Don't Be a Grinch: How to Avoid the Secret Pitfall of the Holiday Season
The holidays are about giving
With the end of the year swiftly approaching, we are plummeted into an interesting clash of energies that is particular to the holidays. On one side we have occasions to spend more quality time with those we love and often don't see, to re-connect with things and people forgotten and also to spread generosity to those less fortunate. To go explore, to relax and rejuvenate and to reflect on the death of the old and the birth of the new.
In truth, these things are in line with the natural processes going on around us.
On the other side of the coin, though, is the massive push by modern capitalism and all of the "doing" that the holidays have become known (and sadly, a little despised) for: commitments, parties, shopping, shopping, shopping, travel, and so on. Unfortunately, myself included, when the holidays come around it's at first more of a "Oh boy here we go again" feeling with all the hubbub that's to be expected.
For most of us with demanding careers and an already full plate of responsibilities, we just can't wait for it all to be over and have some down time to watch paint dry for a few days.
But, as I am often reminded, the true strength of your character and skills are only relevant when there's pressure.
It's easy to be grateful when everything in your life is working. It's easy to be present when you are sitting out in the middle of nowhere, completely unplugged and in awe at the magnificence and miracle this world is. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with any of that either. You should always have times and situations in your life that make it easy to be grateful because gratitude is as important as flossing your teeth - integral to health but often forgotten.
The real test, or rather the golden opportunity, arises when we are in the middle of all the nonsense. All the push, all the rush, all the responsibilities. The failures, the pressure. These day to day battles are golden opportunities to sharpen your tactical response to life's constant challenges.
And truthfully the mettle of your gratitude, or any virtue, is about tactics.
In war there is strategy and there are tactics. Strategy is your overall plan, tactics are the actions on the battle field dealing with the heat of the moment. They are both important in ensuring victory and one cannot exist without the other.
Now, granted, there's no glorious wars to be won here, but if we keep the metaphor going for a while longer - there is a war going on inside each and every one of us, every day. That war is between getting stuff done and just being present to what's there.
Especially during the holidays, this right now is the perfect example.
What the holidays are truly about have nothing to do with what gets done, what gets bought, where you need to go, and so on. The quality of our lives is given by the quality of our relationships, so ultimately everything we do is just a means to the common end we all actually want: to spend quality time with those we love and that love us.
But it's easy to forget when we are bombarded with responsibilities and actions, goals, deadlines and the push of the holidays.
What's worse, though, is these frantic energies don't just make us forget about the true meaning of the holidays - we get so caught up that we flip our attitude, and state of being, altogether.
If it's one thing I've tried to do in my life in the past few years, it is to try to be less "black and white" about things - but, unfortunately, when it comes to our states of being they are indeed very black and white.
This is something profoundly simple yet profoundly important, because if you get this you will have a window into observing yourself and adjusting before you slide off the deep end.
There is no middle road between happiness and suffering. Between shortage and gratitude. Between love and fear. We are either in one sphere or the other. How far off the deep end (in either direction) you are is just a matter of habits. One of Albert Einstein's most famous quotes goes something like, "You can either live your life like everything is a miracle or nothing is."
When I said gratitude is about tactics, I mean that it is about applying it to the daily challenges to your state of being that constantly come up in life and effectively flipping those situations. Part of being a good tactician in your personal war for happiness and fulfillment is recognizing those opportunities and the other part is doing something with them.
Jim Carrey had a famous commencement speech on how our lives boil down to two drives for action: Love or Fear. Check it out below because it sums up how our states of being ultimately boil down to something very black and white.
So, with that, what is the main issue, the main challenge to our holiday spirit, that comes up during this frantic free-for-all season? The main obstacle that prevents us from truly living and experiencing what the holidays are about?
What is shortage thinking? That something isn't enough. There's not enough time, not enough money, that you or someone is not enough of something, so on and so on. It's a vibration - a state of being - that life is somehow insufficient.
It can start as a simple thought in your mind as you check the clock on your way out and realize you are running late, "Shit, not enough time." Then you get in your car and you realize you are low on gas, "Shit, not enough gas." You pull over to get gas and because you're already a little primed that life is not enough, you see the cost for premium and you think, "Jesus when the hell did it get that expensive," and shake your head as you fill up regretfully.
You get back in the car and right before the freeway there's a guy holding a sign, "Happy Holidays, disabled vet, anything will help." If life was enough and you weren't rushing maybe this guy would have caught a break but today he's just going to freeze his ass off because if there's not enough time and gas is so expensive today, surely there's nothing in my bank account for some random stranger.
