What an imperfect gingerbread man!
I like him though. He's a lot like us humans with our imperfections and ambivalence. His lack of facial expression conveys the indifference and bah-hum-bug-ness we sometimes experience this time of year despite the festivities, decorations, special get-togethers, and generosity that we also encounter.
The philosophy of both yoga and Tao teach us that the essence of life is paradox. That our preferences and personality traits lie on a continuum with opposite qualities on either side. Hot-Cold; Smooth-Sharp, Loud-Quiet; Moving-Still. Carl Rogers related it to the counseling process. He said "The curious paradox is when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change."
Here are three ways to process and accept the not-so-jolly feelings this time of year.
1. Name the negative feelings. Sad, Mad, Guilty, Ashamed, Rushed, Frantic, Afraid. Those are just a few of the many emotions we feel any time of year. But these "bad" feelings seem particularly closeted around the holidays, because really, who wants to be around an sad person at Christmas, or a mad person at Thanksgiving? But there's an important distinction between bringing others down and simply owning your emotions. By naming the feeling, recognizing when it's present, writing about it, painting a picture about it, talking to someone about it in an effort to move past it, you are coping in a healthy way. Complaining, whining, brooding, sulking, exploding, getting drunk or high...these are not healthy ways to express negative emotions because they impair relationships. These methods of expression send your loved ones running for the hills at the prospect of spending extra time with you this time of year. Take time to understand this distinction, then process the negative stuff in a way that will free you from it rather than creating more of it.
2. Choose one negative experience you've had around this time of year that may still trouble you, and write about it in rich detail. Really delve into the memory of it.... with the following important caveat.
Have a loved one or a professional within reach if your memory is extremely painful. Don't attempt to go at this alone your memory is traumatic, meaning it involved physical or psychological violence, a natural disaster, accident, combat, sexual abuse, or something equally disturbing. Use this checklist to help you recall traumatic events in your life. If you have experienced trauma, a mental health professional can help you work through it safely.
If you're memory is not traumatic, rather just unpleasant, continue this rich description process. Remember where you were, who was around (if anyone), what the surroundings looked like, particular objects, scents, and sights you recall from the day. Identify what upset you most. Was it specific words that were spoken, tone of voice used, and/or facial expressions that bothered you? Maybe you had a very negative experience and you were alone. What was the hardest part? Do you recall what was going through your mind? If your event involved the actions of others, what reactive thoughts do you recall having as the event was happening? What feelings did you have? It's important to distinguish thoughts and feelings here. Feelings get imprinted onto a memory and your later recollections of it, like at subsequent holiday gatherings or certain times of year. The feelings are the proverbial "baggage" that we carry. Once you've described your memory in detail, choose the least disturbing detail and bring it into your awareness while consciously relaxing for one minute. Set a timer on your phone, and sit in a relaxed state as you keep ask yourself, "is it possible to not pour more negative energy into this memory?" Then over the course of the next few days or weeks, successively bring the more troubling aspects of the memory, one at a time, into your awareness as you practice relaxation. You are re-training your brain to process the memory in a different way, and eventually it will become less uncomfortable.
3. So now what do you do with all of the negative stuff you've named, described, and discovered? Ask yourself, "Can I accept a negative experience as one piece of me, and diminish its ability to define me?"
Sit with the negative feelings, accept the negative memories, and challenge yourself to release the desire to change them in some way. Resist the temptation to reverse or change what's uncomfortable. When you stop wishing for things to be different, they do really start to change. Allow yourself to find flow. Discover rich detail in the present moment. Be ultra-aware of what's happening now! This year isn't like any year before it. It's going to be rich with its own joy and perhaps pain. But now you have the tools to process the good and the bad equally, and to accept imperfection as the paradox of change.
Here's to December!