The holidays can be a huge source of pain for even the most mindful souls. No one can “push our buttons” like family. We are never so challenged to stay present and stop carrying the stories of the past as we are when we’re around the people who have known us for years. It can feel impossible to change others’ perceptions of us, and it can feel like no matter how much preparation we do, we still revert to old behaviors or engage in old patterns of gossip or dissension.
Thankfully, there are ways to make them a little easier. A huge portion of our pain around the holidays comes from the stories we’re carrying with us. To make your holidays a little easier, I’m going to suggest a few tips that will help you be more present and give you “story amnesia” for a few hours while you’re interacting with the men and women who normally cause you to feel less-than, frustrated, not yourself, angry and disqualified.
Anytime you’re around someone and you don’t feel your highest self emerging, you can change that.
Family get-togethers are often a melting pot of different energies, lots of old patterns and behaviors. In some cases, the only time you interact with these particular souls is during the holidays, so to say that you “know” each other is ridiculous, beyond knowing that they are all a part of the same gorgeous network of God-consciousness you are. In order to feel like we still “know” them, we remind ourselves of what happened last time we were together, we remember things that happened in childhood, we remember patterns that may not actually be present in the people today- but we feel we need to hang on to those memories to prove we “know” them.
If you doubt this is true, ask yourself if they really “know” you. Sure, they may remember the embarrassing thing you said ten years ago, but do they know how you’ve changed in the past year? Have you had a heart to heart lately about your beliefs? If they can’t possibly “know” you, then do them the favor of not assuming you still “know” them.
1. Get to know them. We so often act on assumptions and history when we meet with family, but everyone is changing all the time. They are evolving, they are learning new things, and it may fascinate you to learn about them. Develop a genuine interest in your family members as if they were strangers.
At a birthday party for a family member last month, I asked him (though I had seen him several times in the past year) what he had learned in the past year, what had changed for him. It opened an incredible conversation and I was able to get to know him a little better.
2. Reframe old behaviors. I’ve heard so often (and said it myself) “She always expects…” or “he’ll never accept the fact that…” or “just once I wish she’d…” or “if he would just…but he never will.” We all have those stories of “behaviors” we’ve framed in a negative light.
It’s time to reframe them into a loving light. This can be tricky if you’ve really believed the negative story for a long time, but it’s so freeing. Here’s one: “He’s always so negative. He shoots down all my good ideas. I feel like such a failure around him.”
A better story, a more beneficial way for you to reframe this (remember, it’s not about the other person- you only have control over you) is to say, “Okay, at first I thought he was negative, but how are his actions loving? Well, I think he is really careful and scared in life, and he wants to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes. I think he’s worried about me, or he wouldn’t care what I do. Even though he loves me in his own strange way that feels oppressive sometimes, I can see how he loves me and I’ll respond to the love instead of the negativity.”
See how beneficial it is if you change your story instead of expecting the other person to change? The wonderful part is, if you respond lovingly to that person, his reaction will naturally be more loving. It’s beautiful!
3. Decide how you want to feel before you get there. When you get angry, frustrated, annoyed or upset at something, you’re allowing their actions to change your mood. When you decide that you’re not going to let them “change your station” like a TV remote, you take the control away from them. You get to decide at every moment how you’ll feel. You get to decide how much love you’re going to give. You get to decide if you’re going to have a good time or a bad time.
Personally, I would much rather have a wonderful time than a frustrating time, so I decide beforehand that no matter what, I’m going to have a wonderful time! When people complain, I find something to be happy about. When people ask me weird questions I don’t feel like answering, I laugh and enjoy the absurdity of the moment. No one can derail me because I’ve already decided to have an amazing time, and an amazing life!
4. Set a default loving reaction for situations you don’t predict. Sometimes, situations will throw a wildcard my way and I’m not sure how to react. “Old me” would get angry or frustrated, but that doesn’t feel good anymore, so my new default is to feel love. I assume the situation is perfect and I assume I’ll understand it fully later, if it doesn’t make sense now. However that looks for you, feeling love is so much more calm and peaceful than getting riled up.
5. Assume they’re thinking the highest and best of you. We often tell ourselves the stories of what we think other people think of us! This is NONE of our business and it’s highly poisonous to our own thoughts.
We can hear, “Are you still working at X company?” or “Have you done X yet?” If we believe some story about how the asker of those questions doesn’t like us, we have a much different response than if we believe the story that the asker loves us and wants the best for us.
6. Believe this is your Yearly Test to be as truly loving and present as you possibly can. I love to have fun, and pretending this is a test is a great way to make a game of any situation that would otherwise seem hard.
7. Decide to be love at every moment and to think the absolute best about everyone. It is totally possible to love someone who used to drive you crazy. In fact, it’s one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done! I don’t have to worry about feeling crazy, annoyed, frustrated because they’re around, I am free! People can come and go in my day and I don’t have to let it affect me one bit, because I make a point to be love.
Embody love in your life and you’ll experience the same freedom. Just love whoever is around you, love them as much as you possibly can, love them as fully and beautifully and radically as you can. Just love them!
“Love draws forth love.” -Saint Teresa of Àvila