Maintaining a Sense of Gratitude through the Holiday Season
Amid the merriment and joy so often expressed during special and seasonal holidays, some people may experience more depression or a sense of separation and aloneness, even when in the middle of a rousing crowd. Many things can contribute to this, such as the loss of loved ones, separation, divorce, unemployment, poverty or lack of resources, poor health, estrangement from loved ones, and more. Some people are good at covering up their sense of grief during the holidays while others express it in grumpiness, aloofness, being a “Scrooge,” etc. And then there are those who genuinely love the whole experience and cannot help but express their joy and happiness.
Wherever you fall in this rainbow of experience, it is still possible to find joy and to be grateful during the holidays, no matter what kind of holiday it is. One way to do this is to realize all holidays are a means of celebrating life, in one form or another. People often become unhappy because they have developed unrealistic expectations about the holidays, i.e., not getting the presents they wanted, not being with the people they wanted to be with, not having enough money, and so forth. After all, how can you expect to be grateful if you didn’t get what you wanted, if Billy, or Joey, or Jenny got more than you, and Gerald and Reggie got the most expensive gifts of all? Where is the gratitude in that?
Finding something to be grateful for can be a challenge if we’re in a mindset that is demanding more and more and more and seeing less as a result of it. It’s a matter of perspective. Where’s your focus? Where are you placing your attention? What are your expectations of the event and are you being realistic? Can you stop long enough to find a sense of peace in the sunset or star shine, a breeze or drifting cloud? No one is ever so totally alone that they cannot be grateful for something, even if it’s just the awareness that Spirit (God/Universe) is present. We might not have a certain person in our presence, but we have the memory or the dream of them in our hearts. When we feel the loneliest is the time to reach out and help someone else who might be feeling that way, too.
You don’t have to be surrounded by close family and friends to experience the same amount of love and joy if you choose to move into a place of community. It might be as simple as working in a soup kitchen for the day, volunteering to help others through some charity, helping to create an event/meal where people can come together to celebrate, or joining in a church service or ceremony. We might not have a close physical family, but we are all part of the Family of Humanity, the Family of Creation. Looking for common bonds we share is one way to be grateful and to take your focus off what you think is missing.
So, how can you be grateful this holiday season, even if you feel a little melancholy or lost? Start by being grateful for simple things. Here are a few ideas:
- Your health – and the fact that you can heal (and learn from illness or injury if you listen to what it is telling you);
- Family and friends you do have – if they are not close by, write to them or call them; if you’re estranged, take the first step to reconciliation – what if that’s all it takes to bridge the gap?
- Pets – if you don’t have any or have lost yours, visit a pet store or shelter to experience the unconditional love of animals – you don’t have to own one to enjoy their energy;
- Food to eat – even if you don’t have the “traditional” holiday fare, celebrate and give thanks for what you do have;
- Transportation and mobility – if you can, get up and go somewhere different – get out of your rut of complacency and look at a different scene;
- Nature/wildlife – go to a park, out into the country, a nature center – watch the birds and squirrels in your own backyard – notice how they are not concerned with traditions or rules of society;
- Nature/trees/plants/flowers – depending on the time of the season, give yourself permission to just enjoy the outdoors, even if you can only look up and see the sky between rooftops – watch the clouds float by and plant a dream into their vapors to be carried into the Universe;
- Resources right where you are – look around; you probably have plenty of “things” near you right now. What can you create from them? Can you tidy up and donate some of them to charity? Can you rearrange your furniture into a better-feeling order? Can you create a feast from the items in your pantry or freezer? It doesn’t matter if they don’t “go together” – you can create a lovely meal with what you have – invite others to bring what they have and share a unique dining experience and perhaps create a new tradition;
- Movies / Music – find some old movies on television or online; pull out some old videos or even home movies or favorite music from when you were younger;
- Children / Games – give your children an afternoon of completely undivided attention from you, playing what they like to play, or teaching them some games from your own childhood; turn off the media and focus on each other (do the same with your spouse, partner, friend, parent, sibling, or other family member who means a lot to you);
- Spirit / God / Universal Source – spend some time in prayer, meditation, and contemplation of your Creative Power/Source – allow yourself to really connect and you will discover so much to be grateful for when you release expectations, conditions, and rules. Give yourself permission to just Be in the moment.
