holiday

Even bodhisattvas have breakdowns.

While I claim the identity of a bodhisattva, someone who takes on suffering in life as a choice to help others find freedom, but there are days when even I have breakdowns.

Like many people, sometimes I just can’t even.

I can’t be perfectly patient.

I can’t be in ten places at once.

I can’t be fully prepared.

I can’t be supremely compassionate and calm.

I can’t be all things to all people every moment of my life.

And even though my soul chose the bodhisattva identity, there are times where I’d like to opt out. I’d like to feel less responsible for people waking up to make things better in the world. I’d like to feel less struggle with a simultaneous responsibility to do something with it for the benefit of others. I’d like to have been born into the world with more resources and a better head-start in life. I’d like to feel more brave and bold like I used to be, before my own trauma when my eyes were really opened to the tremendous state of human suffering and how we are all struggling to find some air and room for ourselves.

I’d like to just be a human being and not a superhuman bodhisattva. And whether you choose that identity for yourself, Buddhist or not, maybe you can relate to that feeling of breakdown. When you put your face in your hands and shake your head. When you take a knee. When you want to give the burden on your shoulders to another person for a minute, even if it’s one you’ve chosen for yourself.

The beauty of breakdowns is that they lead to breakthroughs, if we can find a wider perspective.

So I do that. I give myself permission to take a moment and find that perspective. When we make space for ourselves, we allow the breakdown to be what is it for the moment. When we allow the breakdown, we generate the process of the breakthrough.

So for the moment, I just decide that I’m tired or overwhelmed or just don’t have it in me that day. I decide to give myself permission for taking on a big task and doing it to the best of my ability on any given day. I choose to say, “this is what I’ve got to give” instead of trying to pour from an empty cup. The moment of self-compassion and reality check leads to more clarity to move forward. That’s the breakthrough to the next moment of being more fully human, imperfectly.

I just hung up from coaching some new health coach students and we all talked about surrender. And surrender feels like freedom, they said. It’s not about pushing but it’s about allowing.

So we can apply the word surrender to this process. Surrendering to the stuff on our shoulders and giving ourselves a chance to rest. Seeing what we’ve taken on and whether it’s serving us. Selectively choosing what we keep for the next part of our path.

Bodhisattvas are often activists. And activism can kill or cure the very purpose or people we’re trying to serve. If we’ve reached the place where it’s the former more than the latter, choosing to have a breakdown helps us break through to our real, actual intentions to make the world a better place.

As this time of year rolls around and the pressure mounts to be in a million places and buy a million things, we can lose sight of the meaning of the holiday season.

A momentary breakdown may lead you back to why it’s meaningful for you.

Happy Holidays!

Surviving another Solo Christmas

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  Last Christmas, I shared a blog post about waking up alone on Christmas and it was pretty popular. I heard from friends, colleagues and even complete strangers and it felt great to write something that helped so many people.

I shared that story from five years ago because I couldn’t post what was actually happening last year. I was spending Christmas solo, despite the fact that I was in a long-term relationship, and it was just too painful to write about.

This year, because I know people are solo for so many reasons and could use some help, I'll share what happened last year. We can’t help people if we merely allude to it but aren’t actually sharing from our lives, I've really learned that this past year.

And so, I’m sharing what a difference a year made in my life. It began with surviving another solo Christmas last year. If you’re in a similar situation this year, see if anything I did helps you, too.

 

“Where are you Christmas

Why can't I find you

Why have you gone away

Where is the laughter

You used to bring me

Why can't I hear music play…”

 

This time last year, it was clear that the relationship I was in for the past five years wasn’t working, despite my best efforts. Granted, the start of my business and then my transition and the loss of my family led to many stressful times, but all couples experience stress. It's called life. The person I had chosen was ambivalent about committing to a partnership from the day we met ten years prior and I just refused to accept it and move on. Without safety and security, love cannot thrive and by last Christmas, things had deteriorated so badly that I chose to spend the week alone and house-sit for a friend.

I packed a bag and drove across the city. Even though it wasn’t the first time I’d be doing this, it was certainly more difficult. I went from anger to sadness to pure and total confusion and back again. Was I doing the right thing? Was I just spiting myself or was this really a good call? How would I feel waking up alone again, only this time in a stranger’s house?

I sat with those questions and eventually the feeling that I was doing something incredibly right for myself, claiming some self-respect where I had lost it so many times over the past few years, overrode most everything else. I’d drawn a boundary and claimed much-needed space for the holiday experience I wanted to create for myself.

 

“My world is changing

I'm rearranging

Does that mean Christmas changes too…?”

 

Christmas eve at three in the afternoon found me standing in the aisle of Whole Foods completely numb. The little green basket dangled from my hand as people passed all around me. I gradually made my way around, feeling grateful for the many years I spent working and shopping in health food stores; it felt like the home I needed. As I picked up the essentials of what I’d need for the week, I muttered to myself about the excess of food sitting back at my “home”. I bought a few cookies as a treat. This wasn’t a time for deprivation. It was Christmas, after all.

As I began to cook, my mood instantly lifted and the knot in my stomach loosened. I played Christmas music and sang along. The therapeutic process of self-care began to work its magic. When my confidence faltered, some writing and phone calls to my best friends helped restore it.

