I read an article the other day that said “in order to enjoy the holiday season, lower your expectations”. I was surprised, although I can understand where the author was coming from. I’ve noticed over my few decades on the planet that there is a rise in expectations for the holiday season… It is as though there is an expectation of perfection for the holidays, and since this rarely happens, there ends up being frustration and disappointment.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer us something useful to manage this expectation of perfection. Using the first limb, known as the yamas or restraints, we are invited into a different approach to living, over the holidays and in our lives.
The first teaching is one of non-harming and non-violence, an opening into compassion and love. This means to have compassion and love for people as they are, not as you want them to be. Managing this first expectation is really important because we have no control over other people and how they behave. Let’s face it, most of us barely have control over ourselves, never mind anyone else. Loving with conditions or limitations, this type of “strings attached” love is harmful and I’m not really sure I would even call it love. To truly love someone else as they are is the ultimate practice of love.
The second teaching is about learning what is real. I believe this to be very important because often we expect things of others that are not within their current capacities. If we have an alcoholic family member, then why would we expect the unrealistic behaviour of sobriety? If we have a family member who is anxious by nature, how can we expect them to be calm and relaxed? If someone is selfish, how can we expect them to be generous and think of others first? This teaching on reality is what I think of as the “sanity keeper” – cause it allows me to manage my expectations of others based on their patterns of behaviour, and this keeps me feeling sane. It also allows me to cultivate loving them in their current and real state –without the unrealistic and unattainable expectation of perfection getting in the way.
The third teaching is particularly useful over the holidays in a first world country – non-coveting. Not comparing ourselves to others, not wanting what others have (“keeping up with the Jones’s” syndrome) and not taking what hasn’t been freely given or earned. Our first world holiday season is one of excess, accumulation, and over the top spending. I believe that giving and receiving are an important part of life, however not just over the holidays. It is a daily practice of sincere generosity, and not just because hallmark said so. And so begin to consider what you give and receive every day, and ask yourself why the need to give more now? What is the intention behind the action? Does this align with your beliefs?
The fourth teaching is moderation – the management of our vital energy and personal resources. The holiday season tends to be one of excess on all levels. It may have its moments of joy, however most feel depleted and require recovery post holiday. What if we were to approach the holidays with honesty around what we can and cannot do? What if we were to do the best we can with what we’ve got, and let the rest go so we can cultivate self-care and a depth of presence during this time? This invites us to prioritize, and choose the people and events that really matter to us – if we do this, then we will most certainly have more meaningful holiday celebrations. The reality for most of us is that we have more to do, than we have the time and energy for. How do we navigate this without FOG (fear, obligation, guilt)?
The fifth teaching is non-possessiveness – what we try to possess, ends up possessing us. I like to think of this one in terms of voluntary simplicity. What are the ways that we can simplify our holidays so there is more room for joy? If we’re booked down to the second, we haven’t created the space for joy and for the unexpected surprises that tend to fill the heart with sweetness. The more we fill our houses with stuff, the less room there is for us to live in those houses. Consider how to simplify, how to create space for yourself and the things that matter to you.
I hope these teachings offer you an opportunity to find more joy, space and love over the holiday season. And from this, meaningful connections to your loved ones.
I would love to hear any thoughts you have, and how your holidays went. Leave us a comment below.
Happy Holidays to you and yours – peace & love,