My friend Victoria has her in-laws visiting for six weeks (!) during the holidays. Her father-in-law is diabetic and lives with the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury, which has damaged his short-term memory and left him emotionally volatile and unable to care for himself.
She has to take him to the grocery store, which is difficult because he always wants sweets, which he can’t have because of his diabetes. If she refuses, he gets belligerent in the store. So shopping involves buying him things he can’t have and hiding them later so he doesn’t find them. On top of all this, her dishwasher is broken.
The holidays can be pretty stressful.
Between the high expectations we place on ourselves for happiness, to dealing with family issues, managing travel, money, the pressure of finding just the right gift (and dealing with crowds of aggravating people seeking to do the same), food issues and fending off illness, the holidays offer plenty of kinds of tension, and many opportunities to fall short of our ideals for ourselves.
This isn’t how the holidays are supposed to be.
The holidays shouldn’t be a time of stress, aggravation, and tension, the holidays should be a time for peace, light, and joy.
But saying you should feel one way when you actually feel something else entirely is a recipe for frustration. What you need to do is change your energy, recharging your heart so that you can be the person you truly are. Heart Rhythm Meditation is an ideal way to energize your heart, dissolving tension and bringing light and love.
Over the next 12 days, I’ll present a guided session of Heart Rhythm Meditation for each way that meditation can give you more joy and less stress during the holidays, so that they can be more than suggestions, but practices that you can really implement in your life. (All these recordings will also be available on the IAM Heart Podcast, which offers a convenient way to automatically download the recordings to your mobile device. Click here to learn more.)
These practices all involve the key characteristics of Heart Rhythm Meditation: sitting up straight and tall in a chair, and making your breath deep, full, rhythmic, and heart-centered, while opening yourself to your emotions and the energy of your heart. (More articles about the basics of Heart Rhythm Meditation can be found here.) I have organized the practices into four groups, under the heading of each of the four elements: Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. The four elements are an ancient way of talking about different kinds of energy in ourselves and in the universe. We have an Element Breath for each one which involves a different way of breathing through your nose and mouth that enhance that kind of energy in your heart. (We teach a whole online course on the elements and the Element Breaths; the four elements are also described in the book Living from the Heart.)
The first 3 meditation sessions use the Earth Element:
Be thankful for what you have. Consider all those who do not have what you have. The tension between what is and what we’d like to see leads to a particular kind of holiday stress. When you are truly and deeply thankful for all that you have, you gain a very real sense that life is perfect, just as it is. It is also true that life, and ourselves, can also be improved, and we should never stop striving, but when we strive from a place of wholeness, we can be happy even while seeking for that which we do not possess. Meditation can give you a real experience of gratitude, which will suffuse your being with thankfulness, bringing it out of every person you encounter.
See the best in others. Remember that each person is trying and doing the best that they can, given their own abilities and goals for themselves. Life is hard, and we all fall short. Remember that each person, no matter how aggravating, has perfect, pure qualities — these qualities may simply be distorted. Meditation gives you a sense of the fundamental energy that is the essence of being, so that you can see and appreciate it in each person.
Help others be calm by bringing more peace to your heart. Calmness and peace come when you have brought yourself into a slow, stable rhythm. Our culture has many aspects that seem to encourage a rapid, unsustainable rhythm: we stay up late, eat at odd times, eat foods that over-stimulate our senses, and watch TV and movie screens that show us different scenes with increasing rapidity. Heart Rhythm Meditation makes your breath deep, full, and rhythmic, slowing yourself down on all levels, bringing a durable sense of peace that has an impact on others.
The next three use the Water Element.
Give more to others. Focus on what you’re giving rather than what you’re receiving. When you feel stretched, the last thing you want to hear is that you should give more. You’re probably saying, “don’t I already give enough? What about my needs?” We often give in a tactical way, as in, “I’ll give you this, so that you will then give me that.” This isn’t really giving, it’s more like a transaction. Not only that, it’s probably not going to work, because it’s not focused on the real issue at hand. Other people are unlikely to do what we want or expect, leading to disappointment and frustration when your needs are not met. Meditation provides a way to give your heart and soul what you truly need at the deepest level, so that you don’t look to the outside to fill inner needs.
