Whatever your circumstances, don’t walk through this Christmas season wearing the wrong jumper and don’t waste energy on New Year resolutions that won’t make it as far as Spring …
Love it or loathe it? Christmas can be great fun and stressful. We can head to the New Year full of promise and kind of tough on ourselves about our years’ achievements. To be our best we don’t have to be more than we are already, or put on a mask. Use this time of year to foster an Attitude of Authenticity to make our best of the holiday season and realise more of our potential through the next year.
I hope you saw my last post ‘Thanksgiving 365’ about an Attitude of Gratitude as a great lifehack to help build happiness, health, focus and work output. So here’s to the next: Attitude of Authenticity …
I find the Loving Kindness Meditation at the end of this post particularly powerful and highly appropriate for this time of year. Give it a try and let me know how you get on!
The Wrong Jumper
Christmas and New Year can feel pretty intense. The script put out there is be happy/give just the right presents/cook and enjoy a glorious meal/have friends and family to celebrate with and be wonderfully social … even have enough money (or debt) for it all.
I thought of this when hearing someone’s story of her aunt always buying her one of those Christmas jumpers (when they were not cool). She did not want to upset her aunt so wore the jumpers. She felt misunderstood and that she wasn’t quite her real self while wearing them.
Then there’s that familiar story of Christmas gatherings when despite best intentions, the intensity leads to tensions – many of the ‘here we go again’ variety – and maybe an argument or some awkward silences. We might try to suppress part of ourselves and guess what? It spilled out anyway, often in the wrong direction or we are left holding that tension.
The stress of trying to be something that we are not
Okay, so Christmas is just Christmas and mostly people have a good time and those who are struggling mostly find a way to get through. Often the difficult moments become amusing anecdotes with the passage of time.
Most of us adapt to different situations, showing different sides of our personality and being more or less open, depending on the circumstances and who we are with. That is how we manage life.
Sometimes trying to manage those situations gets stressful – at Christmas or other social gatherings and work and business situations. We try to tuck away parts of our personality, our views and our feelings. We filter us through the expectations and pressures told to us by society, other people and by ourselves over the years.
This can lead to what in psychology is called ‘cognitive dissonance’ – our brain tries to hold contradictory beliefs, ideas or values and that causes mental stress.
We risk becoming disconnected from ourselves – unsure of our path, not taking opportunities, finding parts of us spill out in arguments and poor decisions and we can feel emotionally and mentally unwell. We risk not being able to connect with others – missing opportunities for positive relationships. Essentially, we don’t act in our own or others’ best interests.
They are the ‘wrong jumper’ moments – others don’t understand us and we don’t understand others. ‘That’s Not Who I Am!!’, ‘You don’t understand me’ or ‘You don’t think I’m good enough’.
The Attitude of Authenticity
So by suppressing our true selves we risk disconnection from our self and from others. Yet we hide our true selves because of that very fear. We may limit our potential through fear of failure – believing that we cannot achieve something so we don’t try or we half-try. We may limit our relationships through fear of rejection – that if we show who we truly are, others will feel upset with us, disconnect from us and even leave us.
I am not going down the path of ‘I will speak and behave however I want and you accept that or go away’. I wouldn’t dream of saying ‘I hate that jumper you just gave me’. They are not true, to me.
Happiness is generally what we all seek – for ourselves and for others, peace in the world and a healthy planet. Yet when we let expectations and pressures get in our way, our wants and needs get muddled, strengths and weaknesses get out of balance. Instead of happiness we get physical and emotional stress and we don’t achieve our potential.
To be our Authentic Self we recognise with kindness all of our strengths and weaknesses, skills and abilities, and all of our feelings, wants and needs. We set our boundaries according to our true values, personality and spirit – not by expectations outside of us. When we learn to embrace all that we are and act from that place, we can approach others and life the same way. We are enough. We can fulfil our potential. We can be happy.
To lead from this place
From an Attitude of Authenticity we can truly forge our own path – not Just For Christmas, for all your living, and what a great way to move forwards releasing 2016 and into 2017.
