Once upon a time, I didn’t like Christmas. In fact, I more than didn’t like it. I avoided it at all costs in hopes that I would not be infected or afflicted by it. I begrudgingly participated in festive occasions wearing my best faux grin and was motivated mostly by obligation to acquire gifts for those I loved.
The material “stuff” of the season was always something that got under my skin, but the stress, guilt, debt, greed and unrecyclable wrapping paper so overshadowed any joy I could derive from the decorative do-dads and annoying carols that I’d been forced to perform since I could make music. After working in retail, I had not only experienced holiday stress up close and personal but had also heard most versions of popular holiday tunes more times than I could count. One glance at a boxing day or black Friday lineup was enough to send me running. My spirits were not merry at this time of year, they were cynical and barely tolerant of the madness going on around me. It always seemed like everyone was not satisfied until they had “too much” of everything. Whether it be food, presents, alcohol, shopping… (oh the shopping.) And I found that grace, peace and the satisfaction of “enough” were getting lost somewhere between traffic, parking, gifts, decorations, dinner and dishes.
Where does love get found in all of that? And wasn’t love supposed to be the point of it all?
So I wrote a song called “I Don’t Like Christmas” to articulate some of these sentiments (have a listen and if you enjoy, buy it for $1 here: http://bit.ly/idontlikechristmas). I recorded it after the year I decided to opt out of Christmas almost entirely. Yes, it’s true. I managed this for one year. I didn’t give or accept any gifts, but attended various gatherings with a genuine smile on my face, for the express purpose of watching other people enjoy the holidays and learning something from the experience. Long story short: it worked. And I found what was missing from my earlier assessment of this time of year. I discovered where love was hiding all along. I found my Christmas empathy.
One of my current major philosophies is that empathy is everything. Which is basically the golden rule (treating others as you would like to be treated), and could also be viewed as “karma”. My partner loves Christmas and this has become great motivation for me to find reasons to love it too; to find some sort of karmic balance between stressing out all season just like everybody else and opting out entirely.
So let’s say I look at Christmas through your eyes and, seeing how very much YOU love and enjoy the season, I wonder what I can do to step into that world and show you as thoughtfully as possible that I value and appreciate you, as I would like to be valued and appreciated. I think of what I know about you in terms of what you like, what you think is cool or funny and how you enjoy being creative. I consider your needs (what might make your life a bit simpler or more interesting) and think about what you value as well as what makes you smile. Then I look at what I have to give and consider what options are available for what might help you receive my love. In your way, through your eyes and heart. Because after all, that’s the point. Right? Well, that sounds like a good place to start but where does it end? Using this process and considering the hundreds of cool people I know and love, to how many could I possibly express that sort of empathic love in the span of a few short days or a month? The answer is, not that many.
(*Though it must be said that so many of my friends and family were so incredibly kind and thoughtful toward me during this season that I was nearly brought to tears by the amazing outpouring of love. If you are reading this, please know how deeply grateful I am that you are YOU and for such positive connections with you… including but not limited to, the “stuff”.)
In the mix of gifts, treats, cards and other such things, I also have other choices to make. How will I hold fast to the importance that I place on Christmas (which differs from the majority of the population), while endeavouring to creatively consider your desires, interests and suggestions? To whom will I give my time and money? (To places like Wal-Mart or to local businesses?) Do I purchase things that add to the amount of “stuff” in a person’s life? Do any of us really need more stuff? (*George Carlin has a great rant about “stuff” that I highly recommend.)
Anyway, where does it end? This is not an easy balance to find.
A friend of mine believes that when you truly love someone, every day should be like Christmas. A theory to which I can subscribe, because to our knowledge, any day could contain our last opportunity to show love to those we want to receive it. (That thought process may seem a little morbid to some, but it’s one of the simplest ways to maximize our value of time. Stick with me here… I’m going somewhere.)
Another friend of mine articulated that Christmas “gets in the way”, which I can also definitely get behind as it recently took over my living room, basement, closet and much of the other space I work hard to create and enjoy. It also manages to get in the way of our schedules. Many of my close friends, when surveyed would honestly say that they would have postponed Christmas for another month or year this time around. “It just came so fast, I can hardly believe it.” This is what I heard over and over again from people who asked me the dreaded question of the season, only to have it fired right back at them: “SO, are you all ready for Christmas?” Well, are you? Because it’s coming. Again. The countdown is always on…
Right before this last holiday season began, I spent the day with some people who made some choices that resulted in them being incarcerated, wearing assigned outfits and having little other privileges in life at the time. On the way home, I overheard someone else complaining about having no new clothes to wear for Christmas and was tempted to adopt my previous Grinch-like attitude.
