How the mall taught me about what doesn’t matter (and what does) at Christmas.

Despite my efforts to re-capture my childhood effervescence around the approaching of the holiday season, I’ve found, with each passing year, an increasing sense of pre-Christmas dread. No matter what change or hardship may come, I have begun to cultivate a more profound awareness of how my circumstances are not permanent, and how, oftentimes, the discomfort and resistance I may feel in any given situation is one of two things: an indicator of something new burning its way into my world, or a lesson to be learned before I can proceed to the next chapter in my “Life workbook.”

Even optimists have their down days. Most days, the mess reveals itself to be beautiful design work in disguise. Other days, it’s just…mess.

It pains me to say it, but the approach of the Christmas season this year has brought the pessimist out of me. These last couple of weeks have been marked by unfortunate global and local events that cause my burning faith in the basic goodness of human kind to wane, and my despair over the injustices of the world to grow. I have found myself grappling with a dizzying lack of understanding around why bad things continue to happen, why unhappy, fearful people are giving us all greater reason to be terrified, why souls of all ages go missing and families are left to worry themselves sick…and why oh why has it become acceptable to go out to dinner with your child and have them sit in neglected silence while you give your undivided attention to your phone!?

I thought that was enough of the world’s problems to feel through, but apparently I hadn’t come face-to-face with the tip of the iceberg yet — the place that has, somehow, become as synonymous with Christmas as Santa Claus:

The Mall.

It was a regular Friday night and I was feeling pretty good about life in general as Joel & I walked hand-in-hand, laughing at our usual weirdo banter. I wasn’t dressed up — jeans, winter boots, a blue long-sleeved t-shirt and a scarf. I very rarely wear make-up, so I certainly wasn’t made up for the occasion. This was meant to be a quick mission — in, out, done.

As we walked in the doors, I felt that familiar feeling of overwhelm ooze over me. Typically, the sheer amount of stimulation from walking into a mall (heck, even the grocery store!) makes me spacey and unfocused, but this was different. Christmastime at the mall is basically the mall on steroids. All I could see were strollers and arms laden with bags. There was a line-up into the jewelry store that snaked around far outside the paned glass entrance into the shop. Men & women alike were crowded over pamphlets, presumably selecting what charms or pieces of jewelry they would be purchasing once the security guard let them past the door. We wandered into a clothing store and I saw a pair of soft, knit leggings that I thought were pretty scrumptious. I checked the price tag, and they were $108. For leggings. A woman nearby stared blankly at the display table, quietly rubbing an over-priced scarf between her fingers. I wondered whether this was, in fact, the kind of gift that would make someone realize how much this person truly loved them.

Maybe my fault was in projecting how valuable these physical items might actually be to a person, or maybe it was letting the tissue paper-stuffed Armani shopping bags and the price of wooly leggings get my goat, but it didn’t take much to spiral from there. I felt a weakening in my spirit as I began to fight back tears and attempted to reign in an increasing feeling of helplessness. We were surrounded by STUFF, all around us, but yet we couldn’t find the small, simple item we were looking for. As we walked the halls from store to store, I reached for Joel’s hand. In one hand, I felt his steady presence, and in the other, any previous shred of appreciation and joy I had for everything about myself and my life when I came in the door began to dissolve.

Nothing felt like enough. I wasn’t well-dressed enough, pretty enough, successful enough, good enough… I even got as far as wondering whether I was completely deluding myself in even trying to make a go of creating a fulfilling, meaningful career for myself… Maybe it was time to banish any insecurity around what I feel other people might think about what I do, jump into the stream of corporate conformity and shelf my quest to bring greater peace, wholeness and wellness to humankind. From this vantage point in commercial mayhem, it was easy to believe that there was more value being placed on finding material things to shower upon family and friends than anything that enriches the grist of who they are. If anyone had cared to count, there were probably more people in the mall at that moment than at every Yoga studio in the city.

As I held the hand of the man I love, I knew that these negative thoughts were the true delusion, but something about this vortex made it harder to see that my thoughts were as false and impermanent as the gussied-up brick & mortar around me.

I truly believe that a Yoga practice is just that — a practice of honing our inner tools to put them into action when we experience challenge out in the world. I am also all for deep breaths and allowing emotions to be felt and honoured as they are coming up, but at this point, Joel knew that the best place for me to re-group and do those things more fully would be at a table in the food court, sharing a Blizzard. (And for the record, the seasonal flavour right now is delicious.)

As I spooned in mouthfuls of ice cream, my tears of sadness and frustration spilled out. I heavy-heartedly laid my mind’s turmoil out on the table while Joel listened and responded with deep compassion and understanding. The mall was near to closing, the crowds growing thin. If the mall had a sanctuary in that moment, it was the breathing space of the food court, at the small table in front of the DQ where there was Love, and a connection that not even wireless technology can emulate. I thought about a lovely compliment that my future sister-in-law paid me in a text message this Fall — that she admired my ability to keep perspective and see the positive in a given situation. Her words have fueled me to keep my eyes on the big picture as much I can, even if I feel my heart raising its protection level up a notch. Amidst my tears, I knew it was the feeling I had going into the mall, simply holding a hand and knowing I was ok in the world, that was more truthful than any single fear-based thought or doubt that my mind had created in that palace of excess.

As down as I felt, I knew that I hadn’t lost my ability to see the silver linings, or to know in my heart what was really true.

Cliché as it is, I don’t know if we always remember that all the shiny baubles, new technology, or overpriced items of clothing don’t really take us to the heart of what matters, not only at this time of year, but all year-long.

photo(21)Maybe what appeared to me to be disenchantment over the Christmas season (and thus my entire existence and purpose in life, apparently!) was actually a re-framing of what we need to hold onto as truth in a culture that thrives on our fear of not having or being enough; that we need more of something — anything! — just to be happier.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my loved ones to stress out over giving me stuff, just as much as I don’t want to feel that putting something in their hands on December 25th is the only way they’ll know how much I value their presence in my life. That text my future sister-in-law sent me was a gift that keeps on giving. The way my husband looks at me and listens with his eyes wide and soft is something I never ask for, but receive without condition time and time again, even when my gaze drops from the horizon of greater knowing and possibility. The feeling I had as a kid on Christmas morning is now contained in the joyful embrace I share with my brother and his fiancée every time they come home, and in seeing my whole family share laughter and stories around the dinner table. My parents may worry about me more than I know, and love me more than it is comfortable for them to say at times, but I know that they will always see me for who I am. And no matter how much in-laws get a bad rap, I am blessed with a mother-in-law generous to the point that I don’t even know how to say thank you anymore, and a father-in-law who seems perfectly content just to hug & kiss me every time I walk in their front door; a sister-&-brother-in-law who, from a distance, teach me how a passion for the great outdoors is a direct line to what actually matters in life.

All this, without even scratching the surface of the friendships — old & new — that enrich my life beyond measure, the teachers and mentors who nourish my soul, the practitioners who inspire me to give simply by showing up, and all the strangers who, when I’ve smiled at them, have chosen to smile back.

Everything that has allowed me to grow wiser, stronger, more compassionate, joyful and peaceful this year cannot be gift-wrapped. It exists within a moment, a lesson, a touch, a word, a laugh, a story, a meal shared, a silence, a gesture of kindness, a breath, a sunrise, a knowing look or a starry sky.

The true joy and sparkle of Christmas lies in the hearts of those whose hands we hold, of those who give us the truest versions of themselves all year round, and in doing so, aspire us to greater light in our lives, knowing all the while that we always have, and always will be, enough. Just as we are.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m perfectly content to give Love this Christmas, and always.

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