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Know your symbols & traditions. Part 3 in a series.

Jen Louden started a conversation over at her Comfort Cafe about simplifying the holidays. When I began reflecting on how I’ve done that, it turned out to be more than a quick forum reply. Plus, I think it’s a great question. So, this week on the blog, it’s all about…

How I restored magic to the holiday season. [part 3 of 6]

If you’re just joining us…
Magic-Restoration Step #1: Don’t pay attention to the count-down.
Magic-Restoration Step #2: It’s a season, not a day.

Know your symbols and traditions.

Somehow, deciding to celebrate a season of holidays allowed me to better pick and choose from all the symbols and traditions out there. By which I don’t mean I became a fundamentalist. In choosing a less secular celebration, I wasn’t inclined to give up decorating a Christmas tree because of its pagan origins, for example. It was just that in choosing what I wanted to honor, it was then much easier to select only those symbols and traditions that fit. More unexpectedly led to less.

In my research I discovered both a wider range of ways to mark the season than I was familiar with and background information that brought some of the magic back to traditions that had lost their meaning. (Again, hat-tip to Waverly.)

Magic-Restoration Step #3

Don’t just go through the motions. Educate yourself about the origins of the symbols and traditions you are using. Learn how other cultures celebrate this holiday. Get curious. Get anthropological. Decide which symbols and traditions have genuine meaning for you, which enhance your experience and which don’t. Then choose the best and leave the rest.

• • • • •

Not so keen on the tradition of new year’s resolutions? Me neither. Join me and Laura Burkey to learn the better alternative that actually works. > fun and engaging tele-workshop December 3

• • • • •

It’s a season, not a day. Part 2 in a series.

Jen Louden started a conversation over at her Comfort Cafe about simplifying the holidays. When I began reflecting on how I’ve done that, it turned out to be more than a quick forum reply. Plus, I think it’s a great question. So, this week on the blog, it’s all about…

How I restored magic to the holiday season. [part 2 of 6]

Today’s Magic-Restoration Step builds on yesterday’s: Don’t pay attention to the count-down.

It’s a season, not a day.

A few years back, the local paper printed a guide to winter holidays: Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanza and, of course, Christmas – except they made a distinction between secular Christmas and Christian Christmas. And there was just something so spot-on about the way it was written, about the accuracy of its humor (this wasn’t exactly a scholarly essay of comparative religion) that made me realize my celebration of Christmas was largely secular. That which I disdained in the popular culture’s celebration of the holiday was, for the most part, what I was doing too. No wonder it felt like something was off.

Now, I am not a church-going Christian (growing up in a house-church kind of spoiled me for that the way attending an alternative high school kind of spoiled me for mainstream educational institutions), but that particular belief system was the one I was raised with – and I’m loyal to it. But loyalty and familiarity with a faith are two different things…

In my moment of choosing to be in greater integrity with my heritage and beliefs, I realized I didn’t know very much about Christian Christmas. So I read up on it. (This being the internet age, it was not hard to do.) And the best thing I learned about Christmas was context. It is a holiday in a sequence of holidays (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany – some of you will recognize this as the liturgical calendar, but it was new to me).  The connections between them have as much importance and meaning as the holidays themselves.

Magic-Restoration Step #2

One of the best things I’ve done to regain a sense of purpose and meaning during the holidays has been to de-emphasize the day and honor the season – the whole season from Advent to Epiphany – instead of trying to smash everything into 24 hours. And then equally honor all the other seasons, all the other holidays in the liturgical calendar and other traditions that have meaning for me throughout the year. (Waverly Fitzgerald’s work has played a crucial role in helping me figure this out.)

Treating this one day as the main event is a sure path to disappointment. You know this if you’ve woken on the 26th feeling empty or relieved it’s all over. No one day can fulfill a year’s worth of meaning. It’s not a realistic thing to ask of yourself, your religion, your family and friends – or your bank account.

• • • • •

There’s nothing any more special about January 1 than December 25. Join me and Laura Burkey to learn the better alternative to new year’s resolutions – one that actually works. > fun and engaging tele-workshop December 3

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How I restored magic to the holiday season. Part 1.

Jen Louden started a conversation over at her Comfort Cafe about simplifying the holidays. When I began reflecting on how I’ve done that, it turned out to be more than a quick forum reply. Plus, I think it’s a great question. So, this week on the blog, it’s all about…

How I restored magic to the holiday season. [part 1 of 6]

We are almost in the midst of the holiday season (already are, if you listen to the voices of retail) – which can bring on a lot of overwhelm. Overwhelm of stuff, of tasks, of people, of food – of emotions.

