Embracing Ease this Holiday Season

As we come to the close of the year it is easy to get wrapped up (forgive the pun) in doing everything. So much so that we begin to experience less and less joy in the season. We get consumed by deadlines, vacation schedules, and school performances. There are holiday social and professional obligations, rites of passage, and traditions to observe. Whether we are active in our faith, film, or theater community there will be a moment when we are called to reflect on the meaning of the season. Perhaps meaning is something that transcends all belief systems.

Meaning that cozy, hygge awareness that the rush to do everything strips value from the small generosities that are available to us every day. There’s a lot of, “yes and,” thinking these days. We are no longer one thing we are able to be everything at once. If that feels wonderful to you I’m so glad. If, like me, it feels a little overwhelming to be all the things all the time then I hope you’ll join me in letting go of obligations while keeping the meaning this season. 

What is one thing you can let go of or at least put off? Could you send Valentines or New Year’s cards instead of holiday update letters? Could you make hot chocolate and watch a movie instead of a gingerbread house building day where you bake cookies from scratch? Or could you just buy the readymade kits with icing? How can you honor yourself and the season?

The goal of the holidays is not to “Win.” The only prize of this time of year is being fully present and enveloped in the moment. And we can only do that one instant at a time. Maybe you leave one box of ornaments in the basement this year. Maybe you bake the cookies from the freezer section. The memories are not in the complicated logistics. It is not by exhausting ourselves or exerting superhuman energy that we get to enjoy the holiday season. 

Many of us are opting for a simpler season and embracing ease. A more gentle close to the year that honors our celebrations and also our collective need for rest. Pushing ourselves to always perform or do more is a fast track to burn out. And when we are burnt out we are too tired to savor and enjoy.

So as we enter this holiday season I encourage you to embrace simplicity and ease. What is one less thing you can do? And if one seems too little, what five things can you take off of your list? Give yourself and your loved ones the gift of ease this season. Release yourself from the pressures to perform, host, and curate. Instead relax, read a holiday themed book, or watch a movie.

My gift to you is this space we share where my only wish is for your season to hold all the deepest meaning and joy with no effort whatsoever.

The Gift of Less

As we inch closer to towards the end of the year there is always this temptation to cram in as many events as we possibly can. I love the holidays and I love celebration. The opportunity to gather, connect, and rekindle friendships is so enchanting. However, it can be overwhelming to add more to our plates than we have to give. Not only are we inviting friends to join us but we are being invited elsewhere. Our schedules fill up quickly.

This year, as I stare at the twinkling lights on our tree – up before Thanksgiving because we are hosting our first holiday party on Saturday, I am reminded that there is never enough time for all of the things we want to do. There will always be one more party, call, or event.

The best advice I can offer when the list keeps growing is to give the gift of less. Pause. Consider, what’s one thing I can take off this list right now? What is one less thing that I can do to give myself space. What can I do less of in the year ahead?

This practice sounds simple. But it can be a real challenge when we’re involved in social life, our communities, and relationships. One way to dig deep is to consider what brings us joy? What truly delights you and enhances your life? When you consider the friends and events, it’s easy to get wrapped up in “tradition,” or what is comfortable.

In the new year I challenge you, and myself, to look at daily life. How do you spend a regular day? Does it feel nourishing and fulfilling? What tasks, people, or experiences fill you up and which feel draining. If a person, place, or activity is taking from your energy rather than filling you up – let it go!

It’s important to remember that no matter what we give to the world, our partners, or families and friends we need to keep a bit of ourselves for ourselves. Never give away that which you need. In fact, you are of no use to anyone, least of all yourself, if you are perpetually running on empty. Save some of you for you.

As you give back time an energy to yourself that it becomes easier to whittle away the things that have become obligations rather than joys. Even if you let go of something you later want back, nothing is permanent, everything is temporary. You’ll make mistakes, figure it out and move on. As you take away those things that no longer serve you, it creates space for the things that nourish, fill you up, and bring you joy. And that’s a new year worth getting excited about!

The Language of Ideas

The more I observe my mind and how it works the more I find language to be a filter for the ideas that I hold. An imperfect filter because it forces ideas to conform to its limitations and boundaries. An idea may be in colors and sounds but difficult to share if it cannot be made to fit into sentences and words.

