As our family Christmas gathering approaches, we might assess the trouble 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 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) who will be testing my poise:
v Howard will be there for our once-a year-encounter. He will be tipping them up all day. He acts competitive with me when he’s drinking, turning sarcastic and hostile for no discernible reason. He’s a diminutive bully whom I usually judge and dismiss.
My personal poise challenge: Stay connected to him and discover a creative approach that might bring us closer.
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. Yup, my cup is filled to the brim.
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. And I have often not been conscious enough to avoid defending my righteous case.
My poise work: be lighthearted. When this predictable enticement to my self-pity is offered up by Evelyn, I will take her in love’s embrace and laugh 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 are just a few feet away from each other, and I won’t let her get out of sight.
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.