering flame on the darkest day. Even without the encouragement of Madison Avenue and the promise of the ideal gift, meal, or social exchange, it would take a very thick skin to resist the excitement of the season, and to absorb the promises made of ideal family experiences, whether or not they are actualized. By the time we emerge into full adulthood, we have at least a couple of decades of layered memories, heavily laced with, among other emotions, intense hope and profound disappointment. They lay like heavy high-mountain snow, latent through the year, then triggered by the first jingle tune or holiday letter to “all our friends and family”, avalanche about us.

I’m not Scrooge. I’ve come to love the richness of the season’s special, even unique sights and scents. I’m only illustrating the often overwhelming force of memory, and therefore the confusion that comes when embodied hope, strengthened by two or three decades of similar experience, perhaps even occasionally satisfied by pleasant family exchanges, overshadows the hard reality of the present. Given the more intense emotions felt at the season, even events that are not of their nature associated with it arise: a parent’s death re-experienced, because of all the times the parent previously celebrated with you, a tight budget more keenly felt. No, no matter what you do, in this culture, it is next to impossible to make it “just another day.” The advice to keep your expectations realistic, while well-intended, is poor armament against the deeply-felt, profoundly embodied sense memories that are the true dictators of thought, and therefore of expectation.

Having lived in Durango, Colorado, I also know a little about avalanches. The first piece of advice, from my buddies at Search and Rescue, is not to ignore their potential. In fact, if you’re walking in mountainous territory after the first snow, keep your eye out. Translated, this means prepare yourself for the force of your memories, more likely to show up in the form of a rising sense of anxiety or it’s opposite, lethargy more than any specific past experience. Should you be caught, by a wave of snow or memories, know when to swim, and when to ball up and put your gas mask on. As odd as it seems, if you can “swim” your way through the tumbling snow, you’re more likely to stay close to the surface, and thus survive. Again translated, if you can at all keep moving, move. In the emotional debris left by another unsatisfying, even devastating holiday, find the anger and the fear, and shadow-box them, run them through your system. Think of all the things you could have said, and didn’t, and now allow those words out, those sounds. One of the nice by-products of this is that that New Year’s Resolution to get healthy and lose weight might also get satisfied. If you can’t swim, and find yourself rolling up into a ball, cup your hands in front of your face to create a pocket of air: keep breathing. In time, the people that really count, the family of choice, or what many of my clients call their “tribe,” will show up, poles in hand to plumb the depths and find you.

Better yet, avoid the snowy cliffs and sit by the fire with those friends from the start. If some of them happen to be linked with you by blood or law, that’s nice, but really secondary. Allow the joy of the present, in its intensity, to marginalize the obsolete memories of a past that may never, actually, have been. And listen for the distant rumbling; the friend caught in it will soon need your help.


Bravo… well said… and why I choose to live my life, my way, with my “tribe” — Kristi C., 11/08/13

How timely.  Already struggling with rising tide of anxiety and its companion, lethargy.  What a great gift to have reasons articulated and excellent suggestions for dealing with.

Write on! — Nancy W., 11/09/13

You’re in good company…I’m going to continue exploring what has happened to what should be a festive time of the year. For so many of us, instead it’s become one huge trigger!

For a couple weeks prior to your essay, I’d been swamped with morning dread, unspecific and making it very difficult to get up.  thanks to kundalini practices I could get myself up, tho moving throughout the day, seemed to constantly involve pushing thru resistance.  All I wanted for days was to curl up and escape.  In coming back over and over to assess my situation, I was aware that each day was good and full of accomplishments and helpful people.  Still like sisyphus I kept pushing that boulder of dread uphill.
Your essay yanked that constellation of thought/emotion/sensation into conciousness where it was a tremendous relief to say Yes!  thats all that is going on.
My power word this bday is transform – and your essay pinpointed what is ready to be transformed.  For me this end/beginning of season is releasing all the energy stored in my body that is ready to be brought into the light and intentionally used for another purpose.  If there are accompanying sensations that I label discomfort, well, so be it.  My kriya for this season is a fun and funny kundalini set called Releasing Elemental Stress which involves drumming  on floor, and dancing seated as well as some silly arm movements.  And it works!
course I have to push thru the impulse to freeze up and not do the set which is still a daily effort.  Your reminder to MOVE was vital.  As is the encouragement to be kind to this person who is doing so much to change ancient patterns in herself. – 11/14/13