Sadly, I write from experience. There's plenty of homeless dudes that haven't gotten anything from me because of similar micro-transactions in my day-to-day life.
Shortage thinking doesn't mean you have to be caught in some major psychological issue that you or the world isn't enough. Shortage thinking is a low-grade infection that everyone suffers from and is always present because circumstances are always present and, we are human.
Part of being human is getting stuff done, and in the process of getting stuff done we will always be confronted with shortage because what we want to get done and how that mixes with the unpredictable circumstances of the world will always cause a mismatch, which creates problems and suffering.
We forget to be present and instead burn through our to-do list action item by action item
eventually getting exhausted and annoyed at life and the people around us.
Getting "through" the holidays becomes the goal of the holidays more than it being in the holidays.
We overspend, get the wrong item and have to return it, get items late, forget to wrap this or that, something breaks, or some other materialistic mishap and suddenly the need to conserve and preserve kicks in.
So on and so on. The holidays are a time for lots of action and where there are humans in action there are problems shortly behind them.
But it doesn't have to be that way because, ultimately, problems are a human design and nothing else. The Christmas lights not working is not a problem for my Christmas lights. It's not the LED outlets' problem that they don't fit my outlets even though they are super freaking awesome and I have been waiting for them for 2 weeks, it's my problem.
And just as they are a human design, so easily can problems be un-designed by humans.
The key to helping you weather the holidays (pun not intended) is to use this time of hustle and bustle to fine tune your sense of observation.
This time is a great opportunity to build our tactical observation of our consciousness and practice returning to presence and gratitude for the things around us.
When things are going great, or even just comfortable, when there are few commitments, few action items, little goals and few expectations - it is very easy to be present or grateful. You don't have a lot of practice opportunities and challenges. In fact I would challenge you to look at your life and if you are comfortable or "fine" - I'm going to assert there's areas where you could be living more full out and inspired in, because when you truly are present and grateful - you feel alive and radiating outward.
It's in these times when there's rushing around and goals that constantly challenge our gratitude because it is a human mechanism to attach to outcomes, fear failure, evaluate risk, conserve energy and so on. Practicing being a mindful observer of your state of being when this mode kicks in is one of the best practices you can develop, because this is the first stage before more significant things settle in.
You probably have heard that your thoughts become things, or the law of attraction or something of the like. If you consider that your body is like a lake and that every thought creates a ripple - thoughts eventually become actions if they are repeated enough, and actions if repeated enough become habit, habit if repeated enough starts to form our character and character manifested over a lifetime creates your destiny.
Your thoughts are linked to your destiny, so the sooner you learn to observe and adjust them the easier it is to stay in that sphere of generosity, gratitude and, ultimately, happiness.
Being a little late means nothing, but as portrayed in the story above - that kind of attitude is like a seed that starts to feed off of all future circumstances in your life and if left unchecked eventually you are pissed off about life, bitter or resentful, cynical or any other such more serious state of being and you don't know why.
For me personally, I am very much a "get it done" kind of person. Type A. There's nothing I enjoy more than making a list and checking it twice. In fact my board has over 10 projects I want to get to this break - OCD stuff like indexing the cost of all my groceries so I know how much I spend on my meals to creative things like planning videos and projects with friends for next year.
One of the things I have to constantly remind myself of while I do all these things is to be present, to come from a space of gratitude and to be generous - because all of those things are challenged when you want to accomplish more than just the status quo.
I find myself watching for thoughts like, "This is to expensive" or "Damnit, I'm late" and their impact on my state of being, because personally those things add up over the course of a day and then suddenly I'm finding myself annoyed, not creative and just low altogether.
Watching your thoughts and dismissing the meaning and trigger that your brain automatically assigns to a situation is key for developing good habits and maintaining your happiness, and it happens with the little things.
That said, it is definitely a mastery that takes time to build and sometimes it's just not that easy. I've had my share of a few odd days where I just wasn't myself, but thanks to a few habits I've developed and am trying to continually develop, I was able to get out of before the hole got bigger.
I'll be writing another post about this very soon, but the key to supporting your mastery of self-observation and avoiding shortage thinking is working in habits that help you be present, generous and grateful. Things like getting in tune with your creativity, praying, making gratitude lists, even taking care of plants - all of these simple habits can help steer the ship back to tranquil waters.
For now, don't be a Grinch like Ina's dog up there and let the hustle and bustle of the holidays pull you into frantic, shortage thinking. Take a moment to breathe, take a moment to see the miracle of life, enjoy the weather, some hot chocolate and, most importantly, be generous with those around you both loved ones and strangers.