Language is transformational – its formality conveys prestige and elegance – ideas that are meaningful but not by their definition but on the power, access, or status they imply. Language may be casual or coarse. It conveys personality, emotion, and region. We learn so much from another person when we listen to the way language drips from their tongues. 

Which is an interesting concept when we consider the ways in which we add an additional filter when we learn a new language. With new languages we learn different rules. We open up new ways of expressing ideas. Our first language may have been a less perfect tool for us to communicate. Like finally being able to describe the weather in an Inuit language that holds 50 different words for, “snow.” Or the specificity that one gains from colloquialisms based on what another culture values most. How we might relate better to one another if only our language filters were adjusted to provide even more transparency?

It also begs the question, if we need a language to share how might we be able to utilize our magnificent minds to communicate in the abstract? Through art? Movement and dance? Touch? Words are like scaffolding for dreams – without them we are unable to share our visions our dreams of what might be or what is possible now. We use them to give structure to the ideas we generate. Even those ideas not in a verbal framework but in an imagined dream. Ideas generated in colors, sounds. The small theaters of our minds forever workshopping strategies, plans, imagined scenarios, and makeshift streams of events. Strategizing how we become the version of ourselves that we imagine.

How phenomenal that we have utilized sound in this way, our bodies in this way, to communicate, to share, and to grow our influence in a world where we are all actors in a shared hallucination. This same idea that reality is a thing even though it does not appear the same to all of us. Even though we have a vast array of philosophies, values, and understandings. We long to share our thoughts and use language to communicate the desires of our minds, bodies, hearts. It’s simply phenomenal.

Preemptive Self-care

Taking care of my full self requires a multi-layered approach. This is not just exercise and rest, rinse and repeat. To take care of ourselves is not an afterthought or side hustle. It’s investing the same energy and attention we might give to a beloved pet or family member. We invest attention, energy, and resources into care and feeding of others. We deserve to do the same things for ourselves.

Oftentimes we run ourselves ragged – traveling for work, meeting the needs of family and friends, investing our time in activities that deplete us. It’s easy to do – our culture offers innumerable opportunities to entertain, distract, or sell us something. Making time to focus on deeply caring for our bodies and ourselves has become an intentional act. 

Caring for myself I like to start with basics. What does my daily routine look like and how could it better serve me? Am I losing time to scrolling and finding myself short on time later in the day? Yes. Completely, yes. Then I need to make a point to get to bed at a reasonable hour. That means a good night’s rest.

The next piece I notice is that I’m eating later in the morning, which gives my metabolism a late start. The best way to shift that is to eat earlier. That means meal planning. Outlining what I’m going to eat the day before, or even the week ahead (particularly when it comes to dinner time), is an investment in my wellbeing. 

We’re only two steps in and you’ll notice we’re talking about planning ahead, not aftercare. This is not recovery after you’ve already run yourself ragged. It’s noticing your patterns and taking the necessary steps to rearrange your day so that it works best for you. It can be incredibly frustrating to find yourself out of groceries or running late. But what if instead of finding fault in a single day you found a new routine that better suits your rhythms? Scheduling breaks when you need to rest keeps you from doom scrolling for half an hour. We all know our devices leave us mentally drained. As opposed to resting which allows us to come back refreshed and rejuvenated. 

The strategies above might not work for every person. But I have found that when I take the urgency out of making a quick decision now, I make better choices. It’s hard to decide what our next right thing is when we’re hungry, tired, or worn out. When I feel better I get make a healthful decision with future me in mind. Being intentional in my choices my days go a lot more smoothly.

When I make the time for myself, I decide when and how I need to be taken care of best. Investing my energy to make that happen I just feel better. I am better equipped to meet my own needs and that leaves me feeling more relaxed, happier, healthier, and pleased with the quality of my life. Small changes really do make a big difference! Let me know what you’ve tried recently that simply made your life better in the comments.

Building Healthy Relationships

Our first November flakes of snow here in the midwest. As the weather starts to turn my thoughts are on warmth and connection. We talk a lot about the importance of self-care and awareness. But in addition to our relationships with ourselves it is important to also build healthy relationships with others. People who encourage us to be our best selves. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn believes that we become most like the five people we spend the most time with.

When we look at our circle of friends often we build relationships by proximity. The kids we went to school with, people we meet at the office, or neighborhood friends become our closest confidants. Building relationships based on physical proximity makes sense. Your coworkers or neighbors are most likely to be there when you need help. However we also want to practice the first rule of improv – yes and.

