Number 153 - December 2014
In this issue:
Stumbling into the New Year
Hot Links: Dads Who Won 2014
Got the holiday blues? Commercialism got ya down? Wondering how to get through to Valentine's Day without the extra weight - physical and psychological?
Ironically, as lonely as this time of year can make us feel, we have lots of company. Let's take a look at what's going on.
The pop psych folks have lots of advice at this time of year: lower your expectations, don't drink and eat too much, make a budget, don't try to work out interpersonal problems at family gatherings, get enough rest, do charity work, count your blessings, blah, blah, blah.
And the Scrooges of the world grumble "Bah, humbug" and slog on through the chilly days.
Well, maybe Scrooge is right.
The forced merriment, obligatory spending, obligatory eating and drinking, cheesy decorations, and useless gadgets (motorized tie racks?!) could put lots of us into a funk.
Much advice seems to be based on the idea that we can think our way out of that holiday funk, that reasoning and a good plan can make us feel better. But we have to do all the mental and emotional heavy lifting, and if we fail, we have only ourselves to blame. It's a double whammy: the season puts us into a funk, and the funk deepens when we can't reason it away. (Or maybe we abandon reason and juice ourselves up to dull the pain. Ultimately just another double whammy.) We end up not feeling very good about things, and not very good about ourselves.
Okay, maybe reasoning and planning won't do the trick.
How about taking action? Or, actually, not taking action?
For many of us, the holiday season is preceded by changes in the weather and a natural urge to slow down (which we mostly ignore). Nights are longer. Cooler, or cold, weather makes us want to hunker down. The time before the holidays is meant to be a time of contemplation, of waiting - but we have a hard time fending off the commercialism that bombards us from the unblinking eye in the den or living room.
So here's some non-action we can take: Set aside a quiet day, or some quiet moments each day. Just sit and do absolutely nothing. This may be harder than it seems at first. Thoughts, worries, plans, regrets, and other junk (holiday-related or not) constantly flow through our minds. So it may be best to start small, say, five minutes at a time. Find a quiet place, sit very still, take a couple of deep breaths, breathe normally, and just pay attention to the in and out of breathing.
There is no purpose to this still and silent sitting. It probably won't solve our gift shopping or food planning problems. But eventually some of the inner chatter goes quiet. We hunker down. We wait - not for anything in particular, but just for whatever the silence will bring us.
We may not be cured of the holiday blues; our holiday season may be just as frenzied as always. But somewhere along the way, we will have given ourselves precious gifts of time and space that are ours alone. And with those gifts, we might begin to get some perspective, to feel better about things, and to feel better about ourselves.M
Stumbling into the New Year
[This essay appeared in Menletter originally in January 2012.]
So here we are once again at the year's turning. Like the Roman god Janus, we look backward and forward at the same time.
And we make resolutions.
And how did last year's resolutions work out for us? Do we even remember them? How quickly did we abandon them? These questions are not intended to make us feel bad; they're intended to show us that we're all in the same leaky boat. Year after year we resolve to eat less, exercise more, drink less or not at all, stop smoking, spend more time with the family, knuckle down and get that degree or promotion, read War and Peace. Okay, some of us succeed - don't gloat. But it almost seems as though, for most of us, our New Year's resolutions contain within themselves the seeds of their own destruction.
I've written almost yearly about New Year's resolutions, often about my own. Maybe I thought that making public my intentions, I'd feel more compelled to act on them. Things didn't quite work out.
So I've been thinking back on major decisions and changes, and none of them involved New Year's resolutions. They happened because something hit me upside the head. Giving up tobacco and alcohol, controlling weight, practicing meditation, even starting this newsletter, have come about when I felt an inner compulsion to act. Compared to the impulse of a keenly felt need, a New Year's resolution is thin soup.
The upside-the-head stuff can be effective, but I suspect most of us have ignored some pretty big hits. A lot of the time, I wasn't listening, I wasn't looking, I wasn't feeling. Sometimes it took multiple whacks for me to get the message. And I'm probably ignoring a few even as I type this.
So maybe the best resolution to make is to listen, look, and feel - to pay attention, to be as open as possible to the messages that come from without and within.
One more thing: an awkward stumble - illness, an unintended cruelty, a weekend we can't remember, a DUI citation, a major deadline missed - can be an opportunity to pay attention.
But our instinctive response to a stumble is to regain equilibrium, to try to make the insult go away, to pretend that the stumble didn't happen or doesn't matter. A saying attributed to Winston Churchill goes, "People stumble over opportunities every day, most just pick themselves up and carry on walking."
Happy New Year. Happy stumbling.M
Here's a bunch of dads who "totally won 2014": http://www.buzzfeed.com/jessicaprobus/love-you-dads
One of the dads:
Spider Dad, who dressed up and jumped from the roof to give his sick kid the best birthday ever.M