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!

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.

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.

Taking Care

“Treating ourselves like precious objects makes us strong,” according to Julia Cameron. This has been a week of taking care of myself. It’s small things really. Little gifts that enhance the quality of life for the better. Buying myself flowers at the grocery store. I bought dahlia’s and floral cabbages from Canada and put them into an arrangement. I purchased the foods I like to eat – the delicious treats that I don’t often allow myself because I am purchasing something for someone else. Or buying what someone else likes instead of what pleases me. I’ve noticed somethings – first of all, I’m happier. I like my choices and it feels good to be taking care of myself first. The other bit I did not suspect or anticipate – everyone else in my house is happier too. 

I picked up sushi because it delights me. It’s a little pricey so we don’t have it all the time. However, because I got some for myself, I was also able to share some with my family. Everyone was in a better mood. I got to feel like a benevolent goddess for sharing and everyone else was pleased and surprised. Today, I made a caprese salad platter for lunch. I had enough to share and the entire family ended up eating it together. It wasn’t a super fancy indulgence, we had tomatoes, salami, and I picked up bread and a nice mozzarella. I tell you this because it wasn’t like I dropped $400 at the store on expensive treats. I just bought small things to compliment what we already had and it brought us all together.

Not one person these past few days has complained about the meal. No one has decided to “Make a sandwich.” Instead of eating dinner. Everyone is happier when I share some of the delectable delights that I had intended to enjoy on my own. This was not an intentional experiment. It wasn’t some grand idea or strategy. It was simply a desire to meet my own needs. A recognition that so many of us don’t know what we like because we are so focused on pleasing other people. We do this so often and so thoroughly that we don’t even know what we like. And that made me sad. It made we want to know more about myself and what brings me joy. And it turns out that when I take better care of me – I’m actually taking care of everyone else. 

It’s like that parenting adage that if you want to help your children, get yourself to therapy. The answer is not in healing them or fixing some outside issue. The answer to to heal yourself first. Meet your needs so that others don’t have to bear the burden of your lack. Give yourself an abundance of love and empathy so that when others come to you there is an abundance of love, support, and energy already filling you up. Only when you are full are you able to give. So if you need me I’ll be planning my own vacation and making more time to paint. The good of the world rests on my shoulders and I am not one to shirk responsibility. I hope you make some time to do some good and wonderful things for yourself too!

Aligning with Purpose

Today I release myself from obligations and expectations. Instead I hold space for myself here where I am right now. I am free to love myself, support myself, nurture and nourish myself exactly as I am. Exactly where I am now. A lot of time when I’m scrolling on social media I feel overwhelmed by a list of items I need, “to do,” that only seems to grow. It feels as if I am being sucked into a vortex of tasks I don’t wish to complete. Lacking bandwidth, I have no time to take on any task I might enjoy or hope to do for myself. And isn’t that always the way? The tasks for school or kids, family or dinner, those items get done first and the labors of love the work towards our hopes dreams and passions falls by the wayside as frivolous or unnecessary. 

And that’s truly the worst part of it all. We convince ourselves that the goals, passions, interests, and nourishing practices that we have are supplemental rather than necessary. We shame ourselves into not creating space for those things that truly bring us alive and align with our purpose. These simple generosities are not small and they are not superfluous – they are necessary and the most important work we do in life. 

We need beauty as well as bread. We are not born onto this planet to labor, pursue wealth or power or relevance, and then die leaving behind an empty or shallow void. We are here to blossom, grow, create, and love. We are here to help one another. There is no prize for being, “right.” And separating yourself from those who are struggling does not make you stronger. In fact it shows the rest of the world your weakness. Love and compassion are brave and bold pursuits – they are likely the only worthwhile accomplishments there are for us in life. 

We are not here to, “win.” In fact our lives may be worse off if we do succeed based on the shallow standards set for us by society. To rise to the highest and most hallowed halls of success is seemingly synonymous with self-abandonment. The sacrifice of our values and dreams in order to obtain power, wealth, or prestige. And those seem like lovely things don’t they? To have so much wealth we are safe, so much money we need not fear being unable to provide for our families. To have so much power no one could harm us. But when you break down these goals they are all based in fear. They are all based in scarcity. Who are we afraid of harming us? Who are we afraid will take our resources or safety? Wouldn’t it be far more effective to simply surround ourselves with trust, safety, and love? 

And even if we live in places that feel unsafe or insecure, for whatever reason, couldn’t we still offer love to ourselves? Couldn’t we begin by giving ourselves the pleasures and kindnesses we crave? The following quote is attributed to Mother Theresa of Calcutta. “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Aren’t we our family? Doesn’t this mean that we also need to love and take care of ourselves? Once we feel secure and sustained then we can share ourselves wholly with others – unafraid of the harm, danger, fear, etc. because those things may happen. We may get hurt. To help a loved one may require a sacrifice on our part of time, energy, resources. 

