Will it Ever Feel Like Christmas Again?

This is the extent of our decorations..and it's still 80 degrees..

This is the extent of our decorations..and it’s still 80 degrees..

The older I get, there are more sad associations build up around holidays. Especially this year because it’s 80 degrees, my nuclear family is a few thousand miles away, and hearts are broken all over my home state of Connecticut. The holidays just don’t feel as good and innocent as they did when I was little.

I remember being young and asking about Santa. I asked if he could get us anything, and my parents nodded, knowing that the huge box of markers I had in mind was already a done deal. I asked if he came to everyone’s house, they said he did. I asked why people who need money don’t just ask for it then, instead of presents. They didn’t have a good answer. Maybe they said the elves couldn’t make money in the North Pole, I’m not sure. I just remember that it seemed awfully unfair, but I didn’t stop believing just yet.

That’s the thing. The unfairness was harder to handle than disbelief, in some ways. It was awful, and yet there was nothing I could do. The elves can’t make money and toys don’t pay bills, so suffering would happen and my fleeting notion that I had solved the world’s poverty problem was thrown out the window.

The Difficulty of Grasping “It’s Just Unfair”

When it came to learning Santa was fake, it was far more simple. Okay, there is no Santa. Not a huge deal, I sorta saw it coming anyway. Being a big fan of magic, I was just happy that they taught my brain to believe in magic at all (Yes, that’s the kind of stuff I’d think about as a kid). It was harder to feel and hold the sadness and anger that I could get presents, but not get money to give to everyone that needed it.

Let’s go to the Connecticut tragedy for a second, because that feeds into this too. In the midst of conspiracy theories and extreme religious people saying that God planned it or something like that, I can’t help but feel like these mentalities are held by those trying to run from that feeling of how horrible it is that someone could do such a thing without being brainwashed or part of God’s master plan. Murder of innocent people is happening in so many places, so much of the time, and yet we can’t always picture it or feel sorrow. For me, it’s easy to picture a suburban Connecticut town in December right before Christmas; that was where I came from. Maybe if it happened in the high plains it would seem farther. But having the ability to visualize it and relate with the situation makes it feel more powerful to me, and I’m not going to feel guilty for that. I can use the high impact of the tragedy in my consciousness to lead to more empathy when I hear of the many deaths of children around the world, but the ones that are “close to home” are going to hit harder, I would imagine.  It’s just how it is.

Back to the holidays, though.

Sure Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas Time

It doesn’t feel like Christmas and I don’t know if it ever will. Even if I was with my family on the East Coast, there is less of that feeling. Perhaps the holiday joy gets deeper and less sparkly as we age. Maybe it gets grainy and raw, a holiday feeling that has Sam Elliot’s voice and the grumble of a diesel engine. Maybe it isn’t light and fluffy like movie snow, but resistant and firm like a wrought iron crowbar from hundreds of years ago, being dug up from the dust.

Who knows.

But it’s okay. It’s fine. It doesn’t need to be any certain way, it just has never quite dawned on me that perhaps it isn’t just “this year” that feels off. Maybe the holiday spirit has taken on a permanent new form for me. The amount of friends I have who have lost parents or people close to them is growing, my heart goes to them as the holidays roll around, and there is sadness. It’s not just about trying to wish hard enough for new markers or crochet a dozen last-minute scarves. It’s about realizing that the holidays are as much a trigger for pain for some  people I love as a reason to celebrate for others.

The Roots of the Magic Becoming Transparent

Part of it is the decorations and consumer-based nature of this beast.

Cute plush stockings are our only decoration this year, but I know that the places where they were made would probably make me a bit sick. There are so many illusions, all trying to support the idea of love, but distracting from it, too. Cut down trees, buy gifts, buy insane amounts of decorations. I imagine being in some faraway factory, bracing for the time when Americans go nuts for cheap treasures.

What am I saying here? I’m not quite sure. I am having a hard time thinking normal thoughts since the Connecticut shooting, and anything else seems rather trite. I wonder if other people are feeling the difference in holidays as they get older, and if this holiday season will feel like other holiday seasons to anyone who felt a connection to Connecticut and the other recent tragedies.

Are you having a good holiday season, whatever holidays it is that you celebrate?

Are you finding the joy in these times, even with the pain happening?

