The Troubles with Christmas

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As our family Christmas gathering approaches, we might assess the troubles ahead, just in case we aren’t already completely conscious about what goes on at these events.  

And most of us are not completely conscious, nor are our relatives and their spouses and kids.

There is, we could predict, only a small chance that anybody present will have become much more self-aware since last year. 

The usual dynamics—a mixture of love, generosity, unresolved issues, tensions and hurt feelings—is what we’re headed for.

Let’s give ourselves and everybody in the family an additional gift this year.  Let’s practice our poise as we move through this familiar terrain.  

If we can sustain our poise throughout the time we’re all together, we’ll have given a secret gift of growth to ourselves and a larger gift of love than usual to each member or our family.  

Heh, this could be fun.

The Troubles
The troubles in our relationships with family members are highly familiar to us, but we may shrug them off between contacts, avoiding acknowledging them fully because we don’t want to obsess about them, and we don’t want to make them worse by giving them too much credence—even though the troubles never seem to change much.  

Examining these tensions may seem negative, so we don’t talk about them much. And, yes, we may have to admit, we lose our poise to some degree during these Christmas gatherings—even if nobody else notices our anger, impatience, or irritation.  

But if we’re to make some personal gains here, we’ll have to scout out what’s ahead on the map of our own vulnerabilities.  Most of the family will be easy, but here are a few of my loved ones (hugely disguised here) who will be testing my poise:

v    There will be Trump voters there, family members who are feeling victorious and vindicated.  We’re “friends” on Facebook where they post things like, “Let’s let California secede from the union now.”  Or hillary for prison

 
 
 So, I could throw some fuel on this civil war to draw attention to how different we are and how right I am in my world view.  I’m tempted! I want to stand up for justice, democracy, and love!  I love to debate.  I love to take on stupidity.

 

My personal poise challenge: Stay connected and discover a creative approach that might bring us closer.  I can remember that I am their guest, a liberal invited to their table.  I can remember that they treat me with respect.  I can make sure that my love is at my disposal at all times.

v    Sandy, soon to graduate from college, will be talking nonstop.  In a one-on-one exchange, she does not look in my eyes, but gazes off somewhere else, as if I’m not quite interesting enough to look at—or as if I might be encouraged to say something if she looked at me.  

She will talk a long time without even being interested in my reaction to what she is telling me. If I force myself in, interrupting and telling her something about my life, she of no ears will either move away to someone else, or she will break into my first or second sentence to resume her own narrative.

My poise agenda: Stay present no matter what and be grateful. I can avoid being trapped into listening to Sandy for too long: “Sandy, excuse me, but I am going to help out in the kitchen.” And then I can dance out of harm’s way the rest of the day.  Yes! I will perform the Dance of the Poised!

v    Evelyn’s neuroses are fed by my mere presence.  We’re blood, joined by the bond of our close family relationship with each other—one of those familial relationships you’re not supposed to deny no matter what.  

Whatever self-pity and victim-hood I have yet to shed will be pricked by Evelyn’s uncanny and wily ability to bring up my past failures with her, however distant—right in the middle of a positive, friendly exchange.

Evelyn never forgets, never lets go, and needs to keep her victim story fed, even if nothing in the present matches the patterns of her past hurts. Faced with her sullen resentments of me, I have often not been conscious enough to avoid defending my righteous case.  

My poise work: be lighthearted.  When this predictable provocation to my self-pity is offered up by Evelyn, I will take her in love’s embrace and laugh (silently) about the big picture—she and I trying to talk to each other as the planets of the universe roar away from each other and from us at incredible speed. 

Some day all the planets in the universe will be too far away for us to see them anymore.  Meanwhile, Evelyn and I will be just a few feet away from each other, and I won’t let her get away from my goodwill.

In my perfect poise: I’m fully present, connected, grateful, creative, and lighthearted.

Poised, my love will flow with surprising beauty, like a river in the desert.

A perfect Christmas.

 

(NOTE) This piece has been revised since it was first published here several years ago.

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About Gary

Gary Stokes is mapping the universe of poise. His book, Poise: A Warrior's Guide, charts the path toward a fully-realized life, a vibrant integration of presence, connectedness, gratitude, creativity, and light-heartedness. Gary Stokes has been a coach to leaders of transformational change and President of Mountain Consulting. He designed and conducted research to test innovative strategies for reducing poverty in partnership with national foundations, federal and state government, and local communities. As founder and CEO of Move the Mountain Leadership Center, he coached hundreds of leaders, among them Presidential appointees and other top executives in government, education and business. He has written and spoken extensively about the profound personal and organizational challenges facing individual leaders of large-scale change. Mr. Stokes lives with his wife and collaborator, Mary Morris, in Prescott, Arizona.
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