December 10, 2018

TrishBits #39: Holiday Stress-Buster: The Magic of Ritual

I have my own theory of why holidays are stressful. In our home, we celebrate Christmas, but the ‘psychology’ of all holidays is very similar – if you have strong feelings around Halloween or Rosh Hashanah or National Spaghetti Day, for instance, the same process occurs.

Holidays that are celebrated from childhood stir up the psyche in a very powerful way.   The psyche loves cycles, and we humans tend to circle back to emotionally charged memories of events that occur every year. We naturally reflect on what was, what is now, and whether or not we’re ‘measuring up’ to our hopes and dreams.

Last week I hauled a box of ornaments up from the basement and sorted through the baby shoes, the graduation cap tassels, old wooden stars that my dad had cut with a jigsaw when I was 2, and a gilded macaroni encrusted frame holding a photo of my son at age 3. And then, for some reason, I was irritable all evening and had an unnaturally strong hankering for Doritos.

Almost everything that we ‘always do’ at Christmas has the power to evoke in me a gut punch of feeling – from grief (Dad’s gone, now) to yearning (my son is doing well, but he is not well enough to travel), to tenderness, to gratitude and joy and excitement. All this is a tumble of re-experiencing that I have little time to process, what with wrapping and decorating and menu-planning and 4 kids, 3 dogs, 8 horses, and so on….

I’ve learned through the years to honor what my psyche wants. I use the word, ‘psyche’ because of my Jungian background, but you may be more familiar with the word, Soul. Or, Heart of Hearts? Or, Essential Self? I’m referring to that eternal part of you that knows what is important. Menus and ribbons and wreaths are not important to the Soul. Honoring the cycle of love and learning in our human lives IS important. In the Soul’s experience, it’s really all there is.

The Soul yearns for ritual, for the cyclical honoring of what was, what is, and what will be. I truly believe that’s why we give thanks before meals or light candles at Seder or recite the same poem on Christmas Eve. It’s why we serve the traditional sweet potatoes or keep scrapbooks or treasure what was Mom’s or have trouble throwing some things away. It’s why walking the Labyrinth at Blue Star Ranch is how we end our workshops – allowing a way for the Soul to integrate what the workshop has shifted in our thinking and feeling.

The Soul demands conscious ritual. If you do not consciously honor this need, then you’re in for unconscious fallout – in the form of unexpected sadness, or anger, or a pervasive sense that what you do is never quite enough….

There’s a Shadow side to frenetically following all traditions, or doing things you don’t really want to do, or doing what Dad says even though you’re furious with Dad. Ritual can take hold and keep you captive if it’s unconscious or compulsive or exhausting.

So, what to do? Try this: Make your own rituals. Take some time (Soul doesn’t need hours; it’s calmed within a few minutes!), find a candle and a favorite poem or mantra or quotation, and develop your own way of beginning and ending your day.

Maybe keep your candle or a favorite ornament or charm on your nightstand? Or on your desk or bookshelf. Develop your own comforting words and gestures, such as a hand on your heart in gratitude or a bowing to Spirit.

The ritual of centering yourself, over and over again, soothes the Soul in an incredibly powerful way. What’s unimportant fades, and what’s important is honored.

As you become accustomed to paying attention to what your Soul wants, you can develop other rituals for yourself and your family that honor your history, your connection, and your future. Ditch the big meal for a beautiful night in a favorite restaurant? Choose a toast that gets repeated at family gatherings? Ask the youngest to offer grace? Go around the table and ask each person, What do you really, really want to happen in your life in this next year?

As you practice your own rituals, you’ll find energy abounds for the demands of your holiday. And when your energy lags, go back to your ritual. Consciously acknowledge what is really important. Slow down and enjoy, or not, and just let yourself feel. Let the flowers wilt and let the dirty dishes wait. (And naps help, too!) You’ll get back to your ‘to do’ list soon enough, with even more energy, if you take good care of yourself along the way.

I wish you and yours the joy that comes from honoring all of your experience this holiday season! The Soul knows that it’s all very, very good….


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