Do you feel like the holiday spirit changes as we get older, or does it change as a product of the times, with technology and blow-up decorations taking the place of hand-made presents and simple ornaments?

Any thoughts you have related to the above are completely welcome.

I hope you are all well!

The “Enjoy Life” Mission is Not to be “Happy”

I’m not sure what the title of my blog causes people to assume, but I don’t, by any means, “enjoy life” all of the time. I feel like there is actually a very devastating and stressful pressure to “enjoy life” among a lot of people of my generation, and I’m hoping this blog can be the place where we can let go of pressures like that. Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you felt it too?

The Pressure to Be Happy: You Have No Right to be Sad

Maybe the pressure comes from the stresses that previous generations had to go through to get us where we are today. We have food on the table, so we really shouldn’t complain. That makes sense.  But then we have the other end of the spectrum.

The Pressure to Be Happy: You Should Be Rich Doing What You Love, Everyone Else Is!

We could end up being famous like entrepreneurs that run the social media websites and singers that compete on our televisions. We see people making millions for doing something they enjoy, so why shouldn’t we be able to do the same thing?

If we end up in a good job, there’s pressure to be “happy” in it especially if it makes big bucks and we worked our lives for it. If we aren’t in a good job,  we either should find a good job or make the next billion dollar idea or be the new YouTube sensation.

The possibilities are endless, so why are we the only ones in a mediocre job in an icky mood when everyone else is traveling the world having babies and creating masterful lasagnas and found-art garden statues from Pinterest while getting billions of views for that video they posted of their kid saying something silly?

Maybe the pressure comes partially from the fact that we are visible. We share our joy and love with everyone we’ve ever met through various “feeds” so we can graze on everyone’s updates like farm animals sharing space at the trough.

The last thing that I want this blog to be is a place that contributes to that pressure to be happy and joyous.

This Blog is Fueled By Frustration & Fear

I am a person plagued with insecurities, anxieties, fears and frustrations. I also meditate and like to try and improve my relationship with the world. My regular frustrations and insecurities are blessings because I constantly have something to work on, write about, and share to relate with others who are feeling the same things.

This blog is not here to make you happy or to add to that pool of one-sided joy you see in your feeds. It’s here so that we can catch ourselves responding to these pressures and realize that nothing is wrong with us. Everyone gets pissed off, feels unfulfilled sometimes, and wonders whether they were the only one who slipped into adulthood without passing the test that everyone else took that shows you do in fact know what the heck you’re doing.

The Point is to Be Willing to Feel Something New

I know that dishes in the sink will always piss me off sometimes and that I’ll always have frustrations with my job, no matter what the job is or what type of dishes they are. I could make billions a day for testing the softness of pillows and have rainbow crystal opal dishes and I would still get pissed sometimes. That’s okay.

When I pretend that I don’t get mad or that life is some perfect happy everything-happens-for-a-reason type of thing, my heart rots and I start to feel alone, feeling like everyone else gets to just do what they love all the time and that I should be doing that too. I need to remember that it’s okay to feel genuine feelings even if they are icky. I don’t have to run from them or make them all fit into the mold of “happy” against their will. Then I feel fake, and that’s not cool.

“Enjoying life” from the perspective of this blog is not about being happy. It’s about noticing the may ways we run away from the present moment and making the choice, sometimes at least, to feel something new.

Did you think this blog was about being “happy” when you first found it?

Do you ever feel the pressure to become something different or be somewhere different than where you are now? Does that pressure come from you or from somewhere else?

Do you think you’d have fun as an Internet Sensation?

Mini-Post: Bringing Life to the Dead Zones of Routine

I’m experimenting with a mini post. Life is all about trying new things, right?

Today Enjoy Life For Once’s Facebook status was:

Pick a routine today, especially a dull one. Doing the dishes, tidying the living room, packing your bag. Devote ten seconds of the time to just paying attention. Feeling the water on your hands, feeling your legs. Notice the colors, the sounds around you. Bringing fresh attention to the dead zones of your day is a great way to start making friends with the present moment, which is where your power to change is.

Do you ever try this technique? What kind of results do you see?

How many times during the day do you think that you are unaware of things where you could be more present?

 

For me, I noticed that when I spent time paying attention while doing the dishes, the routine became more enjoyable. I felt more collected afterwards, and even felt moved to clean up the living room a bit, noticing the weight of each pillow in an enjoyable way.