Most of us are layered very well with the messages of our lifetime from others, from society and even from ourselves. When we are true to our authentic selves of course we may feel vulnerable – we wouldn’t tell our deepest truths to someone we just met and often we hide things from our self – denying some pesky ‘home truth’ or being our own worst critic.
As always Mindfulness is not one of those promised solutions – ‘do this and you’ll achieve that’. The gift of Mindfulness is to learn skills we can practice time and again and gradually we get closer to our truth.
Here’s just two things to try:
Pause, take a breath
A quote I love is: ‘Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are’ (Brené Brown, author and researcher).
In any situation we can pause and take a breath. Feel your breath as it fills your lungs. Centre yourself. Don’t act instantly from habit and emotion. Let the wisdom of your Authentic Self surface. The aunt with the jumper might elicit the response ‘I love you and that you always get me a present – these jumpers are something else. I’m going to put it on and act like this’.
Loving Kindness embraces the principles of Mindfulness like acceptance, letting go, trust and patience. With those principles we can embrace our Authentic Self, face our challenges and give ourselves the freedom to be all that we can be. We have the right boundaries and can wish others well without threat to ourselves.
Loving Kindness Meditation
This great meditation is hugely flexible. We can practice the first lines as an affirmation or mantra and it just takes a couple of minutes. We can all find a couple of minutes for loving kindness in our day, right? We and the world are worth that aren’t we?
The bonus – if you practice it as the full meditation occasionally, you can say the first lines as a mantra and your brain will follow the neural pathway regardless. It helps break the repetitive thought patterns that happen to all of us and which can become acute during periods of stress. It creates a space for a new awareness to take hold.
For this meditation I go to the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the highly acclaimed author and founder of the Mindfulness Stress Reduction Programme.
The meditation begins with you:
‘Begin with awareness of your breathing. Then invite feelings of love and kindness towards yourself, perhaps by remembering a moment when you felt completed seen and accepted by someone. Invite those feelings of loving kindness to re-emerge and hold that memory and the feelings it brings in your body. You might say to yourself something like: ‘May I be free from inner and outer harm; May I be happy; May I be healthy; May I live with ease.’
Imagine what saying these things to yourself might do if you really inclined your heart in the direction the words are pointing – not striving to feel it or pretending to feel it or thinking that you should feel it – just see what arises within you.
We can then go on to think perhaps of someone we are close to and care deeply about. We repeat the words above replacing ‘I’ with the person’s name or the word ‘he’ or ‘she’. You might then include others you know and love.
The meditation can go on to include a person with whom you have had a difficult time, just someone you don’t particularly care for. We might try the loving kindness meditation to see if we can begin to let go of our difficult feelings and remind our self that they are just another person who also has feelings, hopes and fears. We see if we might begin to cultivate feelings of compassion and loving kindness toward that person.
We can move the practice on to someone who has caused us harm in some way but do not feel you ‘should’ do this in any way. By letting go of even a tiny bit of our feelings of hurt, anger or even hatred, we might let go of a tiny bit of the suffering those feelings cause us.
Remember we are working on our Attitude of Authenticity. We are not striving to achieve something. We simply allow are feelings to arise. As we continue with our practice of this meditation we might include different people – alive or deceased, those we know well and those we barely know or do not know at all. We could consider those we might have knowingly harmed and ask, within the meditation, for their forgiveness. In this way the practice can be a means to really explore our own heart and mind, to be accepting of those feelings and to let them go.
Wishing You Happy Moments
As we go through the holiday season, whatever your circumstances and challenges, open yourself to inspiration beyond the auto-pilot of our routines and the pressures of the holiday season. That way you bring yourself to increased consciousness, higher authenticity and self-fulfilment, and a gift to yourself and those around you that is priceless – the pathway to your highest truth.
… And Finally
Here’s to you and yours enjoying the best of the season through the gift of your authentic self.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and my previous posts this year. I hope you can take a moment to reflect on anything that might be useful to you.
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