The right now
I don't think I'm alone in feeling like 2014 was a year of major highs and lows, probably with more lows than most of us were hoping for. I don't know why that is, but so many of the people I love are desperate for a fresh start. And I think that's in the air even earlier than usual. Every year around the Thanksgiving holiday, people's thoughts turn to celebration, giving, sharing in happy memory-making with friends and family, and of course, turning over a new leaf in just a few short weeks.
All of these things are good. But it's so easy, as we look ahead with hope and impatience for biggering and bettering our lives, to overlook what's right in front of us, what's happening right now, in this moment. How often do you hear people speak of the holiday season with dread, bemoaning the coming of the consumerist onslaught (that'd be me), the frenzied shopping, the enormous meals, the overloaded calendars? Before you know it, what's meant to be "the most wonderful time of the year" becomes the most stressful, depressing, exhausting time of the year, and we're left to wonder, "How did that happen? How did this go from fun to misery so quickly?'
For years I've been increasingly irritated by the ever-earlier commencing of Christmas festivities, and every year as I grumble, groan and rant about trees going up before the turkey's cooked and stores selling Christmas decor before I've even finished deciding what to be for Halloween, I'm met with the defensive rebukes of friends and family who insist, "This is the only way. This is the only way I can find time to get all of this stuff done." The narrative is, the tree has to go up before Thanksgiving, or else WHEN WILL IT GO UP? The shopping has to begin in October, or else HOW WILL WE GET IT ALL DONE? There's the rush, an ever-present, ever-increasing surge toward...what, exactly? What, exactly, would be so terrible about not getting it all done, anyway?
I know. That thought is so foreign, I can't even read the writing. What would Christmas be without the trees, or the lights, or the literal pile of gifts at a ratio of approximately a baker's dozen per person? Well, it'd be different, that's for sure. But maybe, just maybe, it'd all be okay anyway. The people of Whoville managed a pretty fantastic Christmas without the trimmings, as I recall, and one year, my family skipped the gifts and opted to take a trip to Ireland instead. I'm not suggesting that we skip Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa or anything anyone celebrates at solstice time, or that the traditions aren't meaningful and important and precious. I'm simply asking, as food for thought, is it worth the stress and the headaches? I believe there can be a balance of merrymaking and mindfulness, some order among the chaos.
Some people love the holidays so much, they come at the solstice with a "more is more" attitude. As a child, I would have been on board with that. I couldn't wait for the lights, the music, the candles, the tree. But now, with each passing year, I find myself ever more inclined to slow down. I've had to let go of the expectation that I'll get to every single party, be able to make each and every gift by hand, or at least spend exhaustive effort finding and purchasing the perfect gift for each of my loved ones. I know I won't be able to watch every beloved holiday film, attend a performance of The Nutcracker every single year, make each favorite treat or get every card and package in the mail on time. But if I want to enjoy the season, I have to allow myself these little failures and focus on the big picture, on maintaining my routine and hanging on to my sanity. If I can't do that, I'm not even capable of spreading cheer to those around me.
None of the things I'm describing come easily to me. Not one. I am so type A, I can barely remember the other letters of the alphabet. Left to my own natural tendencies, I would absolutely start shopping before Thanksgiving and obsess over every gift and insist on ticking off each and every tradition on my list. And in the process, I would - no, correction, I have made myself and everyone around me crazy, and more importantly and depressingly, I risk missing the entire point - or, at least, what I think is the point - of the holiday season, and that's pausing to reflect on the beauty of our lives, the magic of having people around us to love, and the possibilities that await just around the corner. I have to work hard to breathe on a normal day, let alone during a time of year that comes piled with stress - mostly the good kind, but as they say, good stress is still stress.
For the past year, I have made a big commitment to self-care. Not that I didn't before, or that I got it right at every turn. I had setbacks, I had times I ate too much or didn't go to the gym as much as I wanted. But more importantly, this was probably the year I learned that taking care of myself is not only important, it's necessary. More than any other year in my life, I found a way to say no to things that sounded like fun but weren't going to allow me to recharge. I chose a book (or a video game) over a night out with friends, or a trip by myself or with just one other person over a huge vacation, more times than I can count. It felt weird sometimes, and once in a while I felt guilty. But mostly, it felt better. It felt like the start of something big and important, something that might stick, through life's busiest moments, through family, and yes, maybe even through kids one day, if I take that route. It felt like me putting myself first for once, a thing I thought I did too often but it turns out I wasn't doing nearly enough.
So. It's officially Bing Season, as I call it. Autumn is slowly crossing over into winter. From where I sit on this unseasonably cold Monday morning, there's bright sunshine and the remnants of Saturday's two inches of fresh, powdery snow on branches still adorned with berries and golden leaves. The world is confused, but upbeat. Each time the wind gusts, tiny snowflakes bluster off tree limbs and into the sky, sparkling in the sun, and inside the house is warm and I'm calm, hoping this feeling will last. I'm hopeful that I can continue to enjoy the right now throughout this busy time of year, to establish and anchor to a sense of quiet gratitude for all that I have and all that is coming. I'll do this by holding on to my routine as best I can, continuing to make time for the gym and yoga on days meant for celebrating and eating, saying no to the things I simply cannot finish or manage, and cherishing the yes moments with loved ones. When anxiety comes knocking, as it always does, I'll answer with a pause, a deep breath, and try to notice one very good thing about that instant.
The beauty of it is, if you pause and wait for them to emerge, the good things are always there.