Simple Seasonal Pleasures for December

red berry fruit
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December.  Just when it seems the days can’t get any shorter, they do…for just a few more weeks anyway.  The Winter Solstice is nearly upon us.  As the temperatures drop and we descend into this darkest time of the year, we take comfort in the warmth of our homes, the coziness of a favorite blanket and a hot cup of tea, the company of friends and family.  We create our own light this month.  Light a fire or a candle or two as we usher in this month of celebration and togetherness.

  1.  Reevaluate your holiday to-do list.  With all of the celebrating and togetherness that December brings, along with it comes a long list of obligations and to-dos.  Take a little time this month to really decide what you enjoy doing during the holiday season and what don’t.  Maybe you’ve been making seven kinds of Christmas cookies every December for the past ten years and this year you decide to pare that down to just one or two favorites.  Maybe you hate sending Christmas cards.  Take a year off from it and see how that feels.  If you are exhausted by the mere thought of  December, rest assured you don’t have to do it all.  This is YOUR month, too.  Make it manageable.  Maybe even enjoyable!
  2. Deliberately set aside time for yourself.  It is ironic that as everything becomes dark, quiet and still in nature at this time of year, we run around like crazy people caught up in the busy-ness of the holiday season.  There is magic to be found in the silence of the Winter Solstice if we are willing to make space for it.  Find a little time each day to sit quietly with a cup of tea or coffee and your journal.  Really listen to what this time of stillness is trying to tell you and simply write.  Let your pen flow across the page, stream of consciousness style.  Ask yourself the question, what gifts await me here in this sacred quiet space?
  3. Watch a favorite holiday movie or two.  There are the obvious classics….Elf, A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation.  But don’t forget the more unconventional choices (we consider Die Hard a Christmas movie at our house.  It takes place on Christmas Eve, after all!).  Or dig deep and find a real old-timey classic to enjoy.  I personally love The Bishop’s Wife starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young.
  4. Celebrate the Winter Solstice.  IN WHATEVER WAY YOU WANT.  Unless you are a hermit or live in a cave, you probably have family holiday traditions and rituals that have taken on a life of their own.  Some may feel more like obligations that celebrations.  Even as we evaluate and reprioritize our time as suggested in 1 above, there is no escaping the fact that we will be attending gatherings and celebrations this month that may not be entirely of our choosing.  So why not make the Winter Solstice a holiday that is entirely yours?  You could light all the candles and make a cozy intimate supper to usher in the longest night of the year.  Or take a long, hot bath (once again, candles would be nice here).  Or you could simply be like the trees outside, hushed and still, in a comfy chair in your living room.  Possibly with a hot cup of glögg in hand (see 6 below).  Take some time to craft a Winter Solstice ritual that nurtures you and is entirely yours.  
  5. Notice the miracle that is snow.  If you live in a climate where you experience snow fall this month, take some time to really appreciate its extraordinary beauty.  The way a hush falls over a landscape blanketed with snow.  That squeaky sound your boots make when you walk through it.  The sight of a fragile individual flake resting on your glove (remember…no two are alike!).  We mostly lament snow and the headaches it brings to our daily routine, especially our commute if we have one.  Take a moment and see the wonder of it.
  6. Glögg.  This is the word for Swedish mulled wine.  It’s pronounced “glue-g” by the way.  I don’t want you embarrassing yourself trying to say it in public.  Spicy, sweet and soul-warming, it is served throughout December in Scandinavia, particularly on Sundays to celebrate Advent.  I’ve tried several recipes for glögg over the years, and my favorite is from the book, Fika by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall.  Bonus points if you bake gingersnaps to go with your glögg.  A classic combination.
  7. Hats, scarves, gloves and mittens.  Remember when your parents would tell you that you couldn’t go outside and play until you had on your hat and mittens?  At some point along the way, probably around middle school when we became too cool for hats and mittens, many of us quit wearing these warming accessories.  It’s time to bring them back!  Giving your head and hands a little warmth during this cold time of the year is a small but sweet act of self-love and kindness.
  8. Settle in for a long winter’s nap.  For real.  Sneak away on a weekend afternoon before your social calendar gets to crazy, get under the covers and take a nap.  There is much research to suggest that naps are a key to longevity and long-term wellness.  Even if you “don’t nap,” grab a good book, snuggle into bed and see what happens.  You might just drift off into a much-needed, restorative afternoon interlude.
  9. Give yourself (and others) the gift of acceptance.  Expectations run high this time of year.  Accepting ourselves and others just as we are in this moment will go a long way to making our December that much more enjoyable.  Maybe you’ve had a rough year and aren’t really feeling in the holiday spirit.  Simply accept that starting point and go easy on yourself.  Go back to 1 above and reevaluate those holiday priorities.  Revisit 2 and set aside time for yourself.  By the same token, meet others where they are as compassionately as you can.  Will Uncle Joe try to engage you in a heated political discussion over Christmas dinner AGAIN this year?  Chances are good that he will, so there is no need to expect anything different.  And keep your sense of humor intact!  It goes hand in hand with acceptance for making it through the not so easy parts of the holidays.