What to focus on… ? How to stay “merry” and let your heart be “light”? Sure, opportunities to show love abound. Grace and peace are relatively easy to pass on to others (most of the time) and many people I encountered in grocery store lines and other stressful places in December showed remarkable kindness. But sometimes deciding what to focus on can be incredibly difficult and for many, this includes some pretty serious challenges.
A few of my friends just spent their first Christmas without one of their parents. Another friend’s spouse and child are in a different Country, separated by miles of ocean. Others struggle to hide their depression or anxiety in order to appear “merry”, in effort to make others happy. And my Grandmother (my Nanny) spent her first Christmas without leaving the nursing home where she now lives.
To be perfectly candid, this is my first blog post in a long time because last year was pretty challenging for me too. In January of 2013 I felt physically better than ever, but could never have anticipated the journey of recovering from not one, but two car accidents in the last year. The first did a number on my spine and stole my ability to walk for a time (I found out what a disc protrusion feels like), and the second destroyed my car.
Through a series of fortunate events, I’ve been able to remain on the road to recovery and have maybe even learned some things that might ultimately take my perception of “better than ever” to the next level. Which is great! I feel the pulse of the New Year urging me forward as never before, in pursuit of new things and toward completion of old things too. I’ve found I have more to give to others than I had previously realized and I’ve become more determined than ever to love as never before – both inward and outward. But this discovery has come with a cost involving letting go of the idea of “giving everything I can to everyone” in favour of a new plan.
I must focus first on giving to myself, drawing from deep wells to replenish my energy and tend to the needs of my body until I feel, at minimum, “good”. Then, once feeling good the content of what I’m able to give outwardly increases exponentially! Thus, the new goal is to attain what I need not only to keep giving, but to also receive from and enjoy it. Therein lies my new holiday focus, complete with a new sense of balance. No debt. No obligation. Just giving and receiving. And more love!
In this process I’ve been learning a lot about the direct correlation between happiness and gratitude. Mostly that it is a choice.
Aside from the people who, as I once did, find only contempt with the holiday season as a whole, so many others choose to find reasons to be happy and grateful. They get excited to make memories at this time of year and focus on enjoying life with the people most important to them. Of course, this option is available to them any other given day, but for whatever reason, they’ve picked a particular time of year to let their heart be light and to focus on love. And as someone who enjoys seeing happiness valued and love expressed, this is something on which I feel I can capitalize. Why not seize this opportunity and respond to that openness with the intention of making the world a happier place? And why not endeavour to do so by decidedly giving something (a “Merry _____, Happy ____”, a good morning wish or a grateful smile) to every person who crosses our path? Even just an invisible ray of inner sunshine can brighten someone’s life but for a moment.
With this choice consistently present, why AREN’T we living every day like Christmas? What’s stopping us from adopting my friend’s theory that love can and should reign in our lives on a daily basis? Why do we feel that it has to be all or nothing – either we’re living our lives with a total focus on giving to everyone we love or busying ourselves with life so that we forget about expressing love altogether? (Or waiting for ‘occasions’ to show we care.)
Balance, for me, is found in small things. The conversations and texts and emails where I can interject gratitude for the people with whom I connect, who bring such great things into my life and who would be greatly missed, should one of us not wake up tomorrow.
My goals for this new year are big (including motorcycle riding, continuing to practice my new found love for Tai Chi, releasing the Renegade album that has been in progress for many years and working toward being more fit and healthy than I’ve ever been). But my ultimate goal is to daily love myself more than ever so that I can in turn love others more; thereby making the world somewhat better. Even by a percentage of a percentage of a degree. Because it’s worth it. Because if you’re not making the world a happier place, chances are…
Anyway, I know that both my own happiness and that of others largely depends on how much love I have to give. And so I’ll also employ the wisdom I gained last year after being twice injured and take care of myself first so that I will feel good enough to help others feel good too. I’ll endeavour to be happy so I have a chance at spreading happiness to others. I won’t wait for another holiday or birthday or special occasion to tell the amazing people I know how much they mean to me. I will endeavour to express this in many ways and as often as possible because this is the opportunity afforded by love and by my being alive today. And when the next Christmas season arrives, I’ll likely employ some creative efforts toward finding cool ‘methods of grateful expression’ for the ones I love. But hopefully, they will know this already. Hopefully this whole year can be like Christmas, without the stress. Hopefully, empathy will empower grace and peace to such a degree that my temptation to resort to my former Grinch-like behaviour will be overshadowed and gratitude will reign.
For what are you most grateful? Or rather, for whom? Have you told them, NOT at Christmas?
Try it, I dare you. And experience all the happiness that 2014 has to offer.