As you can see, these are just some of the things for which you can express gratitude. Don’t let a date on the calendar keep you from living your Blessed Life now. Everyone has experienced loss but everyone also has the choice to stay in grief or to seize the day before them to make the best of it and honor the memories of their loved ones (who would not want them to be sad) by claiming Happiness and choosing an Attitude of Gratitude and Unconditional Love.
In this unfolding Christmas season and approaching New Year, I wish you much Love (make it Unconditional), Joy, Peace (make it that which surpasseth understanding), Health, Happiness, and Wholeness, no matter where you are…
(preface – not sure if this will be used in current work-in-progress or stand on its own, but felt like posting it here for whatever inspiration it can provide – enjoy!)
I believe that the Creative Urge to Know God/Creator/Spirit is within every human, existing from the first moment of awareness of existence. It doesn’t have to be some mystical or mysterious thing, yet that’s what it is – evident in a baby’s face as she recognizes those who take care of all her needs, the little boy as his smile beams with pride when he masters his new tricycle or takes the safety wheels off his “big boy” bicycle.
Children naturally look to their parents or caregivers for that approving feedback and support that tells them they did good, they’re on the right track, that the sun and moon rise and set in their every accomplishment. Is this a naive attitude, out of touch with the realities that there are many babies and children who do not get this positive reinforcement?
No, but it’s a perception that this is how it should be, and how it is with the “grown-ups” in our relationship with Spirit (God, Creator, etc.). We are constantly seeking approval from other people, but we really want to feel it from God. What we don’t realize is that God already approves of us and all we have to do is acknowledge the Love here for us now, without the need of mortal approval.
This then takes us to all those accomplishments we think we need to achieve – the status symbols that say we have “arrived” at some destination good enough to verify and certify our value. The truth is that the only real achievements we need be concerned with are those of becoming more aware of our Divinity as Spiritual Beings expressing in a physical component of the Universe. I do not think we are Spiritual Beings have a Human Experience. I believe we are Spiritual Beings. Period. There are many planes and angles of this existence, but that is a different discussion. The fact we are in a “physical” plane really means nothing, except this is where we are experiencing our Spiritual Awareness. This is where our Spiritual “thoughts” are being manifested. We are thinking ourselves into or through our physical existence and experiences.
Historically, or traditionally, we are conditioned to think there are certain things we are supposed to want in life. Achieving or attaining these things will make us better than before, perhaps even better than the other people around us. This type of thinking is what leads Wall Street, Hollywood, Bollywood, and the headlines telling us what we should do, have, be, think. It tells us what we should eat, how to dress, and what we should look like. If we don’t do all these things and have all these things, then we aren’t good enough.
The aching within to achieve all these ideals – these “man-made” ideals – leads to abuse of adult and child, over-eating, drug abuse, alcoholism, stress-related illness, disease, depression, and all sorts of conditions or events that prevent us from reaching that First State of Achievement, that state of having enough approval that we feel – finally – good enough.
This unfulfilled ache – this Spirit Starvation – eventually leads us to a state of surrender. We finally get to the point where we are willing to admit that having more, doing more, and being more, is not enough in and of itself. No matter how many material accomplishments we make, if we are solely focused on the physical aspect of attainment, we will never be able to feed the Spiritual Starvation that is draining our vital energy. The root of every human hunger is the craving to be fed and nourished Spiritually. Traditional religion tells us we are not capable of receiving this nourishment until we admit that we are “sinners” and that we have to be “saved” from the dark terror always trying to lure us away from our Divine Destiny.
When we get sick and tired enough of being sick and tired of things the way they are, we may then be able to do something to change our experience. Sometimes, this means changing relationships or being changed by them, moving to a new location, changing jobs, finally saying “yes” to that internal yearning. “Yes, I acknowledge You.” “Yes, I will feed You.” “Yes, I hunger only for You.” We have to be willing to surrender to the way things are in order for them to progress, evolve, or develop into what they are to Become.
Spiritual enlightenment becomes our next “quick fix.” If we can take a class or attend a seminar and get our spiritual body aligned or fixed, then we’ll have satisfaction, right? Forgive everyone, give up all our bad habits, think positive, profess Divine Love for all, and everything will fall into place as it should be.
But that doesn’t always work, either. At least not right away, and never as fast as we want it to. We still have work to do; we still have to acknowledge that yearning from Within, the beckoning that comes at all hours, that comes still at the end of the day when we say we’ve done all we can and yet we remain hungry. Hungry for more. Hungry for Spirit. Hungry for the Divine.
Once we are at the bottom of the well and have surrendered all our human will, then we come to know what it means to be fed Spiritually. If we finally set aside our fascination with accomplishing and achieving and acquiring for the sake of it, we start to realize these things have been symbolic all along of the Abundance of Spirit already in our lives. We don’t have to wait until after death to receive the rewards of Spirit we’ve craved since birth. Understanding our connection to the Divine, we can see how every desire of our heart has been the secret seed planted by the Divine, from that Master Gardener so lovingly tending the Garden, giving us all we needed all along. All we have to do is be like the seed: absorb the nutrients of our surroundings and allow the Growth to occur that is instinctive to us. We can take our nourishment from the soil of our experiences, our daily lives with family, friends, jobs, school, and feed it with the rain and sun of God’s Divine Love for us. Soon, we find we have all our heart’s desires being met without the stress and struggle and strain.
What do we want? We want to remember what it’s like to be Enough. We want to remember that we are Loved, purely and divinely and unconditionally, without reserve and without end. We want to surrender so completely that we become selfless and un-tethered from the chains of mortal limitation. Co-dependent relationships keep us in bondage and don’t allow us to experience the freedom of God’s unconditional love in expression. This does not mean we don’t enter into meaningful relationships with others, marry, have children, maintain close familial and friendly ties. It means by recognizing the possibility of having these relationships without conditions being placed on them, we can thereby also experience a dimension of God’s love otherwise unfathomable. Giving and Receiving become reciprocal parts of one action originally designed to keep us in the Flow of God’s Grace and Favor, in unity and harmony with all life.
So what does all this have to do with achieving one’s heart’s desires? Why would you want to learn or come to better understand a process designed – at first glance – to achieving more things? How can learning to manifest “things” or “conditions” bring us closer to understanding our Divinity, our Divine Nature, or God?
Blessings are those gifts from the Divine we often call Miracles. Some call it luck. Others may call it Grace. I think all these things are synonymous, so our reference herein will be all-inclusive in reference of one or the other, just as God is synonymous to Spirit, Divine, Creator, Universal Life Force, etc. Blessings are the manifestation of God’s Grace in our lives. We are all equally deserving of God’s Grace, since we are all the offspring of the Creator, whether you look at Creation and Evolution as the same thing or not (I seem these serving one another, neither better than the other, but Creation being an act of Evolution and Evolution being a creative process that grows through stages as evidenced by all physical life around us).
We can live our Blessed life now when we allow our Awareness of God’s presence in our lives to be stronger than our awareness of limitations in the human part of our lives. Blessings are revealed when we are ready to perceive – and receive – them. God’s Favor may seem elusive if we believe we are not deserving in some way, or if we begrudge someone else their natural right to their Blessings. Most of us have felt at one time or another slighted when someone else gets “a big break” that we wished we had. We lament that we could have “been somebody” if we’d had all the good luck that so-and-so had, and proclaiming how our accomplishments have fallen short because we just didn’t have Luck on our side.
Part of being fed by Spirit in a way that gives lasting satisfaction is releasing this kind of thinking and realizing not only are we “enough” as we are, but there is “more than enough” substance in the Universe for everyone to have their share. Someone else having “good luck” or “God’s Favor” is not going to cheat us out of what belongs to us; however, the thing that will block our good from coming to us is an attitude that it is “owed” to us by anyone else, especially God.
(C) Copyright 2015 by Barbara Quin
Are You “Living the Dream”?
A visit to the courthouse to appear as a witness in a motor vehicle accident allowed me to unavoidably eavesdrop on a friendly exchange between a Highway Patrolman and an attorney. I was sitting on a bench in the hallway, waiting to be excused to leave. The State Trooper was standing at the end of the bench. An attorney whom I recognized from his regular television ads came by; he was looking for someone else. He recognized the State Trooper and stopped to speak. Here’s the gist of their brief conversation as they shook hands:
Attorney: “Hi, how you doing?”
State Trooper: “Living the dream, man. Living the dream.”
Attorney: “Me too. It’s great, isn’t it?”
They were all smiles.
Earlier, as I was waiting for the bench trial to begin, sitting in the same hallway, I observed court and legal employees walking back and forth, entering courtrooms, calling in witnesses, attorneys visiting with clients. There was one attorney who came through with his highly-styled entourage. He wasn’t a big man but he had a giant persona. Close to middle age (I can’t tell age very well), he was a dandy: slicked back, wavy dark collar-length hair, exquisite dark suit, slip on shoes with the little fringe flap on the front, and bright red socks. He exuded confidence and certainty about what he was doing. I have no idea who he was or what type of case he was involved with, but he reminded me of the super-powerful lawyers you might see in the movies. He appeared to be living his dream with great success.
This all brought back to mind, a defining moment in my work life established in a law class while studying to be a paralegal. I was working full-time as a legal secretary and going to school at night under the paralegal program. My boss (a prominent attorney) was paying for it, and because he loved the law so much, and because he was paying for it, I felt obliged to pursue the paralegal program with the hopes that my income would increase with the degree.
The defining moment came one night while sitting in a first semester law class. I don’t remember exactly what the class was, possibly Legal Logic or Theory or something. The instructor was a good-looking, hot-shot young attorney, full of fire and brimstone, probably less than five years out of graduation from law school. He exuded lawful pride and I’m sure he was very successful. But he said something in the discourse of his lecture that I will never forget. In referencing the process of interviewing witnesses, he said:
“It’s your job to get them.”
I felt a blow to my midsection, a cringing, echoing, hollow sound ringing inside me that said:
“Oh, no, it’s not!”
In that exact moment, I knew law was not to be my career. It would not be my job to “get” anyone. The young attorney had explained that, when questioning or getting information from the opposing witness, “getting them” meant to confuse and frustrate them to such an extent that they muddled their testimony and become un-credible as a witnesses.
What does this have to do with “Living the Dream”?
The conversation between the State Trooper and attorney, with their reference to “Living the Dream” in their respective fields, reminded me that every person’s dream is different. To me, their way of living the dream – as a State Trooper and a lawyer – is not a lifestyle I would want to pursue personally. The dandy-attorney didn’t appear to be someone I would want to be around regularly; maybe he was a swell guy, but the vibe I got in observing him from down the hall was a façade. As for the paralegal college degree, I finished the program and got the degree, but from the first semester, from that one statement made by a young man who was in the moment of living his dream, I knew it was not for me. The conviction of “that’s not my job, not what I want to do for a living” equated to “that’s not my dream.”
What made that experience more significant was that even in getting a degree, I was not following my own dream, but that of my attorney-boss. I let his love of law influence a decision that would affect the rest of my life. If I had chosen my ideal course of study, it would have been Psychology or English, but I didn’t want to be an English teacher and the consensus regarding Psychology for several years had been that there would be no jobs. I needed (or thought I needed) something that would guarantee an immediate income.
“Living the Dream” means different things to different people. What’s ideal for one person may be of no interest to another. We should strive to respect and accept people for their choices, without judgment. When we are “Living the Dream” that’s meant for us, we will have a sense of devotion that is not forced. We will look forward to going to work or performing our service to others. Challenges will come and go and we will feel confident and determined to overcome them.
I encourage you to live your own dream. When you let your heart guide you, you will always make the right choices.