Yes, we want to build friendly relationships with the people who live and work nearest us. AND we want to build bonds with people who support us to be our best selves. With whom do you connect most deeply? When we surround ourselves with people who live nearby it’s important to asses if we share their opinions and values. When we spend time with people who don’t share our beliefs we may be tempted to, “Fit in.”

Finding people whose values we agree with and whose attitudes we admire may be challenging. But it is important to seek those relationships out so that we might become the best version of ourselves. We become our most authentic selves not by constantly having to prune back our opinions. We come our best selves by being surrounded by people who encourage us to dig deeper. Nourishing relationships fill our days with opportunities to enhance our lives and our interests rather than distract from them. We want to spend time with people who have our best interest at heart and who embrace and accept us exactly as we are. Within these relationships we find opportunities to grow and develop into the fullest, most beautiful and authentic versions of ourselves. 

If the relationships you are in do not meet these criteria, it may be time to consider where you last felt seen, valued, and supported. Then circle back to those people and relationships that felt the truest and best. Self-care is surrounding ourselves with loving people who encourage our growth and support us in our times of need. Give yourself the gift of being surrounded by nurturing connections and see how it transforms your life.

Let’s Not Do All the Things

I delegate to avoid over stress and it starts with asking questions. When I was growing up there was a wonderful couple that our family befriended at church. They exercised Elizabeth Ann Seton’s philosophy, “To live simply so that others might simply live.” Taking this credo so much to heart that that they purchased some land in the Pennsylvania mountains and lived off of the land – no electricity, no running water. The Amish in the surrounding communities used to bring their children to visit the O’Hagan’s small farm to show them what “roughing it,” was like. And while this couple lived in a small cabin in the woods, that they had built with their own hands, they still found time to welcome friends and share their experiences with others. 

As a young woman I would write them letters with whatever challenge I was facing. I relied on them and their advice to guide me to the best choices. One challenge that I found particularly difficult was that of feeling overwhelmed. I felt conflicted and challenged by family obligations, work expectations, and school. I was working full time, earning my Master’s degree, and attempting to make my own path in a new city. Writing to Daniel and Marcia I asked, “How do I do all of these things all at once? What am I missing?” Their advice, like their lifestyle, was quite simple. There were three touchpoints to their guidance. 

  1. What things are necessary? 
  2. What things are necessary but can be done by someone else?
  3. What things are necessary but only you can do? 

These three simple questions not only helped put all of my to-do items into perspective. It also very quickly put them into order. Because that which is not necessary very quickly falls away. This immediately makes the scope of work smaller.

Second, that which you can delegate must be given away. We often don’t want to let go of control. We believe ourselves to be the best and only person for every job. However, if you can let someone else do it then you must. If only because you are unable to move forward if you are holding on to everyone else’s responsibilities. You are limiting yourself and the people in your life by not trusting them. Delegating allows others the opportunity to rise to the occasion. Let go of the things that other people can do so that you have the space, time, and energy to do the work that is necessary and only you are capable of doing.

And finally third, that which only you can do is on your list. After following steps one and two you’ll find this list is incredibly short. It’s surprising to consider only the things that you yourself are able to do. The things that rise to the top of the list are much more important than anything on lists one and two anyway. They are things like – love your family, show up for your friends birthday party, and have the difficult but necessary conversation with a loved one. 

These big tasks quickly fall to the bottom when we are bogged down by tasks that are not ours to handle. Once we let go of the unnecessary we suddenly have time for the things that really matter – our relationships, our selves, and life. Only I can live my life and only you can live yours. Let’s not do all the things. Instead let’s focus on what important things are ours to do and what we can forget or delegate

Mature Relationship Needs

In relationships it is often easy to lose track of balance. It’s easy to find yourself in the midst of long term relationships that do not reflect your current awareness of your own value and worth. As we grow and change we sometimes find ourselves in the midst of mature relationships with people we did not so much choose as those who exist within our social or professional proximity. When we recognize that the relationships we are in no longer serve us, the good news is, just because a relationship is long standing doesn’t mean you have to stay in it. Below are some common challenges in mature relationships and some suggestions in how to proceed. I hope these strategies serve you!