It was nice.

I would like to try doing that more often, since “doing the dishes” is one of those things I always assume will be horrible.

Are there routines that you despise, that you do begrudgingly, that could perhaps get some fresh life into them if they were less bothersome?

 

Falling in Love With Vulnerability to Experience a Wholehearted Life

When you make banana bread, it ends up with those little magical black lines in it. They are always spread throughout and organized so precisely. They are how you know it’s real and that it shall be delicious. Maybe moments of challenge, sadness, heartbreak, and anger are like those little lines in an overall happy and healthy life. Maybe remembering this in the moment can help us to jump in bravely at some opportunities for vulnerability, rather than instinctively shying away from them without realizing it.

This post is about connecting Brene Brown’s work on Vulnerability with the Happiness Trap’s version of “happy.” I’ve been enthralled with both of these notions for the past few weeks and they are helping me to feel that lots of little routines are easier to spot and change, so I’d like to share some of these connections with you guys.

The Happiness Trap

Let’s look at the components so that this makes sense. We’ll start with an excerpt from The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. They start by addressing the fact that we all tend to chase, strive for and crave “happiness”. They mention that the most common definition of it is “feeling a sense of pleasure, gladness, or gratification.” They talk about how feelings of that type of happiness never last, and in fact, “the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more likely we are to suffer from anxiety and depression.” Then they go on to talk about the other meaning, which is something I try to hold in my head a lot of the time:

“The other far less common meaning of happiness is ‘living a rich, full and meaningful life.’ When we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeing feeling- it is a profound sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable feelings, it will also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness, fear, and anger. This is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotions.”

Brene Brown’s Work On Vulnerability, Shame, And Wholeheartedness

Now let’s look at Brene Brown’s work. She has several books out, and I’ve been watching her TED talk videos and others that she has on YouTube. There is a link to the first video HERE and you can then find the rest. You would probably enjoy her work if you like this blog.

Basically, she has found through doing work on shame that everyone has shame, but some have less. The people with less shame tend to have more vulnerability, and they tend to be living in ways that are that second meaning of “happy” and wholeheartedness. They have a feeling of being “enough” and being worthy.

The Connection

I see a connection between these two bodies of research. The more that we are willing to be uncomfortable, the more chances we have for happiness of the second variety- the deep, full, meaningful life type. That deep and meaningful life will not always be fun, but it will be rewarding and satisfying. We just have to be vulnerable..but what does that even mean? Are there various types of it, are there different styles? Can we learn it in a book,  and can we master it like a science?

Falling in Love with Vulnerability

I find that for me, it helps to learn a concept by falling in some sort of love with it. Looking at it from all angles, viewing it through a lens of poetry, thinking of it in my spare time, writing poems about it. So that’s what I’ve been doing in some ways with vulnerability- falling in love with it.

Vulnerability is not very comfortable. Sometimes a certain thing, like sharing our feelings publicly or telling someone we love them, is a vulnerable thing to do at first or in a certain context. After that, we get used to that one thing, or we will. But we haven’t mastered vulnerability. There will be something new after that until we cease to change and grow.

That is what I’ve been trying to work on this past week. Embracing my own many flavors of vulnerability and noticing the many areas that it arises for me.

I would like to find and read more of Brene Brown’s work. I’m curious to learn about the types of vulnerability and how they relate with each other. Also, how conditioning comes into play- if you are rewarded for being vulnerable, does it become easier? Can you reward yourself for it if this is the case? And do you get more familiar with the feeling in general or is it always going to be moving to a new place in your life if you overcome it in one area?

Like her, I tend to strive to find a method and a list. It’s harder for me to accept the mystery of the whole thing, an observant blogger Ktismatics artfully pointed out in a comment on last week’s post about priming. I like to pretend that I can gain fully conscious control of my world, but that will never happen; which provides me another chance to openly feel vulnerable and come through the other side with a greater willingness to do it again!

The Results of This Food for Thought

Since thinking about these things, I have noticed changing patterns in my life. I would be more aware of a choice arising in me based on avoiding certain feelings, and often times those feelings were about something bad happening. There were patterns of dog walks that I would take, patterns of places I’d do my work, patterns of plans I’d make for after work. But then I started changing.