Much love and inner light to everyone this month!  Happy Holidays!

A Letter from Your 80-Year-Old Self: A Journaling Exercise

brown paper envelope on table
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In the age of e-mail, texting and social media, a well-crafted, thoughtfully composed letter is rare and beautiful thing.  When we use letter writing as a journaling technique, we are not limited to simply writing letters to other people in the traditional sense.  We can write letters from ourself to ourself from a variety of perspectives:

  1.  A letter from a feeling or emotion that you would like to explore further to your self.  Perhaps you’ve been angry or frustrated lately and you aren’t sure what’s behind it.  You can write a letter from frustration to you, letting your frustration have an opportunity to speak to you, uninterrupted, on the page.
  2. A letter from your younger self to your present day self.  This is a great thing to do if you are feeling like you’re out of touch with what’s fun and joyful in your life.  What did your younger self love to do?  What did s/he want to be when s/he grew up?  Let him or her have a voice and remind you of who you were before you starting caring about what other people thought of you.
  3. Write a letter from your authentic self to your present day self.  Let s/he tell you what his or her dreams and desires are.  Let them show you just how brilliant the essence of you really is.
  4. Write a letter from your older self to your present day self.  Let s/he share the wisdom of their life experience with you.

For today’s exercise, we will write a letter from our 80-year-old self to our present day self.  Take out your journal and a pen.  Sit comfortably and close your eyes.  Let your breathing become slow and steady.  In your mind’s eye, picture your ideal vision of the 80-year-old you.  You are vibrant, healthy and radiant.  Really get a clear image of what you look like.  What are you wearing?  What does your hair look like?  How do you move?  Where are you?  Who are with?  Really flush out all the details.  Now imagine that 80-year-old self sitting down with paper and pen and from a place of deep kindness and compassion, writing you a letter.  S/he has so much wisdom and life experience to share with you, and s/he only has your best interests in mind.  When you are ready, open your eyes and begin writing your letter.  Take as much time as you need, at least 20 or 30 minutes.

Once you have finished, read through your letter, underlining any passages that feel particularly resonant and meaningful.  Thank this future version of you for everything that s/he has shared.

Thoughts for further journaling:

  1.  When we did this in class, everyone had a difficult time finding a mental image of their vibrant 80-year-old self.  I thought this was interesting and perhaps a commentary on the fact that we need more vibrant 80-year-olds here in Omaha, Nebraska as role models for us!  Maybe take a few moments to write out the description of your ideal older self in exquisite detail.  Even sketch them if you are so inclined.  We need inspiring, healthy visions of ourselves so that we have something to strive towards. As we discovered in this exercise, the mind needs a vision that is so real to us that we will step into it with full confidence that what we see is indeed possible.
  2. Use any of the passages you underlined as prompts for further journaling.
  3. Create a list of action items that may be useful in getting you from here to that radiant older self.  Maybe it has to do with nourishing yourself, self-care, movement, tending to relationships, being willing to let things go….your letter will reveal some gentle suggestions for what might be helpful for you.
  4. Check in with this 80-year-old self again!  Write them a letter this time and have them respond to you.  Or do a dialogue with them for something different.