This did not happen when I was a kid. The overwhelm of Christmas was a welcome thing. Bring it on! was what I would have said. It wasn’t so much the presents, but everything about it. All the traditions. The magic my mom and my aunt created every year.

I’ve always been grateful I wasn’t taught that Santa was “real” (not disputing the historic figure of St. Nicholas here, just the mainstream idea of Santa). I don’t think I would have bought it anyway. That guy? in the mall? dressed up in a costume? uh huh. yeah, right. Obviously not the real deal and there was no way I was sitting on his or any other stranger’s lap for a picture. (I remember being very stubborn on this point. I expect I was also quite smug about it.)

So I never experienced that sort of disillusionment with the holiday. But in recent years I have experienced other forms of disappointment, confusion, exhaustion, emptiness and resentment of the season. I wanted the magic back.

Here’s how I got it.

This is not mission control.

My goodness, the build-up to December 25 in this country! Advent calendars are used not for the purpose of spiritual preparation, but to assuage impatient children and grown-ups alike. And the countdown! Hurry! Just 39 shopping days ’til Christmas! (That’s an accurate number, by the way.) You’d think we were launching rockets or something. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1! And we have lift-off of spaceship BabyJesus!

No other holiday dominates popular culture during its season the way this one does. It even holds a special place in our economy. It’s crazy. And crazy-making.

Because there is no way there is enough time between now and then to create the kind of perfection that is advertised, to do all our culture demands we do to get ready for this one big day. Decorations. Food. Parties. Cards. Gifts. I can’t think of anything that compares to this weird combination of scarcity in the midst of total excess. Crazy. Making.

Magic-Restoration Step #1

Stop listening to the count-down. Which means tuning out the advertising. (Which means you’re also conveniently not getting the message that buying more will make your holiday more meaningful – more on that later.) Turn off the TV, stop the newspaper, put down the magazines. Have the groceries delivered so you don’t have to listen to awful awful carols while you shop if you need to.

Do whatever it takes to protect yourself from the message that there is so much you need to do and so little time in which to do it. Because neither is true.

• • • • •

Already feeling the pressure to make new year’s resolutions? You don’t have to pay attention to them either. Join me and Laura Burkey to learn the better alternative that actually works. > fun and engaging tele-workshop December 3

• • • • •

All because of seven words.

It’s an odd time of year, isn’t it? It feels odd to me anyway. I am at once coming and going, finishing and starting, looking back and looking ahead. Which can give a gal a bit of whiplash, you know?

But, as long as I remember to slow down a bit, the process of looking back on 2009 – reflecting on what I accomplished, what I want to carry forward and what I want to leave behind – and what new things I want to build and explore in the coming year is ultimately a rewarding and valuable process.

Especially when I have a tool in my tool box like a Living Theme. Because questions like “What do I want to carry forward and what do I want to leave behind?” or “What to I want to achieve in the coming year?” can quickly devolve into -ick- new year’s resolutions. Which are depressing and never work.

Creating a Theme for each new year is a technique I learned from my life coach, Laura Burkey. I’ve participated in her annual tradition of creating a Living Theme since 2004 and haven’t made a new year’s resolution since. It’s way more fun than making a list of shortcomings that need fixing and a whole lot more effective – and this past year was no exception.

the theme

My Living Theme for 2009 has been Relate Generously. For me, this had to do with everything from relating more generously to my spouse, family and friends; relating more generously to myself, my body and self-care; being more generous in my business with colleagues and clients; and having a more generous relationship with money.

I wanted a greater sense of security, abundance, intimacy and connection in all these areas of my life. And in the mysterious way things so often happen when you set a clear intention and write some stuff down – I gained an astonishing amount of what I asked for at the beginning of 2009.

the results

Looking back on my notes I am most struck by how much I wanted a closer circle of professional peers and a just-right group of clients and students. Which I have been blessed with by the bucket-full in wonderful ways I could not have imagined a year ago. I adore you all.

I am also struck by my wish for a greater sense of belonging and confidence, a greater willingness to take risks instead of delaying gratification or worrying about being good enough or what others thought. Wow did that come about in a big way, too.

