Thanksgiving is a day that for many is fraught with memories. Some have good and positive, warm, happy memories. Others have negative and painful memories and associations with the day itself. Whichever feeling we have for the holiday, we can choose to make our focus for today into something positive. We can even use the negativity and pain to chart a new course for our future.
As a teenager, celebrating Thanksgiving – and any holiday for that matter – was a painful experience. I opted to work on Thanksgiving so that I’d have an excuse to stay away from my family. At the time, things would begin well. Family would gather and we’d initially be happy to see each other. Within a few hours, we’d be split into warring factions until someone left in an angry huff. No one was left unscathed by the emotional toxicity. One year, my co-worker asked me why I was so gung-ho to work a double shift on a holiday. I confessed that being with my family was an emotionally painful and exhausting experience.
Perception is Everything
She encouraged me to reconsider how I looked at the day. Instead of seeing the toxicity and negativity, I could experience my family from afar. To see them instead through the eyes of an outsider. Sort of like how a sociologist studies other cultures. I don’t have to engage with the tribe I’m studying, just be informed by it and learn from it. To learn and ultimately use what was happening around me as a blueprint to form my future.
So when my family fought – instead of engaging with the fight, I studied it. No matter what the fight was about, I refused to become emotionally engaged. I just watched the scene like it was something to study and observe. A fact-finding mission, rather than an emotional experience. Here’s what I learned:
- I can make different choices than my family. Today as an adult, I choose to surround myself with positive people to celebrate Thanksgiving. Thus, I don’t have continue the pattern of fighting and negativity that I came from.
- Using the past as a blueprint, I have consciously chosen to use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to serve someone else. Thus, part of my family’s tradition is to spend part of the day being of service to others. When I am focused on the well-being of another, my day seems to go just fine.
- My perception of Thanksgiving and the emotional toxicity has changed. Through examining my extended family dynamics, I have come to new conclusions. Perhaps I was too hard on my family in my judgment of how they chose to celebrate. What I didn’t realize is that fighting was how my family communicated. They didn’t have skills to operate in any other way. Instead of judging them, I can now understand them and forgive their shortcomings. In forgiving them – I am free. I can forgive them for not living up to how I though they should act. I never realized I was demanding that they behave a certain way so I could be okay.
Thus, I can look back on past family gatherings with fondness and gentleness. I can remember what was good and valuable and be free from the negativity. From my forgiveness, I experience a shift in energy, openness and peace. And that may be the greatest gift of all – the ability to be free from my past perception.
A Shout-out to Grief
Holidays such as Thanksgiving can bring up sorrow for the past. I wanted to acknowledge that sometimes painful memories can create pain in the present. When we use the spiritual lens to study the past, we can be gentle with ourselves. We can sit and honor what was, and the effect that it had on us. Eventually, if we give ourselves the space and permission, we can reconcile with the past and again, be free. Freedom means, we can look back with love and gratitude, not pain and sorrow. But we have to be willing to walk through the grief. To allow ourselves to mourn the hurt of the past. To honor what was and will never be again. And then give permission for our soul and psyche to move forward. Sometimes I forget the necessity of grieving situations. I don’t realized that until we name the grief, it lies underneath every situation, like a hum behind the silence.
Using Feelings As A Messenger
Feelings are not facts, but they can inform us and give us a starting point. My problem is that I think feelings are real. I get bogged down in the emotion of a situation, and fail to see how feelings are just that. Feelings. They pass if I let them. And sometimes they pass faster if I honor them. I used to judge myself for the severity of my emotions. Today, I welcome them but don’t let them linger. My spiritual advisor used to give me ten minutes to sit with my emotions and then I had to move on. (Let me tell you – after sitting with emotion for even five minutes, I am ready to move on. But she was gracious to give me ten minutes!) We know we are getting better and attaining true spiritual health when we no longer need the full ten minutes.
Messengers don’t stick around on our doorsteps. They deliver the message and move on. Feelings can do the same for us as well. They allow us to take note of where we are, and give us a way to move forward – if we are wiling to use them as such.
- Where do you want to go in your emotional healing in the coming year?
- Do you have hope in your heart that the future will be brighter?
- If not, are you willing to do the work to make room for hope?
That is the way we can use the holiday of Thanksgiving. It becomes a tool for charting a future emotional course. I would love to hear about your experiences of changing perceptions of holidays. Please drop me a comment or an email. And I will respond! Until we meet again, may you be blessed along your spiritual journey!
Other blog posts about Perception: