By the time you read this you will likely be more anxious than when I wrote it. It’s Hallowe’en. You’ve likely been busy with costumes, candy, kids… or thinking you should be. And that is just the beginning. Less than two months away is Christmas. A few weeks away is Thanksgiving. And, yes, some folks are already depressed or stressed-out about what is expected of them at Thanksgiving.
I apologize if I have raised your stress level in order to lower it even more.
I have heard the holidays called the Trifecta of Dysfunctional Family Pain: a three-fold disease of Thanksgiving, Christmas (Hanukah, Kwaanza, whatever you do while everyone seems to be waiting for Santa) and New Year’s. In my clinical experience, this pain sometimes begins to ramp up with feeling like an outsider for Hallowe’en.
Single people, of which the US now boasts 96 million and growing, especially feel a mounting pressure: Where will I spend the holidays? Who will love me? Will I feel left out? The groundlessness can be overwhelming.
And it may start with the Shoulds of Hallowe’en. I Should have a party to attend. I Should have children to go out trick-or-treating with. I Should be at a fabulous masquerade ball dressed like Scarlett O’Hara. The Tyranny of the Shoulds begins to ramp up… Now.
The best cure for depression is to see it on the horizon and catch it before it goes to flashpoint. See that tiny boat out on the horizon? It may be riding a tsunami of anxiety and sadness. The sadness that life doesn’t look the way you wish it did sets in. Just last night a young woman sat with me, crying, because Christmas would not be what she wished. Her parents have been divorced for a while and yet Christmas is still when it hurts the worst.
Where does a Buddhist Bodhisattva factor into facing the holidays? Jizo is the Earth Womb, the Earth Treasury who holds the ground safe beneath our worried feet. How do we access Jizo?
Asking helps. Meditation, even a couple of minutes of breathing before bed, upon awakening, where you consider the protector within you and ask it to help you recognize that your expectations for the holidays were installed years ago and may not be based in reality.
These expectations give us a terrible case of the Gimmes. Give me this and I will be happy, give me that and the holiday will be good, give me those and I will be complete… And if I don’t get what I want, I will suffer.
This is what Buddha called the Noble Truth: Suffering is a fact of life. We suffer because we are clinging. In this case, we cling as a culture to the Norman Rockwell vision of family life. Rockwell painted in the 1920’s and our minds still cling to the images he painted of abundant and ideal American life. Which is lovely. Some people still have it. But those who do not (the 47%, the 99%?) compare their table to that of the imaginary happy family and sink into despair. Or go shopping. With credit cards.
So, please, consider Jizo as this holiday season begins. As a prayer. With a pendant. As an alternative to clinging and shoulding. A gentle reminder that there is always something beneath our feet that we can be grateful for, even if it does not look the way we wish.
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