We already know that at this time of year, stress is at a fevered pitch. People feel stretched, pulled in more directions than the 24 hours they have each day will allow. More people are out and about, so there’s less personal space. Patience thins, tempers flare, and it can happen anywhere: In line at the toy store, on the highway, in the grocery store. With less space between us, there’s less opportunity to respond from a place of mindfulness. Where others are coming from becomes unimportant because we see them as distractions or obstacles to getting home, where hopefully we can find a couple of inches of space to decompress. Sometimes even home runs out of space. I think the key to navigating lack of space and tempers ‘gone wild’ is to drop our expectations and meet people where they are.
What does that mean, exactly? Let’s take what I do and believe, for example. I believe that meat and dairy should be eaten in limited quantities, that organic vegetables and healthy fats are the healthiest ways to nourish yourself. I believe in the power of essential oils. I am an egalitarian feminist with an endless supply of energy for empowering women and I am often vocal about my beliefs. I also know that a lot of people feel very differently and live very differently.
Someone who hurts their back looks for a chiropractor. I see that their nutrition is poor and they are in emotional turmoil and therefore, so is their energy and overall quality of life. They don’t want to talk about anything BUT their back. I’m not going to force it – I’m going to talk about their back. Someone with cancer who wholly trusts their medical doctor will not hear that chemotherapy is going to poison their body. They are too scared to hear that there are alternatives. I have to respect that this is their journey and that I can’t take responsibility for their choices. All I can do is hold space for them and pray that they have a positive outcome.
There’s something to this that I think is applicable at this very stressful time of year. The temper of the waitress or cashier, or the person behind you in line – it has nothing to do with you. Don’t take it personally. Perhaps instead of getting sucked into their viewpoint, appreciate that you’ve been upset once or twice in your life. You know how awful it feels and how hard it is to let it go when you’re in it. Send them some love instead.
Similarly, when someone with a different political view or different way of living crosses your path, instead of automatically seeing them as the enemy, have a modicum of patience. They have a story, just like you do – reasons that led them to their belief system. Try to be open-minded. You might be surprised to find they are willing to engage in mindful, intelligent discussion about your differences. Or maybe it IS just ignorance. That happens too. And that person might need the most prayers of all! But you might also find an engaging conversation and that you both walk away seeing things differently. Either way, you have the power to control how you interact in a conversation. Remember that.
I know it’s easy to say and can be really difficult to practice, but right now, so many people are afraid of what’s going on in the world. Holiday stress is just another layer on top of the many layers of stress and fear that were there before December came. Let’s see if we can’t find just an extra ounce of kindness for each other. If we could do that, we might just find it the biggest blessing of the year.