And it came about when I figured out the how that supported my theme of Relate Generously.

the how

Perhaps you’re familiar with the idea that how we do one thing is how we do everything? Or, as Havi would put it, our patterns are all reflections of each other? If you can get at that core habit or behavior, you can shift a lot of stuff – which is one thing a Theme is really good for.

For much of the year, I’ve had the phrase “do the half-right thing” stuck on my computer where I can see it every day. It reminds me to do what I can when I can’t do what I want to do in the perfect way I want to do it. Wanting to do things in a precise way is a pattern that has often gotten in the way of me relating generously.

  • If I only have a portion of what I intended prepared for a post or email, I keep people waiting while I finish instead of sharing what I have now and providing the rest later.
  • If I don’t have time to take the long daily walk I committed to, I deny myself and my dog exercise by not taking a walk at all instead of taking a short one.
  • If I don’t feel like cleaning the house, I continue to live in dirt and clutter instead of choosing a few key chores that would make me feel better about my space.
  • If I don’t have something brilliant to say, I remain silent instead of showing up in small human ways and just being present for people.
  • and on and on and on…

This year, because I was more focused on and committed to generosity than perfection, I was able to make big shifts in this pattern. Is it gone? Hardly. But the conscious practice of consistently putting half of myself out there has made a big difference. I can see it in my relationships, my business – even my bank balance.

all because of seven words

Relate Generously (do the half-right thing).

This theme stuff works. It works so well and I love it so much, I asked Laura if she would pretty-please share this tradition with all of you. And – yay! – she said yes. You can learn more about her experience with annual Themes and register for an engaging tele-workshop with us at my website.

A theme is a simple, yet powerful alternative to resolutions – and a tool I encourage you to add to your own toolbox. I hope you will join us.

• • • • •

This event is the first in a new monthly series – Guest Guides – in which I’ll be introducing smart people who know cool stuff I want share with you. Announcements about future events to come.

• • • • •

The Puttering Basket

The latest installment in an occasional series: how I unplugged over the weekend.

Wow. I haven’t been here for a month. And I kinda left everyone hanging in that last post about me and my unraveling sweater. What have I been up to? Well, knitting that new sweater. Which really means I’ve been doing lots and lots of thinking and planning and organizing about the coming year. And myohmy am I excited about what I’m cooking up (more to be revealed very soon).

My inspiration showed up in an urgent and compelling form. You know, when it’s almost like you aren’t choosing to work so hard to get it all down on paper, but that drive is coming from someplace else?

I’m deeply grateful for the inspiration, but making it real has been a lot of work – satisfying but exhausting (and apparently blogging-prohibitive) work. And by last Friday I was pooped. Pooped I tell you. I didn’t even bother to complete my what-do-I-need-to-finish-to-feel-good-about-this-week list. It felt better to just stop.

And I was so glad I gave myself permission to do so – then committed to doing absolutely nothing related to work for two whole days.

Basically, the past weekend was made up of lazy mornings and domestic chores and falling asleep watching movies like Young Frankenstein on TV. There’s nothing remarkable to report about it except the very experimental pear-grape crisp actually turned out to be pretty tasty – the grapes are like little plums. Oh, and we only had two trick-or-treaters, but they were the cutest little ninja and pirate you ever saw.

And what made it easier to not default to work-related tasks and keep my commitment was my growing Puttering Basket.

One of the trickiest things about unplugging is being so rusty at it. We are so much more practiced at doing our jobs. So, even when we give ourselves time to play and refill our professional wells, we don’t always know what to do with that time. And in the absence of something else compelling, we can find ourselves drifting back to work. Because it’s familiar and comfortable. Because this being-not-doing thing is awkward and weird. Which doesn’t make sense considering how much we crave it – which makes it that much more weird. Better just to go back to work where we know what we’re doing.

Except that’s hardly satisfying or sustainable.

So, in the spirit of creating a flotation device for myself that would support me in those awkward moments of not knowing what to do besides work, I made myself a Puttering Basket. Basically, my weekend rule is this: in a transitional moment when I’m not sure what I want to do next and I’m tempted to turn on the computer (which is off-limits), I have to go to the basket. I can do anything I like, so long as it’s in the basket. (Maybe that sounds confining and counter-intuitive, but having endless options is overwhelming and not helpful.)

