Christmas spirit – How do I foster it?

Christmas spiritYou want to experience the Christmas spirit but you feel uneasy. You will be with the relatives and in-laws, whom perhaps you don’t often see, and you want it to go well without too much family drama. But you know you will be spending a lot of time with perhaps a person or two you can find irritating or with whom you don’t particularly get on. If seems that there is always someone who never likes the present you buy, the food you cook or the family game you suggest.

There may be disagreement over what to watch on television. Embarrassing questions may be asked and unresolved issues touched on. If some one has a dig, it is so easy to take the bait and get upset with people on top of each other. You may even sometimes wonder whether you can survive Christmas with the relatives.

Yet the Christmas spirit is supposed to be about generosity and warmth, for family togetherness, children and fun. How can we foster that Christmas spirit in the face of our unease? Here are some suggestions.

  • If the strain is beginning to tell, why not take some time out for yourself. Think of some reason to leave the company for a while if someone is really getting under your skin — going for a short walk “to clear the head after too much to drink”, going into the kitchen “to do the washing up”, going upstairs “to check on the children.”
  • You might be able to suggest a change of scene for at least some of the family group e.g. going out to a football match or the pub for those who might enjoy this. It could distract people from what had been going on.
  •  You might try taking a step back from the emotional atmosphere around you.  Adopt passive observation rather than active participation. Observe what is going on as if you are watching a television drama. In this way you can achieve a degree of emotional distance from the person who is irritating you and feel less involved in any arguments.
  •  In these days of ready expression of personal feeling we tend to say ‘Let it all hang out.‘ The idea of suppressing our feelings is not what we are supposed to do. The old Victorian saying ‘Least said, soonest mended,‘ has gone out of common use. But perhaps its time has come again. When feeling provoked, why not try counting to ten  before rising to the bait? Instead of immediately saying what is on your mind, you could ask yourself whether a social occasion such as a special family occasion is really the time and place to have a row about something that is under the surface and not going to be resolved easily. Ask yourself whether speaking your mind would really help clear the air rather than make something bigger than it need be and add ammunition for future tension. Then you can choose between saying nothing or asserting your viewpoint (quietly and with respect for the other person’s perspective).
  •  Don’t allow someone sulking or getting overexcited to spoil your own good time. Even when they are boring or annoying you, try to appreciate the presence of people with whom you have ties of family identity and common interest. It is easier to overlook someone’s negative side when you can see their good points; easier to have fun when you are in good humour. In other words why not enjoy what you can in making the most of the situation you find yourself in?

I believe if you think ahead about possible choices and then at the time choose the wisest one for any given situation, it should be possible to rise above family difficulties and foster a Christmas spirit.

From a deeper perspective, this means letting the ordinary attachments of what has been called the ‘little self’ to die. The ‘little self’s’ ordinary attachment is to receiving attention, praise, or pleasure at the expense of the needs of the social context. I would suggest that only when the ‘little self’ dies can the ‘higher self’ become fully alive. Only when you let your selfish cravings die will the Christmas spirit or Christ’s spirit become incarnate within you.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Honesty – Is it really the best policy?

honestyA lot of us have grown careless in what we say. “It wasn’t my fault we lost the game, I didn’t hear the whistle.” or “I was pushed over and my foot hurt.” Who has never made up an excuse to stop feeling embarrassed?

This covering up may seem harmless enough but over time a pattern of making up excuses can become an ingrained habit, a way of defending oneself against any inconvenient fact that might otherwise expose mistakes, greed, or failure.

As a way of avoiding criticism sometimes people unfairly blame others.

So if telling lies gets you off the hook why is honesty the best policy?

1. Honesty involves no wasted time and energy

Only a spurious conscience would worry about telling the odd white lie spoken to pull someone’s leg, or to give a needed compliment. However, lies that are used to defend yourself can grow and multiply and there can be a lot of nervous energy involved in not getting found out. You have got to make sure it’s a credible story that hangs together and remember what was told to whom at various times.

2. Honesty means connecting with others

Who doesn’t get irritated from time to time by other people? Like with a neighbour who has not returned your garden tool or a relative who won’t take no for an answer. Sometimes one ends up saying nothing, or saying “it’s just fine” and pretending not to mind when really one does.

Not being honest actually takes away the chance of connecting with others authentically and experiencing the satisfaction of true friendship.  On the other hand sometimes people assume that being honest means giving vent to their feelings without restraint and of course this can do much harm to a relationship.

What does work is to be firm with someone about your point of view without going over the top and without taking a blaming attitude. Honest communication can be clear and to the point, yet tactful and kindly meant.

3. Honesty can lead to a sense of forgiveness

If you don’t confess to someone anything you have done wrong that affects the person, how can you hope to find their forgiveness? It is difficult to forgive yourself without a sense of the other person’s forgiveness.

4. Causing harm by gossip

We have all probably enjoyed telling tales about someone behind their back when they are not around to defend themself. Sometimes what we say is true but often we give a biased version, slanting the truth to bring out an unhelpful meaning.

Unfortunately a spirit of antagonism rather than harmony develops. Chinese whispers come into play as what we say is repeated and perhaps further exaggerated along the way and our put-downs have maligned the person.

5. Honesty and reputation

Honesty in business and professional life means being true to one’s word, honouring commitments, and keeping promises. Twisting the truth, exaggerating details, deliberately changing a word or leaving out aspects of a story in order to prove one’s point, are all kinds of dishonesty.

When someone’s dishonesty gets found out they lose their reputation for being trustworthy. And once lost, a reputation is very hard to recover. This loss can even affect their livelihood. Who is going to ask for professional advice that is suspected of being unreliable or who is going to deal with a dishonest trader?

6. Honesty with yourself

When reflecting on a mistake you have made or something wrong you have done, it is tempting to believe the rationalisations that come to mind.   It is easier to secretly but unfairly blame someone else than acknowledge one’s own mistakes; nicer to indulge feelings of self-justification and even self-pity.

But self-deception means living a lie and results in all sorts of anxiety because one is not in touch with one’s inner self. What is needed is an honest self-examination to acknowledge one’s errors as well as one’s strengths.

7. Honesty with God

Adam and Eve in the biblical story, after eating the forbidden fruit, tried to evade personal responsibility by dishonestly blaming God and blaming the serpent. Just think how such an attitude might affect the authenticity of one’s relationship with God. According to religion, prayer just doesn’t work without honesty: for the truth will make us free.

8. Honesty prevents distorted thinking

The truth is often sidestepped when we are experiencing a dark mood, or a feeling of anxiety, anger, or guilt.  A distortion of what is reasonable can be an exaggerated way of seeing what is going on, or an over-generalisation unwarranted by the facts. “The plane will crash”; “I will die in the operating theatre”; or “The future is completely without any hope.”

Distorted thinking like this can result in worsening feelings of fear, fury, or despair – emotions which often result in unwise actions such as panic attack, violence, or suicide.

Better to be helped to think rationally getting a more balanced view of how things really are. For what is true has a power to rebut such distorted thinking.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems