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A Special Kind of Holiday List

Last updated on December 15, 2020

Christmas ornament
The holiday season comes with its share of lists. Here’s one that could lead you to some real peace this year.

Finding the True Spirit of the Holidays

The holiday season is said to be a time of joy and peace. At least that’s what we all wish for each other. And what a good wish it is.

But all too often, the holiday season is not actually so joyful or peaceful. The unspoken requirement to live up to the lofty ideals of the season can actually pull us down. The idea that “I should be happy for the holidays,” can make you feel worse if you’re not feeling so happy.

If you notice a little stress this season, it can be worth the effort to make a special kind of list. Not a shopping list, not a list for Santa Claus, but a list for you.

Make a List of Stressful Thoughts

It may seem strange to focus on stress during the holidays, but the purpose here is only to move through the stress so that the holidays can be genuinely more happy. When stress is lurking in the shadows, it dampens everything. But as soon as it is called out and investigated, its power withers away.

So let’s investigate!

Let’s look underneath the holiday activities and touch on the very undercurrents of stress that we would usually prefer to ignore. And let’s use the powerful tool of self-inquiry to unravel these stressful thoughts and maybe experience a little freedom in the process.

I Did This Recently

I noticed a stressful thought for me that goes way back to my childhood: “I’m not good at buying presents.” Since I was young, I have always felt stressed about buying presents. For me, it’s hard to guess what others will want, I don’t like shopping anyway, there’s a feeling of obligation to “prove my love” which I rebel against, and I compare myself with my mom who was really good at buying presents and loved it.

The bottom line is… something that is supposed to bring me joy (the act of giving) often ends up stressing me out. So I did The Work on “I’m not good at buying presents.”

And I Turned It Around

What I found was that I don’t have any special handicap for buying presents. I have bought (and made) lots of excellent gifts for people over the years, and I have even enjoyed it.

It’s just that I put pressure on myself to find a gift that will really be appreciated. I go into black or white thinking: if I can’t find a perfect present, I don’t want to play the game. And the problem with “perfect” is that it takes too much time.

So I gave myself permission to get “good enough” gifts for my family instead. There is no need to be like my mom who lived for giving gifts. She spent hours thinking about what to give and went shopping because she loved it. I can do it in my own more subdued way.

This Is Just the Start of My Exploration

Thoughts for me don’t usually come in “ones.” There is almost always a collection of related stressful thoughts connected to any stressful situation. And to really unravel the stress that has been lurking in my thinking, I like to write down a list of stressful thoughts and work them all.

This is my meditation practice. I might spend the whole month of December working just on stressful thoughts about giving gifts. There’s a lot there once I dig into it, and it affects my life outside of the holiday season too. This is how I learn about myself and find new ways to experience situations that have stressed me for years.

Here’s a List for Me to Work

To do The Work on stressful thoughts about giving gifts, I want to first identify all the flavors of thinking that arise in me. So I’m going to start by brainstorming a list of my thoughts and beliefs.

This is the stressed part of me speaking. And my job is simply to take dictation:

I don’t like giving gifts.
It’s too much work.
Gift giving comes up too often.
I have to give gifts.
I’m expected to give gifts.
I should give really good gifts.
I want others to be really happy with my gifts.
I don’t want someone to throw away my gift.
My mom was really good at giving gifts.
I’ll never be like her.
I should be more like her.
Giving should be spontaneous, not dictated by holidays.
Maybe I don’t care enough about others.
It’s harder to give gifts this year.
The mail system is too slow.
I should have planned ahead better.
It’s too late to send something now.
They will think less of me if I give nothing.

This Is Just a Start

Stream of consciousness works great for these kinds of lists. And each item on the list holds a different piece of the stress for me. Now ironically, I will savor each item on my list as if it were a piece of chocolate. I will probably question just one thought per day for the next several weeks.

And each one will probably reveal some new understanding for me. I enjoy this kind of work so much because each new insight sets me free. I’ve done this kind of patient work on other subjects in the past and I look forward to seeing what I’ll learn from this list this year.

What List Could You Make This Year?

Your stress may not be the same as mine, but why not look and see what’s there for you? Maybe there is a sadness that someone is no longer here that you used to celebrate the holidays with. Or maybe you are frustrated and sad by the isolation imposed by the pandemic this year at the holidays. Or maybe you wish you were somewhere else, with different people. Maybe the holidays are too much work; you’ve already got too much on your plate. Maybe you’re angry at people gathering together against pandemic guidelines.

Whatever it may be for you, I invite you to go through this process of making a special list for Santa this year: a list of your stressful thoughts. And then give yourself the gift of doing a little inquiry on some of them.

Join Us for a Holiday Retreat

If you want to spend a few days doing this kind of work with me, or doing The Work on any subject you choose, join me for a virtual retreat Dec 28-29-30. I will be available for 30 hours during this Zoom retreat. 

There are no prerequisites. Come do The Work with us, and learn as you go. You will have a lot of support during this retreat. And if you’re alone this year, it’s a great way to “get out of the house” and meet some wonderful people in inquiry. 

If we get six participants, the cost will only be $300 Canadian (approx. $234 USD, €194 EUR, £175 GBP, $315 AUD) for the three days. There are two signed up so far. Join us here.

Have a great week,

“…many people find it difficult to receive a kind remark or a gift. The focus on reciprocating right away, even with a thank-you, can keep you from fully receiving. Wanting to appear polite can prevent you from entering the state of gratitude where anxiety and separation disappear.” Byron Katie, I Need Your Love, Is It True?

Further reading: The Gift of Receiving

P.S. You might enjoy this song that the 15-year-old daughter of my sister's friend created last week (it already has over 275,000 views). I think it's perfect for this year! It's called "Lonely Christmas." Enter your text here...

About the author

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.

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