So, obviously, it matters what’s in the basket. For the most part, it’s a toy box filled with fun stuff to do. So far, it holds:

  • magazines, crosswords, playing cards and coloring books
  • books to be read solely for pleasure and books for my soul
  • the latest knitting project (or other crafty goodness)
  • an iPod loaded with favorite music and podcasts (pairs nicely with the knitting), plus Leonie’s Dreaming Meditation in case a nap is what’s called for
  • cards and stationery for sending notes to people I love
  • blank paper for capturing random ideas

And here’s the most important thing I’ve learned: the puttering basket has to be stocked before the weekend. You can’t go looking for this stuff in that awkward moment of transition. You’ll just end up at your computer working. Or watching Very Bad TV. Trust me. You’re rusty, remember?

So part of my Friday closing-the-week ritual is stocking my Puttering Basket with all the fun little things I didn’t have time for during the week. The stuff I want to do, but never seem to get to.

In the end, my Puttering Basket is a good example of two of the basic organizing principles I live by:

  • everything is easier if you start with a container
  • everything needs two containers: storage + space on your calendar

Many of the fun little things that allow me to relax and refill my well now have a place to belong – in the basket and in my weekend. Which makes them much, much more likely to happen – and happen with ease.

What would you put in your Puttering Basket?

• • • • •

Pulling loose threads.

It’s Friday. Time for a round-up of the week’s Lessons Learned.

Except I am looking back on a murky week. There’s not much I can share with clarity. If there are lessons here, they are not learned – rather still very much in progress. But they center on this:

I let go of something this week. And it turns out that releasing something that represents an identity can bring up all sorts of unexpected weirdness. Or at least an unexpected level and quantity of weirdness. Totally did not see that coming and the space I would need to make for it.

I pulled on a what I thought was a loose thread and ended up unraveling half my sweater.

Which was mostly good. The whole point of the release was to untangle myself from certain threads connecting me to my past.

But as I kept pulling free, I found myself wanting to keep going. To unravel the ill-fitting parts of the sweater knit much more recently. Still good – ultimately – but again: did not anticipate needing to make space for that. It crowded out other planned activities in a way that was discombobulating. And left me feeling naked and vulnerable.

• • • • •

Funny how you can do your best to follow the instructions yet still end up with something not-quite-right.

Bummer. But it happens. So you figure out where you miscounted or dropped a stitch, and go back to that point and begin again.

That’s really all these Lessons Learned are about: finding those places and beginning again, now knowing what you didn’t know then.

I suppose my sense of murkiness or confusion this week is just me trying to locate that starting point.

And wondering what to wear while I rework this thing – because I need something much more cozy and comforting than half a sweater.

Luckily, I have multiple identities and roles in my life – which means I have other sweaters to choose from. I just have to remember to go to my closet and put a different one on instead of needlessly sitting here shivering, feeling all exposed to the drafts of change, in this half-knit mess.

• • • • •

The Cost of Overtime

It occurred to me at some point last week that if an employer had asked me to work several weekends in a row, I would have insisted on some sort of compensation or acknowledgment.

Time and a half. Comp time. Kudos when annual reviews/raises/promotions came around. Something.

And whatever we were working on, it better have been something truly important and urgent.

So as my own boss, I’m wondering…

Was it important and urgent? Yes.

Will I be financially compensated for my extra effort? Short term/directly, no. Long term/indirectly, yes. I believe it will prove to be a good investment.

How can my inner boss acknowledge the extra efforts of my inner worker bee?

Comp time is appealing right now, but neither my inner boss nor my inner worker bee is comfortable just… leaving things be while we take a breather for a day or two. There would be consequences we are not so excited about. Or, to avoid those consequences, we’d have to do more organizing and managing than we’re up for.

But we can agree on a paring down to basics. No extras, just the essentials for the next week or two.

And a commitment to not running another marathon again any time soon.

At least not without asking these important questions beforehand.

In the frenzy of the moment, I don’t usually ask myself if the extra effort will be worth it – if what I’m pushing through is truly important and urgent, if what I will earn from it will be proportionate to the energy expended (not to mention if there will be space to replenish afterwards).

And I should.

As big a fan as I am of pacing myself and honoring my capacity, I know there will still be occasions when more than the usual effort will be required. But it’s still my responsibility to be choosy about when and how that takes place.

And it’s not just an energy question. It’s a money question. “Overtime” costs my business something one way or another. And even though it’s just me, myself and I here, I still need to make sure I’m spending it wisely.

• • • • •

How do you approach those “extra hours” you put into your business? Unavoidable? A worthwhile long-term investment? A jackpot of immediate returns? How do you view the cost of overtime?

• • • • •


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