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The End of Christmas

The end of Christmas as I knew it started with a family meeting, 30-something years ago. Let’s say in 1986. My Mom called a meeting to discuss Christmas. That was all I knew. This was odd. A family meeting? I was on edge. At a family meeting many years before, my folks had announced that we were all moving. That meeting ended in tears.  What was this one about? I remember sitting around the living room in Summit, New Jersey, with my brother and sister, while Mom made her bold announcement: there were going to be some changes. Christmas was not going to be the same anymore. From now on, we would not be giving (and receiving) gifts. No. Mom just didn’t have the energy for all that anymore. She was on a personal growth spurt and had realized she wanted something more meaningful, less stressful. In place of the usual gifts, we were now to give “gifts of the heart,” she explained. And so, the Christmas of my childhood faded into memory and a new Christmas experience began to emerge.

I wasn’t sure about this new Christmas. First of all, I liked the gifts. I kind of depended on them. To be honest, back then Christmas was one of the only times of the year when I felt really loved. But I had to agree that I felt lots of pressure to buy enough gifts – and suitable gifts – for everyone. It wasn’t easy. So at least part of me was on board with this new Christmas. And as it turned out, this new Christmas was pretty awesome. Wonderful gifts of heart were offered and received. My brother sang a song. I cooked a family meal. It was great. I think we all felt that these new gifts touched on something a little deeper, a little more in line with the spirit of the holiday. And, I have to add, my siblings and I received a cash gift from our parents, in place of the gifts. Still, it took a little getting used to.

It turned out that that year’s Christmas meeting was just the first in a series of course adjustments that my folks introduced over the coming years. The next was the introduction of family conference calls, just after Thanksgiving, at which we were to share what we wanted to experience, or create, that year at Christmastime. This was in the 1980’s, so a family conference call was pretty cutting edge. Grandma was probably calling in using her rotary dial phone! I remember mom introducing the question: what would everyone like to do this year for Christmas? Then, awkward silence and awkward attempts at naming things. Mostly, I think my siblings and I just wanted to stay in the “child” role. We wanted the adults to make all the decisions, just like they’d always done. And being invited into the co-creator, adult role was uncomfortable. Some of us caved: “whatever you want to do will be fine with me.” Others boldly stated exactly what they wanted! It was the beginning of a new level of communications in the family, an initiative that still bears fruit for us all every time we get together.

If these first attempts at creating a more intentional, conscious holiday experience were a bit awkward, it has gotten much easier over the years. These days, it is pretty easy for all of us to chime in with our wants at holiday time. I always want to go for a walk in the redwoods, if visiting my folks in California. My brother’s family has a tradition of singing carols that they enjoy. There’s still sometimes a challenge to harmonizing all the input that comes in but we have a much more conscious holiday season.

Setting intentions is an integral part of living more consciously, more mindfully. My childhood family had been on a combination of auto-pilot, doing what we always do every year, and just going with the flow. The adults did the planning and their children enjoyed it all (or complained). We were all going through the holiday more or less unconsciously. And the great thing about intention is that it invites us to live consciously, and through conscious living to co-create the life we are most wanting to live. The first step is conscious awareness of our intentions in every situation.

I believe that we are always operating out of an intention. The question is whether that intention is conscious? When we go to the grocery store, are we hoping to check out the produce or the other shoppers? Is the intention to be economical or to buy the healthiest choices, no matter the cost?  What is our intention? Do we even know? Are we owning one intention while actually motivated by subconscious intentions? Why am I shopping at Whole Foods? Is it because I believe they have healthier food or because I like what it says about me that I shop there? Is it a bit of both? Are there other intentions that are operating but which I deny? Are some of my intentions hiding in my personal shadow? To the extent that our intentions are not yet conscious, bringing them into conscious awareness makes a huge difference.

Conscious intention setting is a key to mindful living. It’s one of the ways that we take our mindfulness practice into daily life. It takes energy to set and hold an intention. Those conversations my folks initiated required some determination not to cave and a willingness to respond to resistance to change from the family. I encourage you to think about the coming holiday season and to set some intentions for yourself. While you don’t have to make radical changes like my mom did, just being more intentional about how you spend your time and energy will help you create the experience you are most wanting to have.

To begin intention setting we might begin by asking ourselves some questions to clarify what kind of holiday experience we’re wanting. You will probably have your own questions. I like to use these. And I’ve added some possible answers to flesh out the exercise a bit.

What do I most want to DO this year at the holidays (try to name specifics)?
I want to do some cooking. I have some new recipes to try and I want to cook some of the traditional favorites for the big family meal.
I want to eat healthily. I want to get in some exercise time every day, even if it’s only a long walk.
I want to make a point of getting at least 8hrs of sleep every night.

With whom and where do I most want to spend my time this holiday?
I want to spend time with these family members (a, b, c, d, e, f, g, and h).
I want to decline to spend time, if possible, with j, k, l, and m.
I’d like to spend time with these close friends: q, r, s, t,  and x.
I would prefer not to go downtown (I associate it with work).

What levels of intimacy and interaction will most nourishing for me?
There are a few people with whom I’d like to have a real heart-to-heart. It’s been so long since we really connected. I want to have quality 1:1 time with a, b, j, q, and t. On the other hand, if that one branch of the family comes (and I hope they won’t), then I’d like to have something light and fun to do while we’re with them.

What experience or experiences do I most want to create for myself?
It’s been a long year, so I want to feel relaxed and peaceful for a change. I need a break from the stress of my usual routine. I’d like to come away feeling really connected to a few key friends and family members that I most resonate with. I’d like to return to work afterwards feeling rejuvenated and excited for the coming year.

I hope you’re coming up with some ideas for how you’d like to spend your holiday time. If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section! In a couple weeks I’ll be posting some ideas on New Year’s resolutions – another occasion for intention setting!

Wishing you a joyous and renewing Holiday Season!

Bill

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A New Year’s Offer: Spiritual Life CoachingBill Epperly, PhD

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