Search

A Gorgeous Question


Wouldn’t it be amazing if, instead of asking people: “What have you got planned for the holidays?”, we asked: “How do you feel about the holidays?”


I probably talk more about the What/How distinction than any other paradigm in my work. This is because the path of healing is the path of empowerment. And it’s most empowering for us, always - as a sacred rule! - to focus on what is within our control; not worrying or sweating what is outside of it.


When it comes to life, the “what” part is rarely something we hold agency over. But the “how” part is absolutely within the domain of our mindset and how we choose to play the hand we’ve been served.


Often people ask: “What have you got planned for the holidays?” and within this question is a quiet assumption that everyone’s calendar runneth over with places to go and people to see and the meaningful hustle and bustle we’ve been taught to associate with this time of year.


But for some of us, the busyness of the holiday season only highlights the emptiness and loneliness that exist simultaneously, as the flip side of the coin.


When we call attention to a thing, we can also inadvertently call attention to its opposite.


In my own experience, the most miserable, problematic years of my marriage were the ones that probably looked the most enviable and normal to the outside observer. The worse things got, the harder I doubled down on trying to make them seem ok.


Until, of course, the dam broke.


And then, the years that followed were part of the bigger process of dismantling the old life and constructing a new one.


By the time I was through the divorce, living in a new house and celebrating the holidays as a single mom, most of the people I’d known for years in my community had given up on me. I’d been so absorbed, for so long, in my own suffering, focused on my kids and absent from the usual comings and goings of a social life that I ceased to exist on anyone’s radar.


The tip to: “Have a happy holiday!”, from cashiers or casual acquaintances made me want to rage cry in their faces. The question: “What have you got planned for the holidays?”, broke my heart over and over again. Nothing. I have nothing planned. I’m using all of my strength to pretend I’m ok in front of my kids and going through the motions of keeping the vibe “jolly and bright”.


Behind the scenes I was bereft and filled with self loathing for all I’d broken in their lives. And in my own.


When we ask: “How do you feel about the holidays?”, we open a space for the other person to be witnessed, not assumed. We make it possible for a genuine exchange to happen. We acknowledge something that so few of us are honest about in our quick hello’s and goodbye’s: many of us are hurting, comparing ourselves to a standard that isn’t real and missing what is no longer there.


“How do you feel?”, is a gorgeous question in general.


What if we asked that more often, from a true, curious place? “Hey, I’m just wondering - how do you feel right now?”


What if we took 10 minute pulse-checks in place of the old cigarette break? What if all of us, as a collective, had times throughout our days where we paused, put a hand over our heart, took a deep breath - all the way and all the way out - and really asked ourselves, sincerely: “How do I feel right now?”


One of the strange silver linings of Covid is that it's made it impossible for us, on a grand level, to go through the motions and pretend everything is ok - at the holidays or any other time of year. Everything is so glaringly, undeniably not ok that a kind of surrender has started kicking in where we're admitting it and letting it be true. I find some relief in this.


The not-ok-ness is not strictly about the pandemic. It's about what it's been like more broadly to live in a culture that encourages us, constantly and insidiously, to negate the realness of whatever it is we might be feeling in any given moment, and reach for something outside of ourselves instead, to soothe and change.


What heals us most authentically and rapidly is opening to our feelings, our reality, and owning it. Not avoiding. Not pretending. Opening, owning and trusting that we have the ability to process what needs to be metabolized. That there is help available. That we are loved, all the way through every season of our lives, by a force much greater than we can comprehend.


Beaming lots of light your way, wherever you find yourself on the spectrum between joy and despair, throughout this holiday season and always,