Keeping Your Inner Voice Through the Holidays

A week ago, I was window-shopping down the main street of the town where I live when I came across a wooden placard displayed in a gift shop window.

On the placard was written:

The Four Stages of Life

THE FOUR STAGES OF LIFE:

  1. You believe in Santa Claus
  2. You don’t believe in Santa Claus
  3. You ARE Santa Claus
  4. You look like Santa Claus

Christmas and the whole holiday season bring huge bundles of wonder, disillusionment and obligation (with the attendant stress) all mixed together in a not-so-neatly-wrapped package.

Many of us have the memory still inside of us of the happiness and sheer magic that Christmas day or the eight days of Hanukkah once gave us – or the pain of hoping that this year we would have that feeling, only to have those hopes dashed once again. As we grew older, the endless manufactured frivolity and sentiment, so obviously calculated to get us to spend money, can make it feel as though it’s all false and meaningless. And then all the extra tasks and obligations – the presents to buy, the cards to write and send, the dreadful office Christmas party and “whose house do we have to go to on Christmas day this year?” – added to lives that are already hectic enough – can drive lots of people to the point where they throw up their hands and say, “Christmas? It’s just for the kids.”

But deep down we want to believe that “the Season” can remind us of something that transcends everyday reality, reconnecting us to feelings of wonder and hope we once had in so much more abundance. Here are three tips to help you do that.

Step into the moment

In the midst of all of your hectic activity – preferably someplace pleasant or beautiful – take a moment to stop, pause, and reflect: This is your Christmas, your holiday. No one in the world has the same Christmas or holiday as you. No one else sees or does exactly the same things, buys for exactly the same people or exactly the same presents. What’s more, this Christmas will never come again. Next year’s will be different. You’ve created this Christmas out of all the things you have done or not done in your life. So if you’re feeling hassled by what you’re doing, think about the why behind what you’re doing. Think about all the life, and all the love, that led you to where you are right this very moment, and bless or congratulate yourself for it, because you deserve it.

You can do this many times. It’s especially useful those times when you notice you’re partly only “going through the motions.” Pause to look around and consciously appreciate the wonder of what you’ve created all around you — both the good and the, well, not-so-great — in all of its imperfect glory. Then “step into the moment” and improve it. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, at all. It could be as little as an extra hug, a sweet word or two, or a couple of extra moments looking into someone’s eyes.

If seeing where you are this Christmas brings sadness, be very gentle with yourself, and realize that it’s all the love that’s already inside you that’s making you feel sad. Because if you didn’t know what was missing, you couldn’t miss it. Also know that everything changes. It may not look like it now, but next year’s Christmas could be better. Maybe this year’s season will improve unexpectedly before New Year’s.

Talk about Christmas and the Holidays

Rather than just “doing” Christmas, make time to talk! Tell a loved one or two what Christmas really means to you inside, what some of your favorite Christmas memories are, what you’d like less of this season and (more importantly) what you’d like more of. Then invite them to share the same with you. You can do this while you’re doing something else, or you can carve out a little special time to do this over a cup of coffee or tea. After a second of two of awkwardness, just about everyone enjoys talking about this, so you can bring this up with casual friends and turn an everyday conversation into something more personal and bonding. If you and your spouse have been together a while, consciously take the time (20 or 30 minutes will do) to reminisce about your favorite Christmas and holiday memories together as a couple.

Do things that give you Holiday joy and pleasure

When there are so many things you “have” to do, it’s easy to forget about what fills you up and gives you joy and pleasure. So take a few moments to think of the things that give you that “Holiday feeling,” or simply make you feel good. Is it viewing Christmas lights, or watching certain holiday movies, or buying roasted chestnuts from a street vendor, or singing Christmas carols, or going to midnight Mass? Or is it, as one of my clients shared, going from room to room and putting a single light in each window of her home, feeling a sense of quiet, coziness and peace? Make a point of doing at least one thing that spells “Christmas” or holiday magic for you. If you can share it with someone else, great, but if not, savor it for yourself.

Your own Inner Voice wants to show you how to bring these feelings of fulfillment and peace into your life, not only at this time of year but all the time.

I wish you a Holiday season full of hope, wonder, joy, peace and of course, abundant love.

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Helene Brenner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the author of I Know I’m in There Somewhere: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice and Living a Life of Authenticity. She offers individual therapy, phone coaching and telegroups.

Following Your Inner Voice in Uncertain Times

following your inner voiceIt’s been 10 years since I wrote the book “I Know I’m in There Somewhere”. Recently I was thinking about how things have changed since them.

Sad to say, for the most part, people’s lives and futures feel more uncertain than they did 10 years ago. While there’s been progress in some areas, and a few reasons to feel hopeful, on a personal level, many people have experienced difficult and painful reversals. Our sense of control over our lives has been shaken, and our confidence that our lives will get better, or at least turn out okay, is not what it used to be. Even if we ourselves have not been affected, the misfortunes of friends and family affect us all.

Going for what’s truly important

It’s at times like these, when we’re most likely to forget our inner voice, that we need it the most. Insecurity can make us fearfully contract and hold on to the old. But a truer, less frightened voice inside us tells us that we’re going to be okay if we’re willing to open our eyes, look around and try something new. The gift of uncertain times can be that the old ways maybe weren’t so healthy or good for us, but they weren’t easy to give up as long as they gave us a secure lifestyle.

Now that things are not so secure, we can look inside and ask, “What do I really want to change? What’s truly important to me? What do I need in my life that I’ve never taken the time to go after?”

Blaming others, blaming yourself

But before you do that, let me say that the very first step to following your inner voice is always – ALWAYS – self-acceptance, not harder pressure to make yourself change. When times get harder, more insecure, more uncertain, it’s common for people to become harsher and angrier, to blame “weak” people for the problems. Deep down the person they’re most critical of, indeed the person they blame the most, is themselves, for causing what’s happened in their lives and for not being able to rise above it or make it better. But as I’ve said before, the boot-camp approach to yourself just doesn’t work. Letting go of the self- judgment and harsh demands allows for the inner truths to emerge and begin to perform their magic.

Ten Minutes of Total Self-Acceptance

So here’s my suggestion: For the next ten minutes, or some ten-minute period today, sense how you feel inside and take stock of where you are, and let yourself be. Completely. For this time period, let yourself be totally okay with the way you are. If you need to, remind yourself that you’re only doing this for ten minutes – you can go back to your “normal” way of thinking very soon! Notice what it feels like to drop all judgment of yourself. Notice if new feelings, thoughts or sensations emerge when you let go of the pressure. Whatever those new feelings are, greet them in a kind and interested way. Listen to what your heart says when it stops fearing that it will be judged.

This process doesn’t take long and it can’t get you in any trouble – it’s not even fattening! But the more stressed, harried, worried and self-critical you are, the more I recommend that you make a point of taking a few minutes every day to sit quietly and be okay with yourself just as you are, and give yourself that caring presence. Doing this can vastly improve how you feel on a day-to-day level, and help you find the next best step in your journey ahead.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net