The thing is though when we deeply nourish ourselves we are not coming from a position of scarcity or fear. We are coming full and deeply nourished. We bring ourselves as cups full enough to overflow. And when we are asked to assist or support someone else we are not pouring from empty reserves, we are giving from our abundance. We are giving from a wealth of energy, wellness, and kindness. We have chosen to serve ourselves to give ourselves all that we need to thrive. Because we have been so generous to ourselves, we have more than enough to share and give to others.

Doesn’t that then lift you up too? To know that you are not only helping yourself but your family, friends, the world by simply being kind to yourself. Take that which you need and want most. It is not frivolous. Instead recognize that giving to yourself is the best thing you can do. That silly fun adventure you’ve been putting off is exactly what you should be doing with your time, energy, resources. Love yourself and love the world by being kinder and giving yourself exactly what you want and need, more fun, more joy, more love.

Follow Your Own Path

I recently caught up with a friend and got to talking about her child. He decided to switch schools his junior year because he found that the big name, big city school he had chosen and where he thrived – this kiddo is outgoing and chock full of personality. But he found he didn’t feel comfortable there.  So he transferred to a smaller school in a more rural area, closer to home. He has one year of school left and I am incredibly proud of him and the parenting it took to get him to this place. 

Oftentimes we stay in a role – a job, a school, a community – that doesn’t fit us. Not because we love it so much but out of fear for what comes next. We fear leaping in case the net might not appear. And so we stay in situations that are not optimal simply because we are comfortable. Or maybe we’re not comfortable but we know what to expect where we are. Whereas making a change will make the demand on us to learn something new. 

New is scary and overwhelmingly people don’t like change. As Freddy Allen once said, “Everyone wants something different but nobody wants to change.” It’s scary when we aren’t sure what comes next. When we’re considering a big or dramatic change in our lives it’s important to nurture ourselves. Give yourself space, time, kindness. Don’t power through or push ahead if where you are is not the right place. Give yourself the grace to listen to your intuition and only go where it leads.

Trust yourself. Lean into what makes you happy and see what happens. You don’t have to uproot your life, sometimes serendipity does the work for you. Let the universe do it’s work, accept the blessings that come your way and follow where the path leads. Trust your joy. When you’re laughing and having fun, maybe that’s your sign that you’re doing the best thing for you.

There doesn’t always have to be a job offer or a transactional benefit. Sometimes goodness just falls into your lap and you’ve got to be there to catch it. Let your light shine and be your most authentic self. Authenticity is how you draw the wonderful people you want in your life closer to you. Trust the universe, let it take the lead and guide to to where it wants you to go. It’s ok to be the passenger sometimes. When it’s time to move over to the driver’s seat, you’ll know. When the time comes you’ll be ready.

Be Your Own Hero

What we choose to focus on and give our attention to will be our perspective. If we fixate on what offends us that is all we will see in the world. Much like when watching television you are in control of the channel. If you don’t like what’s on, you have the right and the responsibility to change it. Choose your your viewpoints rather than be pressed or depressed by them. Norah Ephron wrote, “Always be the heroine of your own story, never the victim.”

We often get caught up in the idea of a knight in shining armor. A Robin Hood, that will waltz in at the right moment to save us from our fates. But as President Obama once said, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” It’s us. We are the ones who are going to have to do the work of saving ourselves and of making our own lives more beautiful.

The first step is looking honestly at your life and deciding if there is something you can change. If you have conflict that is hurting your heart it’s ok to take a break. A quick way to know if this is happening is to check your text messages – if the top five conversations contain negative comments or complaints you have a choice to make. You can choose to continue to feel victimized by the situation or you can choose to get out of it. 

The fist step is to decide you want to do something differently. It is both as easy and as hard as it sounds. I am a firm believer that you can run away from your problems. If a particular group or friend feels as if they are taking more from you than they are giving back it’s ok to walk away. It is also ok to take space and time to heal before you return to that relationship, if you ever do. If you’re unsure I would encourage a cooling off period. This will give you time to assess, reflect, and calm down before you make a decision. The answer is already in you.

Setting boundaries is one excellent way that you can keep someone in your life while also getting your needs met. Boundaries exist to assure that we all feel safe and supported in our relationships. When someone gives you a boundary they are telling you that they want you in their lives and this is one way in which they can see that happening. 

