Beating the Holiday Blues : A Buddhist Approach
As a kid, Christmas filled me with longing and shame. Growing up in a Tibetan Buddhist household, and as a child of political refugees with fresh roots in Canada, my parents, unfamiliar with the customs, weren't inclined to celebrate them. They also couldn't afford what they saw as frivolous holiday spending. But secretly, every year, I ached to be those kids who whispered into Santa's ear and tore open gifts found under a sparkling tree. Back in school, I loathed writing the inevitable "How I Spent My Christmas Holiday" essay. Eventually, fibbing was a lot easier than the shame I endured. It was also more fun, as I would describe in elaborate detail the Christmas I wished I had but never did.
For many, this time of year brings anything but tidings of great joy. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 52% of Canadians report feeling anxiety and depression during the holiday season. And it can be particularly hard on the lonely.
In this piece, I offer practical tools, from the Buddhist tradition, that can help us not just get through the holidays but to find some peace in it as well.
A key practice in Buddhism is to strive to see things as they are, unclouded by the distortions of the mind. We can, and should, try to develop this clarity in the midst of our current circumstances.
It starts with examining our present life situation without judgement. Judgement makes us unhappy because we compare ourselves to others. We do this especially during the holidays because it's a period replete with imageries of what this time should be about and what it should look like. They only magnify what's lacking in our personal lives.
So, the first step is to resist the emotional impact of those imageries and the messages they convey. Identify the expectations they create. Notice those expectations within you. What do they tell you? How do they make you feel?
Now , imagine the holidays without those imageries. How would you feel then?
By identifying those expectations and seeing their influence on you, they begin to lose their power over you. You are then able to examine your life circumstances as they are, untouched by the painful narratives.
In this new space of awareness, the next step is to cultivate acceptance. Tell yourself that these expectations and beliefs are the source of your dissatisfaction. They are the culprits, NOT your circumstances. And because expectations are constructs, you can re-construct your expectations and change your script. By remaining steadfast in this understanding, aversion dissolves into acceptance.
Within the emerging clarity and acceptance, ask yourself: How can I generate a sense of joy exactly where I am at this point in my life? In what ways can I express kindness and giving to myself and others? However small or few the acts you choose, carry them out with your full intention.
In this practice, you are slowly altering how you experience the holidays.
Remember that these moments of contentment or peace you forage are exactly that - moments. Inner peace is a continuous effort in the ebb and flow of life. This effort builds intention, equanimity and resilience. Continue this practice even when the holidays are long over. In time you may even find that the practice itself, rather than the outcome, is the greater reward.
Happy holidays xoxo