It’s December 16. This is around the time when the stress of the approaching holidays becomes a bit of a brutal attack on my psyche.
It starts as early as Thanksgiving. And it lasts through the Christmas break.
It’s as if my whole life I was able to improve many attributes about my character, but the failures all revolve around coping with family at the holidays. I’m quite sure I’m not alone.
The stress manifests itself any many ways:
- an extra beer or two at night.
- increased thoughts of olden years about growing up in the south and who I grew up with
- sleep issues
- inexplicable bitter word exchanges between Tina and me.
Tina gets stressed, too. And if we don’t mindfully address that we’re likely verbally guillotining each others heads off at any spontaneous drop of the hatchet, we may forget that we’re actually best friends AND lovers.
My atheist prayers get answered
One of the hurdles with leaving religion was the automatic excuses to escape praying to a deity about everything from lost car keys, airplane turbulence or suffering the third day of a little sniffly cold.
When you believe in prayer in the mystical sense, you’re often taught that the answers to prayer are “Yes, No and Maybe.”
Think about that for a second.
The answers to prayer are actually the answers to ALL questions.
But what is prayer? Prayer is mindfully considering your wants and needs (mainly wants) and asking for those things to happen. Many of my non-religious friends call this other names. One of them is “Putting it out into the universe.” It’s as if expression of certain wants may result in the actual positive answer to the wish.
It works for things like, “It’s supposed to rain the ONE day we’re in Istanbul, but I’m hoping (or praying) that it doesn’t so that I can enjoy the day without an umbrella or hoodie.”
And when it doesn’t rain — poof! — there’s an answer to the prayer, the hope, the put-into-the-universe.
This seems to happen lately with our business. We want more interiors and portraits, and that’s the business that’s approaching, often as fast as an airplane to its landing strip.
Okay, okay, I am reading a self help book. Tina read it a few months ago, and I added it to my library wish list, which with popular books means there’s a wait to read it. It finally came in about 14 days ago, but I was busy and couldn’t start it right away.
The library sent me a notice that the book was going to expire so I picked it up one morning while Tina snoozed beside me spooned up against our dog Talulah. I ended up wiping out the first quarter of the book in no-time flat.
Dan Harris is a news guy who works at ABC and — as the title suggests — found a way to wrangle that voice in his head that tormented him. Through his career, he battled everything from insecurity to drugs. I’m half through the book and I love it. Earlier this year, I started meditating every day. It was helpful, but it’s easy to break a habit like that when it feels like all your atheist prayers are being answered.
But nothing reminds you that you should be meditating daily like the threat of impending familial napalm like Christmas and everything commercial, Jesus-y and Santa-y.
Sleigh me now!
My dad called me yesterday to let me know about a scary episode with my mom. Dad’s been working through a nasty respiratory infection, that seeped its way toward my mom, who — if you knew or I could take the time to tell you about her history — shouldn’t be exposed to minor illnesses let alone a biggie like this.
Apparently a respiratory viral disease is bombarding its way through the southeast like Genghis Khan “uniting” the people of Asia.
And by uniting, I mean bringing them to their knees in utter internal pain and torture.
So not only do Tina and I have to worry about approaching the stressful holidays with trepidation, but we must concern ourselves with the idea that a virus could infect me with hellish torture for seven to ten days.
I embellish for the sake of the story
Don’t get me — too — wrong. I love going home for Christmas. I love seeing where I grew up. The stress is outweighed by good feelings. It’s usually warm there. Warm enough to sit outside without jackets. Memories of my youth flood my mind, and I’m sure I bore Tina to weeping tears with “That’s where I did X” and “That’s where I did Y.”
In sleepy hours, my mind runs through religious conversations that will never happen. I run through meetings with ex-girlfriends or their families that will NEVER happen. Or if they did, they wouldn’t play out the way they do in my mind.
I sometimes ask myself, are these thoughts the brain’s way of torturing me? As much as I try to control the voice in my head, there’s no way to tame it. As soon as I start a breathing exercise, my breath breaks and I surge back into a fantastical conversation with people who will never talk to me about certain topics.
Maybe I should spend Christmas with Dan Harris.
In 10% Happier, Harris talks about searching out all kinds of people to talk about his newfound love of meditation or dislike of people like Deepak Chopra. Just when he thinks he’s found a smart person to talk to, he’s let down by the lack of interest.
Said and done, Harris searches for the right sounding board for the right conversation. And I like that about his approach.
In a way, 10% Happier is another Yes to an atheist prayer about approaching life mindfully and especially a time when it feels like there’s an increase in stress. Unnecessary stress, probably.
Mediation is not sitting with your legs crossed and repeating “Om.” It’s not levitating three feet in the air whilst glowing with a magical glisten from the internal deity of your mind.
And I’d argue it’s not becoming 10% happier.
Mediation, at least for me, is becoming a few percentage points, if not into minutiae, more mindful. It’s understanding that stress will affect me. It will cause me to drink another beer. It might cause an unexplained argument with Tina. It might cause a little tear or sob to course through my mind and body.
It might cause inexplicable anger. But it allows me to see it. To say to myself, “You’re human. You’re angry. You’re forgiven. It’s okay to have this emotion.”
Because if I focus on the mistakes inflicted by stress, then the self punishment may cause hiding that emotion into the nether areas of my brain. And we all know that the build up of that pressure can bring what the world has called, “craziness”.
Let’s all say a prayer, embrace the stress, and if nothing else, be crazy together.
The above image is a stitch of the Vecchio bridge in Florence. I thought it fitting that it looked kind of ragged and wrong.