Saturday, November 26, 2011

We can't help it

I've been wondering what - if anything - I should write about successfully navigating the holiday season. Of course I could offer the usual (and completely useless) advice: try not to go overboard, avoid sugar and alcohol, keep exercising, etc. Please. The holidays are about going overboard! You can go on a diet in January. Avoid sugar and alcohol? The people who write columns like that - what planet are they from?

Once upon a time, before electricity, winter was dark, cold and scary for most folks at least. Even if the harvest was bountiful, no one knew how long winter would last, no one knew for certain there would be enough food in the root cellar to keep the family fed until spring. As the days grew shorter, people regularly gathered around blazing fires, sang songs, danced, told stories, drank, got crazy - to generate energy, warmth, and to forget their worries for awhile.

We are very high fallutin' now, many of us, I should say. We flip a switch, touch a pad, et voila! we are warm and cozy, which makes it harder to understand why we feel compelled to attend every holiday party, why we feel we MUST buy EVERYONE the perfect gift. It is instinctual, the stress and frenzy. It's a part of human DNA. The survival instinct is really powerful!

One sad complication of modern life is that not only are we frantic to celebrate the season, we also feel compelled to keep up with the everyday stuff: working, going to school and such. It's not actually possible, as there are only 24 hours in a day, but we try. We try so hard.

It helps me to remember, when stuck in a traffic jam, running late, still needing to run several errands, that the frenzy I and all those other people stuck in traffic are engaging in is instinctual. Think of all the thousands of generations of ancestors who preceded us. Electricity is a recent invention. We are hard-wired to react as we do, though it can be hard to remember while standing in a long line at the supermarket, for instance.

The other thing I try to remember is to relax my jaw. Here's how: part your lips slightly and your teeth slightly, now relax your tongue. Relax your eyeballs. Seriously - this helps. (If you don't know how to relax your tongue and eyeballs, pretend you know how. You will quickly figure it out.) Now take three deep breaths, slowly inhaling until your lungs are full, then letting the exhale escape all at once. If you can, let a sound accompany the exhale. Ahhhhhh is a really good sound.

There is no escape from instinct, no matter how much you insist you're past all of that. Your cerebellum is one powerful hunk of brain matter, believe me. When - or if - you get stressed out during the holiday season now upon us, cut yourself some slack, ok? You are a human being, linked inextricably to your ancestors through blood, spirit and karma.

It helps to remember this, too, shall pass. The solstice will arrive and the days will begin to lengthen. We're going to make it through the winter, what a relief.

Enjoy! Shalom.

No comments: