Christmas presence: how to survive seasonal dysfunction

Stuck with family members and an expectation of joyfulness, Christmas can spark tension and arguments too. Jamie Catto suggests how to replace dysfunction and disconnection with empowerment

“If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family” said US spiritual teacher and author Ram Dass.

For some of us, the Christmas season can be a wonderful period of catching up with old friends and spending quality time with family: a couple of weeks of relaxing by the fire and even allowing ourselves time to read while munching on culturally-sanctioned excesses. It can be filled with warm nostalgia and the excitement to create something magical for the kids.

But not for everyone. During the run-up to December we may also feel some pressure. The approach of Christmas can also feel threatening with impending family time – for many this is a hotbed of triggers and old wounds surfacing.

We can frame and experience our ‘suffering’ in a number of ways. We can look at the trials and tribulations as things we have to endure or we can imagine that there’s some offering here beyond just survival. What if life’s challenges were tailor-made to give us opportunities to dissolve everything we’re carrying that’s weighing us down? After all, so many of the head-trips and limiting self-beliefs we live by were set in motion by our painful, childhood family experiences.

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This year I’m treating all the challenges and triggers of the Christmas season as the benevolent, illuminating mirrors and invitations to self-awareness that they really are. I am passionately interested in harvesting all the potential breakthroughs on offer – the real Christmas gifts to birth myself ten levels more liberated into the next year. But it’s going to take all the patience, awareness and playfulness I can muster, because when those demons of ‘I’m misunderstood’ or ‘I’m not appreciated’ or whatever excruciating belief my inner child is triggered into kick in, I often totally lose my centre.

I’m treating all the challenges and triggers of Christmas as the benevolent, illuminating mirrors and invitations to self-awareness that they really are

Most of us have been uploaded with the basic human software, Victim 101, where we view the unexpected and challenging people and situations that cross our paths as problems, as things we have to suffer, as things that are ‘happening to us’. It takes a great leap of faith to imagine during these uncomfortable moments that there might be a deeper intelligence at work which is in constant connection to our state of being and doing its best to invite us back to our juicy, authentic selves.

Let’s upgrade our internal software from Victim 101 to Warrior 305!

From the usual perspective, the people who irritate us are annoying things we have to put up with, but from the reframing stance of ‘life is trying to show me something’ there’s a whole new level of data to explore. The brother who annoys you might not bug me at all, and you’d probably be totally immune to the parents who drive me crazy. It is almost as if the family members who irritate us have been sent over specially by some sort of central casting agency to be just the kind of pain in the arse who upsets us. Is it all random or might it be a perfectly designed situation sent or manifested deliberately to give us some sort of liberation?

Keep asking yourself these questions, either ahead of the family time, or even at the time you’re feeling challenged by their presence and you’ll end up unwrapping boxes and boxes of precious gifts:

  • How am I being asked to self-care here?
  • When I get upset, what am I believing is true that hurts so much?
  • How am I hiding, not communicating, or avoiding vulnerability here?
  • What assumptions am I making about the others?
  • What do they need, on a deeper level, this Christmas and can I give it to them without trampling my own boundaries?

If you dare to soberly ask yourself these questions, then the darkness and powerlessness transforms into lightness and empowerment. It’s the alchemical offering of Christmas and [the Jewish holiday of rededication] Chanukah.

And before I leave you to your pies, one especially important way to make sure we are self-loving around the festive season is to not hijack the positivity of New Year resolutions. Don’t root them in any beliefs that say ‘I should do this’, for example: ‘I ought to do more yoga’ because so many of these intentions can, on close inspection, be rooted in a sense of lack – a sense that I’m not loveable enough as I am.

Let’s upgrade our internal software from Victim 101 to Warrior 305

When we take actions based from that thought, we usually sabotage the action enough to perfectly deliver the ‘lack story’ we were trying to escape from. So please ask yourself, when attempting any worthiness in January: ‘Is this coming from excitement or self-criticism?’

For millions of people, once they are through the mundane, synthetic, commercialised reality of December in the 21st century, yuletide itself can really suck. A spiritual minefield of projection, reactivity, toxicity and semi-conscious hysteria, any notions of inner progress built up throughout the year are often quickly forgotten. Yet amid the chaos of consumerism, there lie golden opportunities.

Instead of intensely striving just to get through, I’m inviting you and myself to transform this Christmas into the liberating ashram it’s meant to be – and give us all the real Christmas presence on offer: self-awareness, lightening up, and daring to risk the vulnerability of a deeper connection with ourselves and our families and communities.

Image: Flickr user ‘Poppet with a camera