This past weekend was set aside for putting up the Christmas tree. I have all sorts of wonderful childhood memories of decorating the tree with my family. My mother would make snacks and hors d’oeuvres and there would be carols playing and everything seemed perfect. Although, I am beginning to think I may have had rose tinted glasses on!
I had great imaginings for this to be my experience this year; however, my kids did not. When I asked them if they would like some special snacks for putting up the tree, they looked at me like I was a mad woman. Instead, as I scrambled to get dinner on in order to make time to do the tree, they went ahead of me and put up the lights. Now, my need to be in control was kicked into overdrive- they were trying to put the lights up without me! There is no way that they could put the lights up without me.
I was starting to feel flustered. They were moving too fast. I hollered for them to wait for me to get the dinner on, but they hollered back that they were fine. I couldn’t let this go. I hastily turned on the oven and ran into the living room. Sure enough, the lights were up- and they looked all jumbled. They would have to come down. They groaned.
The lights came off fine, but they came off in a ball of crazy. We started to try to untangle them and I was starting to hot, bothered and real low. Low and overwhelmed. What is worse, my mood was spreading to all in the room. We kept trying- and the lights kept getting more and more tangled.
I said something like ‘How did they get so tangled?’
And my daughter looked at me with a deadpan face and said ‘Are you serious? You did it, Mom’.
My mood continued to drop and I started to think of all the ways I had messed up- never mind just with the Christmas tree! Again, my mood was sinking even lower, and tension spread all throughout my body. I wanted to leave the lights, leave the house and go hide.
But I knew that I couldn’t.
Everyone was feeling low. We were forcing the moment and the trimming of the tree was turning out to be a nightmare. But I persisted- and I remembered my Tonglen practice. Tonglen is the Buddhist practice of taking and sending. Briefly and very basically, Tonglen is to simply recognize and breathe in the suffering of others or yourself, allowing your compassionate heart to transform this suffering into compassionate light and healing and then sending out that light as you exhale. I started to breathe in my angst and breathe out a sense of soothing into my body.
And then, I did all I could- I let go. I stood up from the hunched position and lightly shook the lights and they began to fall away from one another. When I stopped trying so hard, when I loosened my grip, the lights sorted themselves out. We then put the lights back up, draped spaciously, put some carols on and we all felt a relief. Thankfully, the mood lifted, and we happily decorated the Christmas tree.
Dinner was soon ready and as we sat at the table, we laughed heartily about old memories of how I have embarrassed my kids in times of Christmas past. We laughed so hard that the tears were coming down our faces. Ok- so this year’s tree trimming was not the picture perfect memory of my childhood, but it was full of all that makes us human. And it doesn’t get more perfect than that!
Take a look at a small video where I explain Tonglen for Self at Christmas:
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