This year, for one reason or another, many of us will be alone for the holidays. And for THESE holidays, where we find everywhere images of togetherness, being alone can be brutal. For many, it’s a choice to protect the heart, avoiding social contact. For others, those early lessons in not belonging replay in present life. And there are some of us who, as introverts, simply do not enjoy the throng. For way too many, the ghosts of Christmas past haunt us.
Yet it is hard to resist the pull of others, and that old Norman-Rockwellian picture of togetherness that we’re supposed to experience at this time of year dies hard. The balance point between the safety (loneliness) of solitude, and the connection (threat) of joining feels razor-sharp and highly uncomfortable. This results in a deep dread that lifts only gradually (hopefully) after the first of the year.
So what to do? First, we must bring compassion to where we are, resisting the tug we feel of expectations, inner or outer. Do not be content to simply note the wound of disappointment and rejection, but form the intention to do what you need to do heal it. This does not mean cure. This does not mean that the recollection of Christmas/Hannukah/Yule/Kwanzaa past will fade to nothing. It does mean that in your tenderness to your self, you do what is required to be able to look at the hurt, to mourn what needs to be mourned, and to cleanse yourself of what does not belong to you. And that may, alas, include your family of origin.
What DO you want this time of year to represent for you? Please throw out that tawdry old script of what it is supposed to be, that tattered Currier and Ives print, and fiercely declare for yourself what you need. A time of reflection? One or two others who represent, or just might represent, a family of choice? Let yourself linger at the margins, neither joining nor avoiding, and strip what you witness of its history to find the current beauty in some of it, according to your unique senses. For me, small acts of generosity express the essential loveliness of this time of year: toys for a child, food for a family, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or putting your pride aside, and eating at one.
There is no room, during this season, for judgment. Only for compassion.
Here’s a beautiful practice I learned that may help you reset your thinking from past to present:
Sitting in comfort before a candle, become present to the moment, and your breath. Feel the chair or cushion support you, then draw your attention to your heart. Allow yourself to think of someone or something you love, feel tenderly toward, and imagine the warmth in your heart being sent to that person with every breath. Continue to gradually challenge yourself, imagining a person you may not know as well, then a group. If this is hard for you, all exercise is hard, including exercises of the heart. So if you can’t call up tenderness for some others, be compassionate to yourself, and try again another time. Finally, see yourself; you may even use a mirror for this. Do not be surprised if this is the hardest by far. Yet in this tenderness towards self, as well as others, we dissolve the walls separating us. We become less alone. In nurturing your own ability to send love, you already belong. Right here, right now