I brought the dog to a new trail in the woods that I was previously afraid of. I made plans with people I was shy around, I reached out. I finally cleaned up the piles of mess because I looked at how much a book case actually costs instead of assuming it was too expensive. I noticed some moments when I would feel a sense of pressure based on fear or avoidance, and I would make efforts in such cases to try and step out into those feelings and through them to see what happens. Maybe I get rejected, maybe horrible things happen- or maybe they don’t, and another bar on the cage of routine is seen for the colored mist that it is and evaporated as soon as it comes into contact with my fearless hand. More will arise to take its place, and I will try to fall in love with the feeling of swiping my hand through them just to realize their illusion of solidity, over and over, until the day that I die.

So I invite you guys to watch those videos, learn from that amazing woman, and to read “The Happiness Trap” if such things intrigue you. I know that for me and some of my more stubborn anxieties and avoidant habits, these two bodies of knowledge have been very useful in a rather concrete way leading to action-based change.

How about you?

Have you been aware of Brene Brown’s work in the past? Were you strongly affected by it? Do you recommend her books?

Do you know the places in your life that are a bit caged in by routines, and what would those bars look like if you could see them holding you in place? Would they be made of purple sparkling bars or misty bars or hard steel? A mixture?

Do you feel like you notice when you are moving away from a choice in fear, or is it something that just happens outside of awareness?

Stepping Out of the Useless Jaws of Comparison by Contemplating Friendship

There are many types of friends. Some people that you cross paths with take a long time to open up to you. Other people open up instantly and light your life up with a fire that goes out just as quickly. There are still others that you hardly talk to and yet, there is a closeness there that seems to make no sense,but it is as real as the floor beneath you. There are so many types of friends and connections that can happen.

I know I have been neglecting this blog, even though I tried to vow not to do that. Moving to a city means that there are a thousand different connections between myself and the world around me that I get to explore for the first time. I never lived in a place where I could easily take the bus to a different coffee shop every day, and keep that routine up for..well..I don’t even know yet. Probably ever.

That being said, I am ridiculously grateful for my friends. Everyone should be. The longer I live, the more I see patterns of friendship emerge. There are the friends that you have tension with where arguments are free to happen and fall away, there are friends that just seem to never have any tension or arguments with you, there are friends that step out of your life and into their own for a period of time; sometimes never coming back, other times coming back as if they never left.

Some friendships transcend time and space incredibly conveniently. They seem to embody the ideal of the puppy that never grows up. They are full of rich closeness and trust, and yet they never age or become jaded. They simply always exist in that wonderful state of joy whenever the two people are talking. Time spent apart does nothing to them, neither does distance. They have their own strange self-sustaining magic.

I notice that sometimes my brain, like the brain of everyone else, becomes caught up in comparisons. This or that person is smarter than me, prettier than me, luckier than me, whatever it may be. Or, this stir fry I am making is turning out horribly because the beets didn’t make it to that same texture they were at last time I used them, this wine is not as delicious as that other kind I had last week, this place is better than that place because of the weather, etc. Comparisons, comparisons, comparisons.

Thinking about and witnessing so many of my friendships lately is leading me to believe that it is really worth my time to try and catch these comparisons and step out of their grasp intentionally. Sure, the beets didn’t turn out the same way as last time, but the brown rice really took in a lot of flavor and the dish tastes delicious. Of course this place has different weather than that place, both types of weather are pretty interesting and unique. Maybe that person does have more intelligence about one thing than I do, but that’s cool, I can learn from them. These comparisons never serve to help anything.

That’s just it, perhaps. The act of comparing for the sake of making this moment seem inferior to another moment is just not a good idea. I mean, it’s the moment. It wins no matter what.

It is a trap that would be useful to step out of. There are some little traps that do not matter as much, but this seems like a big one. If I could count the number of times that my brain tricked me into stepping out of the moment today simply because of comparisons, well, it would be a rather large number.

Friendships are a great topic because everyone has them, and you can see how they illustrate the idea that things can be different without being any better or any worse than their counterparts. One friendship can look incredibly different than another, and that does not make it superior or inferior. For some reason, it is incredibly easy to see it with that particular topic in mind. Then, when we try to down-talk tonight’s dinner because of a comparison, we can remember how it feels to see the beautiful variety of our friendships, and remember how valuable it can be to step out of the jaws of comparison.