Holiday Traditions

Pic taken Christmas Day 2016, on the trail to Jerry Johnson’s Hot Springs

Every year on Christmas Day, my husband and I venture to Jerry Johnson’s Hot Springs, for a 1-mile hike (one way) & soak in the woods. Neither of us connect with the celebration of Christmas. To us, it’s just another day on the calendar, which affords us a day off from our regular routine and to-do lists. We’ve been springing it on Christmas Day for quite a number of years now – it’s one of our very few annual traditions. And, I’ll add, is simply glorious.

Back when we first got married, in 2000, we tried our hand at celebrating the winter solstice and came up with a few possible traditions to carry forward each December, but it proved to be too forced for us and we soon gave up any sort of formal way of commemorating the seasonal changing of the guard. We both grew up celebrating Christmas – not on religious grounds but on consumeristic ones. And I have incredibly fond memories of it as a child. But neither of us were interested in fueling the drive of the holidays when we started co-creating our lives as adults together.

Many years ago, after receiving a plethora of well-intentioned but ultimately un-neccesary gifts from relatives in the mail each December, we decided to craft a letter to send to our dear family members. As the writer in our household, it was important to me that the letter both express our gratitude for their generosity and our firm desire to discontinue the further receiving of gifts, in as warm-hearted a way as possible. I wanted to do my best to create as little offense as I could, making sure to focus on our appreciation for their kindness and our love for them. And, rather to my surprise, it worked! While not everyone understood our position, they all respected our heartfelt request.

The month of December is the only time I’m grateful for living so far away from my family, as I really don’t know how I would negotiate this festive time of year if I had family around who were celebrating Christmas in the traditional ways that I grew up with and were requesting my attendance to join them. Fortunately, though, that’s not a thing I need to put much thought into.

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to connect with all the ways that people find this time of year joyful, as I can grow callous in regards to the amount of waste, stress, hardship, and debt that accumulate around Christmas – and the furthering of such rampant, detrimental notions and ways of relating to each other and the world at large. But non-duality continues to ring true! In this case, the teachings of non-duality play out in the simple truth that both things are happening at the same time: there are elements of Christmas that are full of delight and joy and there are elements of great disharmony and destruction.

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A Teaching Moment

It was deceivingly chilly outside the other day, when we went for a walk. Still, I dressed them in a warm-enough outer layer and hats that covered their ears. Half-way down the block, though, the allure of a late-October stroll to the park amid a blue sky and sunny day was masked by whipping winds, which carried winter’s slow approach on its breath. Suddenly, the delight of traipsing through colorful and crispy leaf piles was replaced by great discomfort. Scrunched up faces of disapproval and whining quickly ensued.

“It’s cold, let’s go home!!” said the 4-year-old.

“Eeehaaaaaaoohhh,” said the 2-year-old – or something to that affect.

I did briefly consider their input. I even glanced in the direction of the warm house we could return to, before determining that what we had here before us was an opportunity. This was a teaching moment.

I made some minor adjustments before we proceeded, one of which was to redirect our destination. The others involved putting the 2-year-old in the empty stroller I had carted along and showing both boys how to tuck their frigid fingers up into the sleeves of their sweaters, like turtle heads retreating into their shell. Lastly, and most important, I shook off my own feelings of cold displeasure, buoyed my attitude, and re-calibrated my compass in the direction of adventure. For good measure, I reminded my fellow travel companions that we were heading to the place we intended on going after visiting the park, which would afford them the chance to pick out a treat in which to enjoy after lunch.

The two-year-old was appeased enough to stop his caterwauling, once he was nestled in the stroller. The four-year-old, however, was decidedly unconvinced that anything other than returning home was in his best interest. Since he really didn’t have any other viable options, though, he reluctantly trudged alongside of us. Through his continued pleas to turn back and complaints of how cold it was, I made out-loud observations about the Halloween decorations on display at the houses we passed by and the beauty of the day. It wasn’t that I was trying to dismiss him or tune him out, I just wasn’t adding fuel to his detrimental utterings by listening intently – which, I might add, also helps with not getting personally swept up in the falderal of children’s un-skilled (and fleeting) reactions. After all, young ones are constantly learning from the words and behaviors of the adults that surround them. So, if I were to become as eq!”ually dis-satisfied with the coldness as he was, it would be teaching him to stay in that mode, instead of learning how to transition out of it. It’s worth mentioning that regardless of what’s going on, the level of our happiness depends almost solely on our attitude. We are presented with an active choice in every moment in regards to how we respond to whatever it is that’s happening.

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Unplanned Adventure

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A few days ago my 16-year-old stepson Jaden and I went out paddle boarding on Lake Como in the Bitterroot Mountains (in Montana, not Italy :). It was a beautiful sunny day. We decided to set our sights on making it to the waterfall at the other end of the lake, where Rock Creek spills in at the head of the lake. It took us about an hour and forty minutes to reach the waterfall and it was pretty smooth sailing the whole way. However, things changed quickly when we turned around and started heading back. The wind picked up and was coming right at us, making it very difficult to paddle. Every stroke was a struggle. We were hardly making any progress at all.

After a few minutes of hard paddling we headed for shore and decided to huff our boards down the hiking trail, which ran alongside the lake. We thought that if the wind settled down we’d hop back on the water but we soon discovered that our paddleboards were like giant wind sails as we headed down the trail so we made the call to deflate them, in the hopes that they’d be easier to manage. Hefting out our terribly awkward, deflated 20-pound boards (we weighed them when we got home) and paddles the 3-miles to the trailhead was the unplanned adventure part of our day.

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My Pleasure

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OK – this might be a difficult topic to put into words but I’m going to give it a try.  Over the last 2-3 years I’ve been diligently working on cultivating seeds of joy and strengthening it in my daily life.  In doing so I’ve had the opportunity to look deeply into many habit energies that were keeping me from developing a positive attitude and experiencing joy.  One of these habit energies that I delved into was how I responded to things like praise or appreciation.  I realized I had a tendency of doing things in order to be seen, recognized, and validated (something that wasn’t pleasant to find out about myself).  Self-consciousness and low self-esteem often manifests itself in the need for perpetual outside validation.  It can also manifest in the need to continue to tell people of the burden or trials and tribulations that went into a certain action or experience, which is usually done in a passive, indirect way.

For example, let’s say someone puts together a great party.  They invite all their friends and everyone has a great time.  Afterwards one of the host’s friends comments on what a great party it was and thanks them for the invite.  The host then says something like: Well, I’m glad you had a good time, it was fun, but man, it sure was a lot of work.  The host then continues on to tell the friend about how the oven quit working right before the party and the dog threw up on the carpet before everyone arrived and a bunch of glasses got broken in the dish washer which caused them to run to the store for plastic cups so that there would be enough containers for everyone to drink out of.  On a very subconscious level the host wants that friend to know how much they went through to pull off the party, they want sympathy, and acknowledgment for how much work they did.  An alternate response to that friend’s simple, “Thanks for the great party,” would be to say, “My pleasure!”

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Positive Attitude

Positive-Attitude

Yesterday, as I was enjoying returning to my early morning routine after having had shoulder surgery last Monday, I casually sipped my tea and wrote this in my journal (left handed since my dominant right arm hangs in a sling):

The quality of our attitude is like the sun, orchestrating all things, giving life or taking it away depending on its position. A positive attitude, unobstructed, radiates strong upon every being in its wake – impeded by cloudy veils it does not extinguish.

Having spent the last week mainly in bed, attached to a cold therapy machine I’ve endearingly named Alexi, I’ve had some time on my hands and have been thinking about the importance of attitude, as it pertains to the quality of our lives.  It’s not fresh news to me that attitude is the critical component in living life well but I do still get much appreciated reminders of just how important it is, as has been the case since my surgery.

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