From my vantage point as a church musician, I see this every year, repeatedly; the pain of Christmas.
At first, I couldn’t understand. It’s supposed to be a fun time, a time of celebration, of light and color and meaning. A time of happiness and reflection and coming out of the regular auto-pilot day-chasing-day state of mind. Where is all this pain coming from?
The more people I talked with, a picture began to emerge. People were trying to play “their” part. I use the word Their in double quotes because objectively speaking, it is not theirs at all.
Christmas of Pain:
I was amazed at how people fell prey to this mass deception, to the point where they assumed the part that was never their’s to begin with.
This involved two major elements, very different from each other, but having one thing in common: Expectation:
Expectations that we have from others;
Expectations that we have from ourselves;
Expectations that we Believe that others have from us.
The first element in this picture of pain is family. The notion that this is a special time for family, gets easily out of proportions in a quickly spiraling manner. Thoughts such as:
- We need to have Uncle Joe over
- Last Christmas we had a nasty argument with Mary and we haven’t spoken since. What should we do? Is she expecting us to be calling her or should we expect her to be calling us?
- It’s not right that we keep inviting these people and they never invite us back.
And more and more torturous thoughts accompanied by emotions of anger, hesitation, pain and anxiety.
The second element in the picture of pain is money and also time. Here too expectations take center stage.
This is money that would be spent primarily on presents and travel. Time would be spent on writing cards and various other preparations.
For many, both money and time are scarce and yet in many peoples’ mind, this is one of Christmas’ demands. Some people even go into debt just to feel that they’re doing the right thing – that is – what they believe to be the right thing.
Our expectations, and our thoughts about others’ expectations, keep us enslaved to a self perpetuating system of self pain infliction.
We can choose – believe it or not – to stop playing this game – first of all with ourselves – and then with the rest of the people in our world. As long as each person continues to play their role – one which they hate playing – the show will never end.
Christmas of Healing:
One; It’s OK to disappoint someone. After all, many get disappointed even when we try our best to fulfill their dreams and wishes. Even when we do what we feel is the right thing and even when we do what we believe that others expects of us, someone could always get disappointed. Why should we blame ourselves? It’s counter productive, self hurting and solves nothing.
Two; ‘Perfect’ is what we decide it to be. If we have in our mind a picture of what a Perfect holiday would look like, rest assured that:
1) It’s possible that it won’t happen.
2) It’s likely that we’ll be suffering as a result of our fantasies of a ‘Perfect’ Christmas left unfulfilled.
Please remember this word: “Expectation”. It is one central key to our experience of pain. At the same time, realizing its presence is also a key to our healing from pain.
One good way of going about this would be to ask a simple question:
What if I drop all my expectations? Or in other words: what if I consciously let go of any attempt to control or achieve any particular outcome?
You may be amazed at where this very simple Pause and Inquiry takes you. Truly amazed.
See with yourself whether you can truly internalize the following:
1) We cannot be everything, for everyone, all the time. Trying to challenge this fundamental truth is certain to bring on suffering with all of its glory, in a range of nuances and varieties which includes painful feelings (anxiety, anger, frustration, disappointment, jealousy etc’) and painful thoughts.
2) It is OK to disappoint others, whether those are adults or children. Just like inflation, expectations keep building up from year to year. That means that every year more is expected of us and the pressure increases. That is – as long as we choose to cooperate with this trend and play this game.
Sooner or later we will be unable to continue this upward expectation trend. Why not stop now – this very Christmas? We can always find reasons (aka excuses) to start next year, but then we’ll be perpetuating the pain. Then next year we’ll come up with new reasons.
Now is the time.
There’s a wonderful aspect to stopping the gratifying upward trend:
We may not realize this, but the other person is under just as much pressure as we are. When we step down this hamster wheel and stop playing this game, the other people – possibly after being disappointed by us – feel that they too, do not need to be everything, for everyone, all the time. They too begin to step down the hamster wheel one by one.
The best part in all this, is that once the emotional/mental storm quiets down, there’s much less pain, pressure and caustic feelings/thoughts and you’d be amazed at how the entire Christmas dynamics shifts from on of stress and pain to on of acceptance and love.
Please do not expect these printed words that your eyes are now scanning, to reveal to you the true magnitude of what they suggest. Only a mind-shift and a first step in a new direction could possibly achieve that.