Take Up Space

You are allowed to take up space. Any relationship that is predicated upon your being supportive to another person while taking no support for yourself is unhealthy. It’s time renegotiate the terms of the relationship. In relationships both parties deserve to have their needs met. Bending over backwards to assist someone else while they absorb your generosity and offer nothing in return is not a reciprocal or healthy relationship. If your relationship is entirely in service to someone else, that is not a relationship, that is a job. You need to quit unless you willingly plan to volunteer your energy, time and expertise for someone else’s gain.

Keep Some For Yourself

If the conversation is never allowed to be about you, it’s time to reconfigure your attention. Pouring into someone who can never get enough of themselves is a loosing proposition. You will continue to give. They will continue to absorb. And you will have nothing left for yourself. Instead, focus your attention on friends who may in fact reciprocate your care, love, and attention. When you realize that you have come in contact with a relationship vampire it is best to let that relationship go. We give in our relationships but we always keep some of ourselves to ourselves. Just ask Dolly Parton.

Accept Healthy Attention

If a person only notices your absence when it is in relation to their wants and desires, chances are they are not in relationship with you. They are in relationship with with a service you once provided. When someone only wants to get together when they have a task to be completed, they are looking for staff not friendship. Expecting you to be prepared to help them, while being disinterested and unavailable for events that are meaningful to you, they are using you. This person only wants to assure that your attention remains focused on them and their needs while refusing to meet your needs at all. 

Avoid Manipulation

Anyone who threatens to abandon you or your relationship because it no longer meets their exact specifications is using fear to manipulate you into complying with their wishes. Do not fall prey to this tactic or you will continue to feed an insatiable hunger. Time spent together should be reciprocal and involves both people giving their time and attention to one another. Sharing connection is a gift that allows your bond to flourish and grow. When you find yourself planning parties, trips, and adventures for another person and are then told that, “you’re so hard to buy for, I didn’t get you anything.” OR, “Thank you for the thoughtful gifts, trips, and parties you threw for me but I am unable to return that favor.” This person has chosen this behavior. Unless you change your willingness to cooperate they will continue to take advantage of your kindness.

Make Healthy Choices

Giving to other people in relationships is a choice we make. We can be confused by the difference between sharing our love with others and giving to others so that they might like us in return. It is possible that we have lost our way. When we consider ourselves unlovable, we are willing to accept any connection, even when it does not meet out needs. Perhaps, our sense of self-worth was the problem all along – believing we are worthy and deserving of love and attention. Below please find a list of mantras to support you as you evaluate your mature relationships.

I am worthy of love, attention, and affection.

I am allowed to be the center of attention.

I am deserving of fun.

I deserve to be loved, cared for, and supported. 

I want people in my life who care for me and not just what I can do for them.

I want friends and family that know and love me exactly as I am.

I get to choose my friends and family and I will chose those who love me for being myself.

I have intrinsic value. I am magic already. I will find friends who can see, appreciate, and celebrate me.

Give Yourself the Gift of More Rest

I have been feeling somewhat under the weather lately, nothing more than a little fall cold. As my immune system goes into battle it brings to mind the phrase – starve a fever, feed a cold. Has anyone else heard this old saying? For me it always makes me crave wonton soup. Because whenever I am not feeling well the last thing I want to do is cook. So it’s takeout for me so I can give myself the gift of more rest.

That said, as we’re heading into cold and flu season let me first remind you to get your flu shot and any boosters due. Take care of yourself and your health first. Secondly, rest. Typically when I start feeling sick I rush to get a ton of items off of my to do list. My worry over how long I’ll be feeling unwell and not wanting to be without any needed supplies leads to a surge of activity. I’m ordering groceries, preparing large meals so there’s something left to freeze, shooting off emails, and ordering tea. These are all helpful steps but sometimes what we need is not to rush headlong into exhaustion, on top of not feeling our best. 

The most generous gif the can give ourselves when we start feeling a little down is rest. To lay down, put on a movie and cuddle up on the couch. You don’t have to solve every problem or take care of every little detail (your Christmas list will write itself when the time comes). Just cozy yourself, grab a blanket, a good book, and fall asleep reading it. 