Another great way to shift your perspective is to talk to a therapist or counselor, someone who can give you the tools to process your emotions and work through your feelings. You don’t need to inform others if you choose therapy. Though it has become somewhat a badge of honor these days. The work you do with your therapist or counselor is private and personal. They are able to provide the care that you need to heal or locate the root of your issue. It’s easy to keep having the same fight, it’s a lot harder to determine what situations feel unsafe or undesirable to you. With therapy and boundaries you may be able to heal and find a healthy way to engage with others.

Life can be hard but it is also a lovely and beautiful experience. If you’re feeling more miserable than joyful it’s a good idea to talk with someone you trust. There may be a medicinal solution that works for you or a therapeutic treatment that enables you to live the life you want that includes the people and experiences you want most in your life. When we choose to take care of ourselves we choose joy. And when we feel joyful, healed, and healthy we start to draw the right people, situations, and events into our lives. I can thinking of nothing more heroic than that.

Filling the Well

Filling the well within allows our potential to flourish. While careers or jobs may be more lucrative financially than personally fulfilling it is important to nourish our creativity. When we are performing work that is labor intensive or mentally draining it is also important to fuel our creativity. That well calls for inspiration, color, daydreams. We are striving to succeed and achieve personal and professional goals but we also need to nourish ourselves. 

The pressure to succeed at everything we do seems to be indicative of a societal obsession with perfection. We perceive our work as lacking and so we grind harder, rather than taking a break. This is particularly easy when we hold ourselves, or our work, up to the finest creations in history. Rather than the creative work that artists must do to build up to their masterpieces we consider VanGoh’s Starry Night, or Monet’s Water Lillies. Even though there were many rough drafts, and in Monet’s case years of patient gardening, that went into the painting of a single image. We forget that our own potential requires work and ongoing development. We are forever learning, changing, and growing our talents – it is the practice that is the most powerful. When we practice we build up to our own creative, personal, and professional masterpieces. 

We often look up to successful or powerful people as examples of what is possible. But it is also possible to be discouraged by their examples because they are doing already what we long to do in the future. I recently heard this fabulous advice from a friend, “You are not in competition with anyone else.” Other people will be doing their work their way, you will do your own work your own way. There were talkshow hosts before Oprah and painters before Frida Kahlo. We are not here to do the only original thing – we are here to do our own original thing. Allow yourself to thrive in the places where you are most interested, engaged, and motivated. Show up and do your creativity as only you can do it.

Water the seeds of your potential by nourishing and filling your own well first. Hydrate, meditate, focus on the abundance that fills your life, rather than the scarcity of trying to model yourself after someone else. Never make yourself tinier to fit someone else’s package. We are revived and enlivened by creating. We cannot give to others or the world if we do not first care for ourselves. It is my deepest hope that as you grow and strive for whatever dreams or hopes you carry in your heart. I hope that you create from a sense of fullness. Because there is nothing missing in you, you have everything you need in your head, heart, and soul. There is no doubt that whatever you hope for you can have, if only you try. – M

Honor Your Aura

I recently had lunch with a friend who happened to notice my aura. He observed that mine is white. Later I looked up what a white aura means. White auras are the rarest hue. They indicate someone who is typically calm and who may be impressionable or at risk of taking on the energies of others. To honor your aura you first have to know what it is! To find what color your aura is you can try this technique.

I experienced a great test of that white aura energy absorption recently. Today we had some work done on our house. The dog was protective and his anxious energy flooded into me. After a few hours I noticed how worn down and exhausted I became just interacting with others.

Some say we get truly tired when we are doing too much of what we don’t want to do and not feeding our passions. Others believe that it depends on our personality type. If we are naturally introverted being among other people can drain us, more than being in solitude. As many of us juggle jobs, schedules, and social engagements it is worth considering what serves us. Evaluating if you require more time alone or at home. Do you feed off of the energy of others or does it exhaust you?

There is no right answer for all of us. And most of us exist on a spectrum. The benefits of taking time to consider and evaluate what feels healthiest to you. Do you feel your best when you are engaged with others or do you thrive when left alone? I notice that I need more time alone to reflect, work, and create independently. Whether my aura is white or not, it takes a lot out of me to be around crowds or groups. Therefore, I try to limit those gatherings to shorter time periods and frequency. I also try to keep my surroundings familiar and comfortable.  

There are always situations we can’t control – the dog freaking out, a traffic delay, or even consuming media that leaves us more drained than filled. Giving ourselves space and time to feel our feelings, discern our comfort levels, and make space for community or solitude will better serve us. To honor your aura and create environments were we can grow in a sustainable way. Paying attention to our energy and what we need most makes all of our environments healthier and more nurturing. 

How do you guard your energy? What strategies do you employ to help yourself thrive and not feel overwhelmed by other people’s energy?