“If you think you’re enlightened, go home and visit your family.” -Ram Dass
My mother died early one picture-perfect Christmas morning a number of years ago, as a lovely, gentle snow fell to the ground. It was not the best of times; my grief was painful, deep and confusing. It seems we cannot avoid such experiences, when we reside in feelings of loss, shock, disappointment, anger, frustration and/or regret. I live in NYC and imagine those who recently lost their homes in Hurricane Sandy feel all of this and …
As the Holidays and New Year approach, various modern versions of “White Christmas” begin to echo through the airwaves, some people do not feel jolly at all. In my work. I meet people in such dark moments, when a sort of stubborn and hopeless fatalism may take over one’s ability to think broadly or feel encouraged. Many are stressed, tired, and reflect upon disappointments, inadequacies and failures, have difficulty sleeping well, and/or caring about or keeping up with tasks and traditions. When the holidays actually do come along, with a weight of ambivalence, they may spend time with friends and family members whose behaviors, communication styles and/or familiar unresolved issues help to dig the blues even deeper. Or, they feel isolated, while others seem more connected. Loneliness colors everything in gray.
One recent Sunday, under the shade of an awning on 6th Avenue, I saw a woman yelling at a small boxer. The dog wanted to sit and she, very impatiently, wanted to continue walking. Frustrated, she pulled hard at the leash, then stared down at the dog eye-to-eye and impatiently yelled “WALK!” at the cute-as-could-be animal, who only seemed to further settle into the concrete with each exclamation. I am sure you will agree with me, a seasoned psychotherapist with years of education and experience: this was not an effective strategy. My guess was, the dog needed to sit right where it was for a while before it joined the woman again. Perhaps the woman needed dog training skills. Then the woman gave up the struggle, sighed, and simply paused alongside for a few minutes. The boxer stood up, seeming to have completed a meditation, and walked towards the light side of the street with her.
Even doing one’s best to be on top of “the blues,” some go through the holiday season acutely aware of their own and/or others shortcomings. They may feel themselves to be in an imbalanced state of impatient, anxious depression, or as though they are frozen in time and someone is yelling “WALK” at them throughout the season. Some are in a state of fear that they are going to do the wrong thing and be attacked for it, or someone else will greatly disappoint their expectations. It is as though their nervous systems are either flatlined, stretched or on edge. No amount of new-age holiday elevator music will help, and there is a gravitation towards corners and addictions. Often, when we feel this low, we simply need to sit, and have someone to sit by, to allow us time, to listen with kindness and appreciate how hard we are working to compensate for how low we are feeling. Kindness tips the balance towards the light and “the beautiful.”
While painting pictures, a balance of lights and darks make up the whole. With practice, this becomes easier to remember. When emotionally depleted, what brings us to reenter a flow of life, to notice the “more” beyond the darks that seems most apparent, to weave light, beauty and love through our hearts, experience and thoughts? There is a uniquely different answer for each person.
I have an art-instruction magazine on the desk in front of me, including an article titled “Master Light and Perspective.” When learning to paint a picture, a teacher assists the student painter in choosing an angle from which to view and represent the light. When emotionally dark, before we can shift our perspective, we often need someone else to wait, listen, care, and point us towards the light (this is often where I come in).
It is my experience that light and beauty is always here, all around us: in others, in nature, in the air. We don’t often see it when we are sitting “in the mud” with the blues. Until we are ready to move from our fixed vantage point, we don’t see other colors. And yet, it is all here in and around us. Even when everything seems colored in gray or blue, we can observe and experience the beauty.
Photograph: “Riders in the Rain” © by Chris Heurich