Why it's OK if You Don't Have a Great Thanksgiving

"Time on your own, without the amusements of friends or work, means there are few distractions from the darkness within. Fundamentally, we face our demons alone. And not running away is the first discipline of religious sunbathing. Which is why religious sunbathing, unlike the beach variety, does not go well with a glass of chilled white or a cocktail with a cherry on the top. Anaesthetics are not allowed. Sunlight is a metaphor for honesty. Light is the ancient name for truthfulness." -- Giles Fraser, "The Art of Religious Sunbathing"


To all those who celebrate Thanksgiving...

I know this year might be tough.  I know that emotions are running high (possibly even higher than a few weeks ago) and that it's difficult to stabilize.  I suspect that uncomfortable conversations could arise around that dinner table and you might feel uptight or even attacked.  

A normally comforting holiday might not feel that way at all this year.

Is there anything we can do about this?  I don't think so.  The pain is present and working it's way through us.  We can't go back to the way things used to be.  "Once you see something, you can't unsee it" has been running through my head as a mantra these days. 

This election showed us how fearful, hateful and closed-minded so many of us can be. And I don't just mean the "other" side.  Recognizing my own blindspots has been particularly painful, especially when I see how my ignorance has hurt others.

For this reason, I don't want to unsee these truths.  But it wasn't always this way for me. 

For years I used yoga as a way to hide.  Instead of going straight through the pain -- as much of yogic philosophy actually suggests -- I thought doing sun salutations and talking about non-duality could help me rise above the inevitable struggle of being human.

I wanted others to hide with me, too.  When I heard about unsavory actions or saw the pain of others, my secret judgement was that they should find a practice like yoga so they too could avoid these everyday dramas. 

It turns out there is a term for this.  It's called "spiritual bypass" and it means using religion/spirituality or any other transcendent practice as a way to escape the hard work of personal growth. 

Last year around this time I began taking a big look at my own life -- my tendencies toward isolation, my continued struggle with perfectionism and my paralyzing fear of intimacy.  My life look good on the outside, but inside I faced the truth that there was a deep pit of emptiness I spent my life tiptoeing around. 

With the help of many good people, I found resources to face my pain.  Yoga, interpreted correctly, continued to help me but I found I needed more.  These tools helped me to see the patterns of mental illness and addiction that shaped my childhood and unpack the many layers of defenses that I created to stay safe within dysfunction.

Oh man, I cried a lot.  Coming out of denial is so incredibly painful.  There was a lot of stuff I just didn't want to look at and emotions I still don't understand. 

And oh how I needed other people.  Once I began facing the truth, I needed people to hold my hand through the pain.

The result?  Wow, life is so much better.  I can feel and express my emotions in a constructive way. I am close to people in unprecedented ways (wow, intimacy!).  I have a real sense of self-esteem that doesn't come from feeling superior to others.   I've let go of optimism as I've doubled-down on my hope and faith.

I'm laughing more along side my tears.  I'm feeling, I'm feeling, I'm feeling.  And I'm so grateful.

I tell this personal story because I recognize that as a culture we are also coming out of denial. Collectively, we have used our ideal of hard work, our worship of capitalism and our addiction to perfectionism as a way to avoid feeling the pain that our nation was built upon.

Racism, classism, sexism -- there are some major shadows that we need to unpack, feel and transmute before we can be in integrity.

This will take a lot of time and more collective buy-in before we reach a tipping point.  The main thing right now, as Rumi says, is that we "don't go back to sleep."

I wish I could write a message telling us all how to put a big smile on our faces and feel just happiness as we eat our pumpkin pie.  But we all deserve more than that. 

So eat your pie and feel uptight.  Look around the table and lean into the angst of wanting more connection.  Embrace the tears that come and picture them as the ice melting around your heart.  

Know that this discomfort is essential if you want to live as the truly compassionate being that you so very truly are. 

Remember to take care of yourself within this.  As much as I hoped it could be, self-care is not a way to escape the struggle of my evolution. Instead it's the fortifying balm that helps me keep going.  When I've eaten and slept well, I have the strength to keep going through the pain instead of hiding under the covers all day.  

My Thanksgiving wish for you all to practice joyful self-care so that you can hold yourself through the inevitable pain of learning to love for real.  May following that pain down the rabbit hole show you the power of shining light into the shadows.  May that power open your heart so fully that it never closes down again.