Create a feeling of abundance and possibility.When we feel a sense of abundance, giving to others is easy. Out of that feeling, holidays become a true celebration of the blessed bounty of life. Easier said than done, huh? Heart Rhythm Meditation works with a full, rhythmic breath to create the experience of giving (on the exhalation) and receiving (on the inhalation). As you take a long, deep, full breath in, you will experience a sense of abundance unlike anything you have known.
The next three use the Fire Element.
Hold your ideal high. The holidays are stressful partly because the reality of the holiday season may reveal how far we are from the ideals of love, friendship, harmony, generosity, and thankfulness. We may feel like giving up, like it would be easier to just forget about all this, and not try so hard. The problem is, giving up is a defeat. The longing behind these ideals doesn’t simply go away, either. It gets distorted into cynicism and bitterness. What we need is to hold the ideals high. An ideal is like a star — let it shine brightly in the sky. Let the sense of idealism drive you on, even while you recognize that it’s unattainable. That is the nature of ideals; if we could attain an ideal, in this limited existence, it wouldn’t be ideal. Nonetheless, an ideal reminds us that there is a perfect reality in the world of spirit, a reminder that we sorely need, for it is human nature to strive for perfection. Meditation offers a chance to explore the height of your ideal within your heart.
See the truth. Feel the truth. Be the truth. Let’s face it, there are certain messages in our culture about the holidays that are nothing more than lies.There is the idea that if we just get more stuff, we’ll be happy. There’s the idea that if we give people stuff, then we’ll be able to make them happy. And then there’s the idea that if we can just make everything in our life right, we’ll be loved, respected, and accepted. We need to come to a place of truth within ourselves. We need to see what is truth and what is lies. We need to fan the flame of truth within us so that it burns brightly enough to illuminate every corner of life, not to judge others or tell them what to do, but to know who we are and have the strength to be our true selves, even when everyone seems to be against it. Meditation is about discovering the infinite and perfect Truth within your heart, where your heart becomes the Heart of Truth.
Focus on the important, not just the urgent. Cut out the frivolous. Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. Sometimes the most stressful times are due to your own loading on of additional tasks that aren’t really important, they just seem to be at the time. Getting a lot done can be addictive, and it can add to things that aren’t necessary. Meditation can help you prioritize, giving you discernment about what is necessary and what is not.
The final three use the Air Element.
See things from another point of view. And another. Much of our stress and suffering comes from our narrowness, the self-imposed limitations we have created on our viewpoint, attitude, and understanding. If we could adopt another point of view, how different things would look! It can be small things, like asking how does this experience feel from my child’s perspective, or that of my parent, or my friend? Meditation offers a very profound way of seeing through the eyes of another, of feeling deeply what another person feels.
Bring a sense of sacredness to the holidays. Remember that every contact you have with another person is an opportunity to give a blessing. But don’t lay a trip on another person. People don’t always share the same beliefs, and words like “blessing” can raise flags or be misinterpreted. Meditation gives you a sense of sacredness that turns your atmosphere into a blessing, regardless of what you say or don’t say.
Make your heart a vast, wide-open space. The heart we know as our own can be a small place. Make it bigger. Make your heart a vast, wide-open space, filled with the spirit of love. Stress will not touch your vast heart. Meditation brings you into the subtle dimension of being, eventually bringing you to the realization that your heart is as large as the universe.
Some of the techniques in the meditations I’ve led are more advanced, and it may take you some time to become familiar with them. An excellent way to learn about Heart Rhythm Meditation is to take our online course 101: Introduction to Heart Rhythm Meditation. This 8-week online course starts at the beginning, teaching you, inspiring you, and helping you make meditation a part of your life each day.
Once you have completed course 101, you can proceed to take course 102: The Four Elements, in which you will learn all about the element breaths I have described in this series.
Do you have questions about these courses or any of our programs? Please call our office at 520-299-2170 and we will be happy to assist you.
yours in the One Heart,