For many of us, our deepest experiences with being present have occurred in nature—a sunset, a rainbow, the ocean’s vast horizon, majestic mountains. Nature has the ability to draw us out of our minds and into deep connection with our deepest sense of self.
Holidays are often at the opposite end of the spectrum, drawing us into extreme reactivity and unconsciousness. True, when we are young, holidays can be filled with happiness and joy, but more often than not, as adults our holidays involve some combination of sadness, loneliness, disappointment and/or anger. Particularly if we are spending the holidays with relatives, the atmosphere can be electric with years of disappoint, resentment, and frustration.
The Root Cause of Holiday Frustrations
The pain we feel during the holidays is old, accumulated pain from past experience. Additionally, we may have cultural pain, and even passed down in our DNA. Eckhart Tolle has developed a name for this collection of pain—our pain-body. We cannot live with this pain daily as it would be too overwhelming. So we cope in two ways—we suppress it or we let it go. The method of suppressing the pain-body is not a long-term solution.
You can see suppressed pain bodies are at work when you are with family for the holidays and a seemingly harmless comment from a family member triggers an enormous emotional reaction. What can we do when this situation arises?
A Path Beyond Pain
The natural tendency is to try to place blame on the other, or to try to “help” the reacting person. However, the path to breaking the pattern has to start with ourselves. If pain is triggered within you, rather than lashing out at others, see if you can remove yourself from the situation, perhaps by going to another room or the bathroom, and take a moment to be with the feelings. Try to refrain from analyzing the situation in your head (which is the natural tendency), if you do that it will result in a never-ending circle of arguments.
Close your eyes and feel the sensations caused by your emotions – maybe constricted breath, maybe upset stomach—whatever it is, feel those physical manifestations and try to take some deep breaths into them. If you are having difficulty finding a calm internal space, close your eyes and imagine your favorite place or moment in nature. Deeply imagining a natural setting has virtually the same calming effects as actually being there. This is an enormous opportunity to look with compassion at your feelings, and this is the first step to letting the pain-body go once and for all.
If the emotional and mental hijacking is occurring in one of your family members, the practice is to stay present with yourself and don’t be drawn into reaction. Don’t try to reason with them, it will only make matters worse. Try this—even if they are lashing out at you in a pattern that has been repeating for years—practice non-reactivity and instead try to find deep compassion for what they are feeling. Allow space for them and what they are going through—physical space, mental space, and emotional space. You will be helping—simply by not feeding the situation, the pain body will eventually loose its power and dissipate.
A New Way of Relating as Family
The reaction of family members the first time you are able to do this practice will be interesting! Most likely, the reaction will be a mix of confusion combined with trying to draw you back into the familiar painful patterns. You will literally see the confusion in them as the patterns everyone is used to no longer work. If you can remain present and non-reactive long enough for the new pattern to take hold, the pain-bodies of all involved will fade away.
It may seem a monumental task to change such deeply ingrained patterns. These changes are possible and can happen remarkably quickly—it starts with trying to be present with family during the holidays, and the great thing is it starts with ourselves, the place where we have the ability to take action right now.
Our families are too precious and time is too short to keep falling into negative cycles that repeat for years and years. These patterns will continue a lifetime unless we do something about it. If you can be the one to go first and make the change, it will turn the holidays into what they are truly meant to be, a celebration.
Happy holidays everybody!
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