What Does Christmas Mean to Me?

Charlie brown friends

Christmas has always been a difficult time of year for me.  I don’t think I’m unusual in this aspect.  If you grew up with a challenging childhood experience, sometimes that means – without effort – the holiday remains something other than positive.  Sometimes it has been bleak.  I have finally begun to understand that Christmas, much like life, is what you make of it.

This past year has been a great challenge for me.  I have weaned myself off of an addicting drug, finished my master’s thesis, completed a novel (not a very good one but it is finished), returned to the classroom to teach, worked diligently on becoming a more positive person, and kept my general sanity in the process.  I have been a grandmother and helped where I could, created and stayed with a few projects at our small business, and tried to exercise on a semi-regular basis.  I made it through and am now beginning to be cautiously excited for 2013.

I will be teaching two classes in the spring, possibly three with a tentative online course looming out there, completing a grant writing course and attempting my first grant writing experiences, trying to begin yoga, taking a creative writing course, and continuing to work on my positive thought process.

For our Christmas season, we have done a few new things; visited two groups of new friends at their homes for drop-ins, going to the Grove Park Inn for Christmas Day dinner, and had my husband’s parents and sister here for a couple of days to celebrate their 70th Anniversary (yes, I said 70th) and simply to spend time with them during the holiday season.  They are in their nineties, and still mentally vibrant.  My sister-in-law has been an incredible daughter, taking good and consistent care of them.  I am quite proud of her.   I will be revisiting a friendship that had disappeared during the year, and hoping to be a wise enough person to understand that friendships are much more important than anything I harbor in my misguided brain.  I hope that’s part of the new, more positive thinking woman who I am working on becoming me.

I plan to write in this blog once a week.  It is amazing how much good it does for me whether anyone else ever reads it or not.  If you have something that makes you feel great to do, please try to fit it into your schedule.  You do deserve it, and so do I.

I have many people who love me.  I’m very fortunate in that aspect.  There are times in my life when I have been less than love-able.  And I have many I love.  There too, I am fortunate.

2013 looks greatly promising.  I am hoping that is true for you as well.  Regardless of what you face in the next few months, be it a health issue, financial pressures, relationship struggles – or simply good things coming up in your life – I gently suggest that you do so with grace, compassion, and positive thoughts.  You may already do that, and if so, please share how you developed that attitude.  Many of us would love to emulate you.  But if you don’t, do your best to surround yourself with people who do.  It really makes a difference.  Read all the positive things you can.  Research websites that offer you worksheets which may help you to begin changing your thought processes.  Two that come to mind are the works of Byron Katie at http://www.thework.com/index.php and Dr. Michael Ryce at http://www.whyagain.com/default.php.

This Christmas has been rather lonely because I don’t have many of those who are usually here with us.  They are living their lives and being the people I hoped they would grow up to be.  But that doesn’t mean that Christmas can’t be warm and lovely.  It does mean I have to change my expectations of what Christmas is.  Next year, I plan to be on a trip seeing something new for Christmas.  That may become what Christmas is for me. Go see something new and find new friends with whom to celebrate.  I hope that you have made the season special for you.  If not, I hope that you can start on the road to making it so for next year.  It is what you make it.  Let’s make it good.

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Just watch the sidewalk right in front of you

I have a new bike.  It is fabulous.  I think it is one of the greatest bikes every created.  Did I mention its fabulous?  A Trek – lightweight, responsive, pads on the handlebars on which to rest the pads of my hands.  I’m in love with this gorgeous bike.  When I ride, I feel like all the cobwebs of burdens, uncertainty, self-doubt, and fear are blown from my mind away in the wind as I sail down a hill.  Pumping my legs up the hill is another thing entirely, but the focus remains so intense that I have a feeling of bike-induced meditation.  It is a wonderful experience.

In Greenville, SC, we have a new “rails to trails” bike path, named the Swamp Rabbit Trail, in honor of the former Swamp Rabbit train that cruised the same path.  This is a 14-mile-long path that has slight inclines and gorgeous sites as the trip takes you from Cleveland Street (on the south side of downtown) back through the breath-taking Falls Park in downtown, meandering through an older section of town, winding among trees and along a small river, along the backside of Furman University, and then onward and slightly upward to Travelers Rest, SC.  On warm evenings, and Saturday mornings, the trail is filled with bikers, runners and walkers, strollers, dogs walking their owners, and families.  People that appear to have never ridden a bike before are precariously teetering on pedals that push their knees to their chins.  Finding a bicycle that fits can be a challenge in itself.  I love the whole scene.

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Several weeks ago, my husband and I were riding the trail, but we decided to take a detour.  Hundreds of runners were participating in a local marathon.  26+ miles.  I’m not a runner.  I like my bike.  The runners deserved their space and dodging bikes can be difficult on the 20th mile of a marathon, so we headed off the trail and up Hunts Bridge Road.  Sometimes, when you ride, you encounter mean-little-hills.  These are not the lengthy heart palpitating inclines that will make your legs burn with pumping, but a simple mean-little-hill that will lure you with its short length, but bite you as your breath comes in ragged wheezes and you realize that the hill might win.  Mean-little-hills are almost always a surprise, even if you’ve ridden them before.   I’m not crazy about riding on 4-lane highways, as this one is, so I got off on the cracked and gravel-covered sidewalk.  Not a good place for a lightweight trek.  A new lightweight beloved trek bike.  On a mean-little-hill.

I noticed immediately, however, if I shifted my attention to the sidewalk right in front of my bike, I didn’t fear the hill so much.  I could stare at the two feet or so that was directly in front of my tire, and the “idea” of the hill went away. (was Plato speaking directly to me?)  This was not about beating a little hill, but it became the process of peddling through the two – three feet that were right in front of me.  And I also noticed that with that kind of focus, I didn’t notice the hill part.  All I saw was that short amount of cracked sidewalk that, with this kind of focus, would allow me to miss the particularly deep cracks and huge rocks.  Hmmm.

This felt like an analogy to life.  If, on a day-to-day basis, I focus on what I need to do that day, and not what the longterm scary goal is, I don’t notice that the goal has not been reached that day.  I only notice that I’m doing what needs to be done.  On that day.  In that hour.  In that moment.

This is referred to as mindful living.  I haven’t actually looked it up, so I can’t see that is what anyone else calls it.  But it is what I call it.  It is paying attention to the person to whom you are speaking at that moment.  Sincere undistracted attention.  It is finishing the creation of one quiz for my history class.  It is writing the next 2000 words of my book for today.  It is making that appointment that I wrote in my daybook that I will make today.  It is being present in my mind while I hold my grandchild, talk to my son, or read a book.

Just watch the sidewalk in front of you.  The rest of the hill does not have to be conquered at the same time.  You won’t even notice it is a hill.  Because your daily bites and successes can come two – three feet at a time.