Help for the Holidays

Jay Michaelson
December 24, 2023
Resources for a Mindful, Happy Holiday

We’re currently amidst the longest nights of the year, and, not coincidentally, the time when many cultures and religions celebrate light, love, and the sacred.

For many people, the good cheer and family time of the holiday season brings light to the darkness outside. Yet for many others, the holidays can be profoundly challenging. Some of us are alone, while others are with family members with whom we have difficult relationships. Some of us love Christmas music, decorations, and shopping, while others feel alienated or stressed out by those things. Despite what commercials suggest, there’s no one right way to feel at this time of year! Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, we want to encourage you to bring mindfulness and meditation with you.

We’ve created a new ‘Help for the Holidays’ pack with 25 guided meditations (!) on topics including managing mental chaos, focusing on joy, and navigating difficult relationships. If the holidays make you feel more ‘oy’ than joy, these guided meditations will really help.

Mindfulness can help us turn toward the delightful aspects of this season. Personally, I love the steam rising from laundry vents, the indoor smells of firewood, the warmth of thick stew. I even sometimes love the alterations in my mood: turning inward, slowing down. 

And yet, it sometimes takes proactive effort to notice the good in our lives, because we’re evolutionarily wired to focus on the negative. Mindfulness is an ally in this, because it helps us to slow down, become a little freer from repetitive mental circuits and patterns, and see clearly.  And when there’s clear seeing of even the simplest things—a blanket, a chickadee, a memento from a trip—gratitude can arise on its own. 

There’s a subtle joy that emerges from what might be the fundamental mind-heart movement of mindfulness: seeing clearly what’s actually happening, free from the push-pull of our desires.  There’s a real delight in letting go of the urge to be happy in a certain way, or to celebrate the season in a certain way.  

This letting-go is familiar from meditation: as soon as I stop trying to relax, I can relax. As soon as I stop trying to feel joy, I can feel joy. The primary obstacle to happiness is the relentless search for happiness. 

You can feel this in your body when you meditate. When you’re trying to feel a certain way, or holding onto some thought, or wishing some difficult sensation or emotion would go away, there’s often a straining or tensing of muscles in the body. The next time this comes up for you in meditation, see if you can notice that holding before reflexively letting it go. You can even do a body scan to see if tension might be present without you even being aware of it.

That last bit is gold. Obviously, your body is tensing and relaxing all the time. But by practicing meditation, you can learn to become aware of it and let go of tension that much sooner. You might not even notice any particularly tense feelings or thoughts in the mind. But your body is your barometer.

There’s a deep joy in releasing the resistance to what’s going on. You can say to yourself, “Okay, this is what’s happening.” Even if it doesn’t conform to some Hollywood image of what the holidays should be like, this is what’s true. It just feels so good to stop fighting with reality. And the best part? No matter what the holidays look like, that happiness is yours.

Dr. Jay Michaelson has been teaching meditation for fifteen years in secular, Buddhist, and Jewish communities. Jay is a journalist on CNN Tonight and at Rolling Stone, having been a weekly columnist for the Daily Beast for eight years. Jay was also an editor and podcast host for Ten Percent Happier for four years. He's an affiliated professor at Chicago Theological Seminary. Jay’s eight books include "The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path" and "Enlightenment by Trial and Error".

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