How Can I Stay Sane in December?

Dear Sara, 

I find this time of year incredibly frazzling.  I lose my ability to focus, I feel anxious and torn in a million directions.  I can’t get any painting done, even when I have the time, because I just feel too fried and keep running through my to-do lists in my head.  Any advice on how to get to January without losing my mind?

-    December Madness

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Dear December Madness, 

I’m now going to share with you the secret to holding your own in the midst of the cultural maelstrom that is the American December.  Ready?  This is big.

The first thing to understand is that all the manic energy you are tapping into has a powerful source in our collective culture.  The truth is, we live in a culture that is deeply, pathologically afraid of the dark.  This fear of darkness manifests in you and in all of us in the form of a “frazzled,” restless, unfocused feeling and becomes a panicky drive to do more, spend more, pack our calendars, and cross more things off our lists – all in an effort to hold the darkness at bay.  

As a creative person, you may be particularly sensitive to the hyperactive, fear-based energy that circulates this time of year like the social disease that it is, but you also have the ability to tune into a deeper understanding of what this season is really asking of us.  

If you are honest, and listening to the signals of the earth and your own body, you know that this season is asking us to turn a bit inward, to get a little more still and quiet, to hunker down in places where we can find some warmth, to reflect on the seasons past and allow some new seeds to silently, slowly, begin to stir under the surface.  The season is asking us to sit with a little extra darkness, to lean into it a bit, to remind each other that spring will return, and to practice being not afraid.

So, let’s practice.  

If you are not afraid of the dark, you can skip the artificial displays of millions of energy-sucking lights and settle for a few flickering candle flames, leaping and alive.

If you are not afraid of the dark, you can gather together with those who you are closest to, and skip those gatherings and events that offer restless activity without meaningful connection.

If you are not afraid of the dark, you can offer gifts without losing your sense of proportion.  You can remember that ‘bigger,’ ‘pricier,’ and ‘more’ are words with deep ties to fear, to void-filling, to puffing up and pretense.  You can stick to the words of the calm and fearless – words like “meaningful,’ ‘heartfelt,’ and ‘enough.’

If you are not afraid of the dark, you will not need to numb and sicken yourself with alcohol, sugar, or rich foods.  You can seek nourishment that supports you in holding your space in the darkness – not running from it.

If you are not afraid of the dark, you can calmly make some progress in your creative work, and know that it is OK if it goes a bit more slowly than usual.  You can feed your creative life by looking back at the accomplishments you are most proud of in the year that is passing away, and mulling over the dreams you are gestating for the year to come.

If you are not afraid of the dark, you know that there is vital inner work happening in the darkness.  You can allow a little sadness, a little down-ness, a little human-ness, because you trust that the dark is a fertile void, not an empty one.  You can make space for the lows that are authentic expressions of this season and not wear yourself out with an unrelenting mask of good cheer.  

The secret of the season is to recognize that you live in a culture that operates like a fear-fueled centrifuge, denying the reality of the darkness by spinning faster and brighter until it flattens us all out against the very edges of our humanness.  Then we collapse, exhausted and broke and call it a New Year.

The secret of the season is to stay in the center -  your center, our center - and let the spinning wheel spin without you.   Take in those elements of this month that sustain, enrich, and connect you to who you are and what these dark weeks really hold for you, and let the rest spin away.

Be not afraid. 

-    Sara