With each hour that passed, I realized my own strength and resilience. It takes tremendous courage to powerfully choose solitude and consciously embrace loneliness any day but especially around the holidays. I was doing it for the second time in my life. There is so much hype telling us that we need someone or something, either the perfect family or the perfect partner or perfectly-wrapped material items to feel included in “the spirit of the season” or make our lives complete. It isn’t true. I witness so many people talking about rushing around and being stressed out, it seems to miss the point of things.

I think that all we need is ourselves and whatever makes us happy.

I went to bed and slept well but when I woke up Christmas morning alone, I cried. I cried for my childhood that had been filled with stockings and piles of presents. I cried for a family I never see or hear from. And then, I cried for the time and energy I’d invested in a relationship that wasn’t working. I cried because I couldn’t understand and it wasn’t fair. I got it all out.

And then I made coffee and a couple of eggs and I might have had some chocolate, too. I got to make the rules that morning.

And then I realized that I got to make the rules for the rest of my life. I was done settling or feasting on scraps in any way. That decision led to many more I've made this year and, as a result, my life is rich and full of everything I want and need.

A year later, I am celebrating this Christmas as a triumph over last year. It was a rock bottom for me, as I hid out in a friend’s house and published an article that wasn’t telling the whole story of what I was enduring. I no longer feel like a fraud for posting pictures or mincing words to belie the reality of my life.

 

There's no tree this year.

No stocking.

Few presents to give or receive.

But I don't feel alone or deprived in any way. Actually, learning to adjust my expectations has allowed greater freedom and appreciation for what I do receive. I have an invitation to Christmas dinner. Two friends made me homemade goodies.

I feel happy and content with everything I've been given in the past and will receive in the future.

 

“I feel you Christmas

I know I've found you

You never fade away

The joy of Christmas

Stays here inside us

Fills each and every heart with love”

 

Whether you’re dealing with loss of family from death or estrangement, an unworkable relationship or something else, surviving a solo Christmas isn’t about surviving at all. It’s about finding strength in being alone or embracing the pain we feel from a loss somewhere in our lives. It's about remembering that things aren’t always what they appear in the lives of others. It’s about sitting with things as they are. It's about cherishing old memories and dreaming of ones you'll make in years to come and finding tremendous freedom and power in that future!

 

*lyrics to Christmas, Why Can’t I Find You? co-written by James Horner and Will Jennings and sung by Faith Hill

What I Learned From Waking Up Alone On Christmas

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  In December 2007, I woke up alone on Christmas for the first time in my life.

It was one of the most difficult and beautiful experiences of my life--to date. I learned so much about myself, my inner strength and the power of fear. Fear is powerful, but it's not real.

I had moved to Boston from New Jersey (born and bred, baby) in July of 2006 and had traveled home for the holidays that winter. The following winter, I just opted to stay put. A few friends from my place of employment at the time offered me a place at their tables on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so I was set. It would be weird, yes. Awkward, a little. They were people I knew and trusted, so that helped.

But it required some courage and confidence to prepare for the morning--when I would wake up alone. No presents under the tree. No one to hang my stocking, let alone fill it with anything. It was a departure from life as I had known it before. It was new territory, a demarkation carved into my cortex between my former and current self.

Would I be able to do it? What would happen when I woke up in the morning, alone, without a soul to see on a really important holiday?

Christmas Eve dinner was great. My host was kind, the guests kinder and there were cookies. Always a win, for me. I lingered but eventually had to leave. I don't remember commuting home or falling asleep.

But I do remember waking up.

It was quiet. It felt sad. I held my stuffed animals, placed strategically around me on all sides, and I cried. I cried tears that came for so many reasons, some related to the emotions of the morning, some that had nothing to do with anything I felt in that moment. Just tears. Tears cried in the solitude I had chosen to experience.

Eventually, I stopped crying. I got up and ate some cookies and made some breakfast. I watched The Godfather Trilogy, which was something I had set as a goal for myself.  I sat present with emotions ranging from pride to sorrow and back to pride, again. I had done it. I had woken up alone on Christmas and lived to tell about it.

I watched Fredo get the kiss of death. I studied Al Pacino's expressions and thought of my father, who resembles him. My father is also extremely talented and probably would have been an excellent actor.

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I got up, eventually, showered and dressed and found my way out on the commuter rail to a remote suburb for my Christmas dinner. More strangers seated around a table who made a place for me.

To this day, I remember that experience and all I learned from it, namely the profound depth of my inner strength. If we can feel the fear and face the tough stuff, we get to see what we are truly made of. 

I was so afraid of waking up alone on Christmas Day. Even though I chose it, I was worried about what would happen, how I would feel and if I would be able to handle the experience of waking up alone.

Turns out, I handled it just fine. Often, our fear of something ends up being way more difficult than the actual experience.

That experience transformed me and my experience of fear for the rest of my life. Every time I feel afraid of something, anything, I remember every moment of that Christmas in 2007. I remember making the decision to do it and I remember sitting with that choice all the way through the holiday.

Six years later, I still feel good about it. It was damn hard but I feel damn awesome about myself.

Merry DAMN Christmas!