Despite what Mad Men want you to believe, ’tis not such a jolly time of year.
My phone has been ringing and email jumping even more than usual, from my incredible circle of brilliant, beautiful, creative, and unconventional friends who find themselves completely out of sorts and in various stages of existential or familial or financial crisis, escaping into foreign bodies or bottles, desperate for a decent night’s sleep, or a day without a panic attack or ill-directed rage.
I used to especially hate my life in November and December. It’s a hard season to feel without — without family (or one that gives you the ready-made-satisfaction), without “enough” (and we’re generally not comparing ourselves to the majority of Earth’s inhabitants who live on less than $1/day but rather to friends with ipads and BMWs and open-space designs and athletically bodied partners who double as iron chefs), even without a sense of purpose, some might say a sense of calling, in our daily lives.
Frankly, it’s a hard season to be politically progressive in America. It’s impossible not to consider the awful genocide that was, and continues to be, carried out against indigenous peoples in the Western Hemisphere over the Thanksgiving meal. And yet, those who believe in the absolute certainty of a just world know that giving thanks, every day, is fundamental to our personal and collective wellness.
It’s painful to feel our “otherness” in this cold season. From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s no fun being Jewish and forced to listen to all those AWFUL Christmas songs in any store I go to starting on Black Friday. Really, sometimes I even avoid food shopping so I don’t come home with jingle bells in my head. (For the record, I love “Amazing Grace” especially when sung by Krishna Das, and I’m not so sure it’s the music that irritates me so much as memories of getting nailed by neighborhood bullies when I was a kid for Crucifying Christ, which reminded me of my otherness, which reminded me of the Holocaust, which reminded of how I used to think we were led like “lambs to the slaughter” which reminded me of the way they tried to brainwash us into believing the Holocaust happened so the state of Israel could exist which reminded me of the damn Brits who screwed over so many people, but whose country I loved living in when I was 19, which reminded of how complex our identities and beliefs can be and how exhausting it is to be a systems thinker by nature.)
Who knows — maybe that sense of otherness is more primal and pronounced for anyone who cannot live with the rhythm of the seasons — that is, most of us.
I no longer carry unease this time of year, though I couldn’t tell you when that change happened. I like to think it’s the result of many years of just doing the work — figuring out when my back pain or migraines or fevers had to do with things I was avoiding in my life — usually decisions that involved shifting course, however small — and when they were simply red flags urging me to take better care of myself, or save more of my energy for myself. For me transformation has historically been more a cumulative affair, rather than a revolutionary chapter.
Some years, I gave myself themes. I spent a whole year working the principle of energy exchange, for example, with the basic idea being that if I give my energy to anything or anyone, I should get at least an equal amount of energy back, in the form of learning, or satisfaction, or even money. (Seems obvious now, but it felt completely radical at the time.)
I worked through a lot of old and deeply internalized messages by writing them down as poetry or memoir, falling in love with the power and wisdom embedded into my slow, multi-layered revision process.
Street theater taught me improv skills which taught me that I can always say yes AND change the script.
Yoga taught me to notice subtle shifts in my body and mind so that I could feel when something was coming on (flu, despair, sciatica) and nip it in the bud rather than wait for a full-out emergency to unfold.
Meditation taught me how to be with the hard moments, or make a choice to focus elsewhere.
Therapy taught me that I excel at rationalizing just about anything, so it wasn’t particularly helpful — although I did learn how to have patience for people I perceived as “not getting it” and realized how quickly my mind processes (certain kinds of) information. I haven’t gotten the patience thing down (by far!), but I am much, much improved over previous models.
We’re all democratically given the same 168 hours a week. And yet as the late Irish poet John O’Donahue wrote: “When time is reduced to linear progress, it is emptied of presence.” Eventually, those of us who do not die young realize that our days vanish quickly, and the secret to living a long life with whatever days remain is to invite that sense of presence into everywhere we already are and into everything we already do. I think this is true even of our memories and fantasies. Squeezing in more and more begins to feel like a violent act, hacking away at our time, rather than expanding the sense of spaciousness right here, which allows us to feel grateful for the time we do have.
These past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself walking friends down from very high and narrow cliffs, and also throwing flashlights and rope to those who burrowed underground. It’s made me thankful to recall that despite the facades, we all go through these chapters, some sooner than later. I truly believe stuff comes up because it wants to be seen and experienced and dealt with and healed. It’s made me thankful to be able to hold the space for people I love and think are extraordinarily cool and quirky, and hopefully, help them with a few steps along the aforementioned dealing and healing path. It’s made me thankful that my tolerance for suffering (my own, not others) has dramatically decreased so after the proverbial three days of carrying the cross, I look at what I have in my toolbox to realign energetic imbalances.
What I’ve learned is that you can never waste time by taking even better care of yourself than you’re doing now, by walking in the woods or calling a friend or staring out the window or preparing meals with fresh ingredients or lying on a table getting needled or kneaded or figuring out when you really want to say no — or yes. Nothing experienced until now has been a waste of time. I had to stop obsessing with what I could have done with that time and money and life force that I previously perceived as wasted, and figure out — and find some gratitude — for what I learned instead.
So how to balance your energy?
One way is to bring in the opposite of what you’re feeling. So if you’re feeling lethargic, sad, low energy, do what you can to increase your energy. You can add spinning or running or vinyasa into your routine, eat lots of spicy foods, rearrange the furniture in your apartment, get the hell out of your apartment — anything to stroke the internal fires. If you’re feeling anxious, keep coming to stillness (meditating or breathing or doing yin yoga or Tai Chi, or enjoying Reiki or quiet days) to sort out what your feelings may be telling you.
On the other hand, sometimes you have to let yourself go into the energetic pattern that’s visiting you, and let it do its thing. Think of the usefulness in the forest of fires and of completely giving in to what appears to be destruction. In fact, engage in some biomimicry: so if you’re feeling low energy, watch movies with tragic plotlines, make soup, take hot baths, and stay indoors for the whole weekend with the phone turned off. If you’re wired, scrub your house or take a four-hour hike with your neighbor’s new puppy.
Regardless of where your energy is this season, spend more time in your senses, and less with any screen, tiny or large.
Peace and blessings,