Look, I’m not a doctor but I do know that when your body is fighting off illness one of the best things you can do for it is give it the energy it needs. Order Chinese, eat some hot soup, and sleep it off. I don’t know the science to it but it will help you to feel better. I’ll look up the science too if that will make you feel better. After you read it, take a good long nap. Get a little rest tonight, go to be early, have a good sleep. And see if everything doesn’t look just a little bit better in the morning, your Christmas list included. 🙂

Fall Contentment and Cookery

As the leaves begin to turn and the air takes on a bittersweet tinge of coolness I find myself called to comfort, hygge, reflection, and gratitude. Instead of rushing towards whatever comes next or pursuing or manifesting, or doing any of the things that are future based, this time of year brings me uniquely to where I am now. A Nancy Myers, Norah Ephron, dreamscape comes to mind. I am not interested in pursuing something else. Focused on contentment – I appreciate all I have and my gratitude to be here in this moment.

I recently read “The Monkey’s Paw,” a haunting short story by W.W. Wells. A friend mentioned it in conversation as required high school reading – not in my high school! So I promptly requested the book from the library. The book found its way into my hands just in time for the haunting pre-Halloween season. I read the short story with relish and it’s message rings true – to be grateful and happy for all we have rather than pushing for even more. 

To be clear, this is NOT an excuse to stay in a crummy job or unhealthy relationship. I am only suggesting that sometimes we forget the greatness of the moment by always looking to the future. My in-laws recently delivered an abundance of late season tomatoes to my doorstep. When I say abundance, think bankers box full of romas! I spent an entire day in the kitchen, roasting tomatoes and drying herbs, baking zucchini bread and generally preparing for the months ahead. 

In fall I love to bake and cook. I made tomato soup from scratch, Swedish meatballs, and merengues. When one recipe calls for an egg yolk, it is only appropriate to use the other half of the egg for cookies. I wear my great grandmother’s apron and invite my children into the kitchen to help. We listen to music and dance in the kitchen. The taste of a good batch of soup, the gratitude I feel that my partner does the dishes while I wipe down the counters is magic. 

This ritual is as healing as it is healthful. I get to be cozy in my kitchen, preparing meals that nourish and satisfy our family’s needs. The easier the better! When the meal is complete and we only need heat it up I feel as if I have given a true gift to my future self. 

Therefore as we welcome the new season and begin the process of creating hygge in our homes, hunkering down for the long winter months. I am celebrating the harvest and delighting in the abundance of our garden. Filling our freezer with delicious homemade meals that will make us feel rich, happy, and well fed. I prepare recipes that remind me of my own childhood. Those traditions ground me. This season will bring everything I need and more. I am not looking for anything additional – I am simply savoring all that I have. I do not need any wishes or a magical talisman, I have everything I need right here. And if you were to look around, I suspect you do too! 

Remember to Ask for Help

In a crisis, I usually handle things. I’m an expert at putting off the emotional part of a situation in order to make quick, decisive choices. I do well in this role but it is not sustainable. Making difficult decisions with authority is a skill I have honed throughout my life. However, that which makes me a quick first call also works in reverse when the trauma is my own.

When my brother passed away unexpectedly in our late twenties I was devastated and shut down. I took a month off of work, posted a note to facebook with information regarding his services and I handed my phone to my partner. I couldn’t take in any more information, I was overwhelmed. It turns out those things were all important choices. Even in chaos, I managed to do what I needed most – remember to ask for help.

Go where you are safe

The best thing I did for myself was knowing that I needed support.  I went to my Grandmother’s house where I stayed… for a month. I needed family and I needed support. Surrounded by people I love and the nurturing that I needed most gave me space to recover. Reaching out to include others in my situation, opened the door to love and connection. This allowed others to be of service and to help – that is a gift.

Share what you can

I posted the information to social media. This communicated  all the relevant information to extended friends and family without my needing to be, “on,” or the resource for information. Simply click and follow, the tools were in everyone’s hands. They knew where I was going to be and had the opportunity to engage as much or as little as they wanted or were able.

Be present in the moment

I took in less and less information. Absorbing less allowed me to process what was happening in the present. I was in the moment and moving forward one step at a time. The loss was unbearable and yet I was fully present and engaged in the experience of living.

While I don’t wish trauma or pain on anyone else. I do know that we all have our burdens and challenges to face. When we face obstacles it is imperative to take care of ourselves by letting others support us and help us to carry our load. This allows us to share not only our pain but also, our joy. Being engaged with our community is what will sustain us in our darkest hours. Help others to help you by remembering these three simple steps to feeling supported and sustained – whatever your challenges may be. 

Remember to ask for help. If you are experiencing grief there are many tools out there, including professional help and guidance to help you process your loss.