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Slowing down when the holidays speed up

By Michelle Richards

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In the Northern Hemisphere, this time of year means fewer daylight hours. In the Midwest where I live, gray skies clouded by falling and blowing snow can make even the days seem dark. Our natural impulse is to slow down, seek warmth, and sleep more.

During the last weeks of our calendar year, however, slowing down rarely seems like an option. We’re given more time off to spend the holidays with family, yet we spin our wheels trying to make everything “perfect.” We can run ourselves ragged just when our bodies most need to step back and take it easy.

In times like these, regardless of our religious philosophies and personal theologies, we can take a cue from our Buddhist brothers and sisters and encourage our children to appreciate the Middle Way. It is said that the Buddha found enlightenment when he discovered that the path lies not in exaggerated asceticism or self-indulgence, but finding a balance somewhere in-between.

Even as they clamor for the latest fad and most expensive toy (that we as parents either can’t afford or often don’t feel is appropriate), we can help them to appreciate the natural rhythms of the season by accepting what is most meaningful. Then we as parents can learn to put aside those stressors that really don’t matter as much.

Start by sharing what is special about the holidays to yourself as a way of modeling how you would like them to share. Try to avoid the negative, and stay in the positive. “I really like our family togetherness” will encourage more openness than announcing, “We need to spend less money on presents” or “We are going to all hand-make our presents this year.” While those two options may be the end result of your conversation, getting there through family sharing is the goal.

I remember the first few years that my husband and I tried our own winter holiday tradition around the Winter Solstice. While I knew it was our own celebration and we could reinvent it any way we wished, so much of the first time involved recycled Christmas traditions: baking cookies, hanging decorations, buying and wrapping presents. Then came the night we ended up in a full-blown argument with each other and everything was nearly ruined. We were called back by our (then) five-year-old daughter who reminded us what it was all really about. “Can’t we just start over?” she asked in her small voice.

We did. We all sat down and re-examined what was meaningful to us as a family. Now each year during this season, we intentionally remind ourselves what is important and let go of what is not. This also allows us to enjoy the entire season more because we are able to honor our bodies’ natural tendency to slow down and focus more on the internal, to find balance amidst the chaos of the winter holidays.

Photo above © Maya Kruchancova/iStockphoto

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