The Holy Days

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Chihuly exhibit at Denver Botanic Gardens

There’s a vulnerability on the planet during the holiday season. I see it in people’s faces: beneath the stress and tightness and frantic pace lives the softness of an open heart, as if the emissaries of grief travel from broken heart to eyes and softening the edges. I see the longing for connection, the most basic human desire to break through our isolation and sit comfortably in others’ company. I see the desire for peace. I see the longing for love.

It happens in small moments as I walk through my day. I catch the eyes of a driver in the parking lot and smile. She smiles back. A meeting of strangers. I drive out of the parking lot and wave at the homeless man on the corner. “Can we give him anything, mommy?” my son asks. I know I don’t have any small bills. I reach into my wallet and hand my son a large bill, who rolls down his window and hands it to the man. The man sees the bill, chokes up and turns away, then turns back to stammer through tears, “God bless you.” I put my hand on my heart and my eyes fill with tears, too. I turn back to look at my son to see his smile radiating as big as his soul. A holy moment.

These small moments of pared-down, open-hearted contact are what this season is about. We call these days holidays, but they’re also holy days, for embedded in the encrusted outer layers is an invitation to connect more strongly to peace and love. We can focus on the over-consumption that seems to intensify each year or we can focus on the archetypal underpinning that informs every holy-day: the desire to connect to our true nature, our essential goodness, and to give from that place in others. To me, that’s holiness. It’s the unencumbered heart. It’s the moments in life when we touch into the divine, which means the highest parts of ourselves that carry a spark of divinity. It can occur at the top of a mountain or on a city street corner. It’s when our hearts are wide, wide open – open enough to receive what Martin Buber called the “I-thou” experiences: standing eye-to-eye with a person, an animal, a tree, a rock. It’s letting ourselves see and be seen without inhibition or obstruction. It’s, in a word, love.

But we don’t understand love in this culture. We think love is something that you get from someone else, an ecstatic feeling that you feel consistently and lifts you up with its otherworldly power. We don’t understand that real love is defined by one word: giving. Real love is what you give. That’s all. It’s what you give to yourself, yes, and from that filled up place real love overflows like a fountain of blessings and pours onto anyone that intersects with your life.

That’s what this season is about. That’s what it means to sink down into the underground river that informs the holidays and turn them into holy-days. It’s about giving for the pure joy of giving. When you connect with the archetypal river that hums beneath the frantic top-layer pulse of shopping and parties and spending and wrapping, you’re given an opportunity to learn more about what it truly means to love.

One of the most giving acts we can engage in is to see another’s essence. When we hold another’s gaze and see them with eyes of love, we’re giving a great gift. I find it fascinating, although not surprising, that many people who find my work are in helping professions: therapists, teachers, nurses, social workers, and, of course, parents. These are people whose hearts are as big as the moon and can easily give to others and see their essences but have a hard time seeing it in themselves. So we start there. We make a prayer during this veil-thinning time when the Earth is tilting on its axis and turning into winter or summer to please, help me see my goodness. Please let me know that I am loved. If you need a reminder, please read this post. 

And from that filled-up place, even if you remember your goodness for just one moment, you can set your compass to the dial of giving. One aspect of relationship anxiety centers around the focus on what I’m not getting: I’m not feeling in love enough; I’m not attracted enough; I don’t feel butterflies and I’m not seeing rainbows. Again, we’re so culturally entrenched in an idea of love defined by what we get that we lose sight completely that love is what you give. Like gratitude, giving is a practice. We think that if love is “right” – meaning that we’re with “the One” – giving should be effortless. It’s not so. Real love in all of its manifestation – with partner, children, family members, friend, co-workers, strangers – calls up every wall and wound inside of us for the purpose of helping us heal and move toward wholeness. The more we heal these fearful and hurting places, the more we can give.

It’s important to know that giving doesn’t hinge on healing. It’s a common line of the ego that says, “If I’m not fully healed then how I can give?” The giving facilitates the healing and the healing nourishes the giving. They work in tandem: twin, symbiotic poles that help us grow and move more and more toward love.

So here again is the invitation of this season: To give. We focus on giving gifts, but what if we widened that focus to include giving our hearts? One tangible way to practice this is to set an intention that with every person you meet from now through the New Year  – from intimate loved ones to perfect strangers – you will take a moment to see their essential goodness. I once read about a rabbi who would silently say tehora hee – your soul is good – to each person that he met. It’s similar to what we say at the end of yoga: Namaste, which means “the light in me sees the light in you.” Isn’t this what Jesus taught as well – to love your neighbor as yourself? Isn’t that what we’re celebrating as we walk toward Christmas – the birth of a man who embodied unconditional love and brought peace to this planet? What would it be like to bring this Christ-consciousness into our hearts and make it a conscious practice to see goodness and give this silent or verbal reflection to any life we touch in any form? To see with the spiritual eyes that reside in your heart.

I see you. I see your goodness. I see your heart. I don’t know what stories and experiences brought you to this moment in your life, but as I hand you this bill, I’m handing you more than money: I’m handing you a moment of love. We are two humans, each suffering in our own way, each touching into the divine in our own way. As I write this, I’m holding you in my heart. I’m sending you love. I hope you have a warm place to stay tonight. I hope you have a blanket. I hope you have food. I hope my thoughts reach you in some mysterious way. I hope for a more peaceful planet where all beings are free and safe and loved. 

If each person oriented their compass in the direction of seeing others’ essences we would be living on a different planet. Perhaps we can taste that planet during this window of the holidays by seeing good, reflecting essence, and sending prayers for peace into each heart we meet. Perhaps, in doing so, we can transform the holidays back into holy days and open our hearts just a bit wider to merge with the great expansive river of love.

23 comments to The Holy Days

  • Clara

    Wow, Sheryl. Wow! I loved this simple message: “Real love is what you give. That’s all.”. I am hosting an end of year gathering for my meditation group tonight. I was going to spend today hunting for a poem or reading that I could use to commence the little ritual that I have planned. I think I’ve found it!! I hope you don’t mind me using your words in this way – they are perfect for the kind of reflection I am hoping to create. With love, C.

  • I wish I could take credit for that line but it comes from the brilliant “Recipes for a Perfect Marriage”! You can read the full passage here:

    http://conscious-transitions.com/real-love-is-only-what-you-give/

  • talespinner77

    Sheryl,

    The wall has been up SO high for the last week and I have been pounding my head against it screaming let me out! I have forgotten what it is, and what I am expecting is not his job to provide….it’s a long climb to the top, but I feel like you are there with your hand out saying, “not much further.”

    Thank you ever so much for your consistency of just being who you are and happy holidays 🙂

  • Rashad

    Hi Sheryl,

    I have to thank you SO much for your insightful, beautiful and powerful posts. I have been following your work since I was attacked (but gifted) with the most intense anxiety and fear I have ever known in opening myself up to love a man. You have quietly guided me for 9 months with the most beautiful sense of self awareness I have ever known, and this post is no different. Through the love of a partner and my desire to grow and put in the work to know my own true love of self, I have grown tremendously.

    My now ex partner unfortunately ended our relationship because he too became afraid. Days before he broke it off with me and after he told me he was: attacked by some “indescribable” feeling, the romantic feelings had faded and that he felt distant and everything I did annoyed him, he told me “I’ve never met someone like you before. Ive never met someone that I can see myself spending my life with…and that scares me.” I tried to direct him toward your work, and it was the most painful thing to watch him retreat into his fear and run from me. However, it’s been truly healing to find your work and know the truth of what you speak of. Thank you so much for your gift of wisdom but most importantly your love!

    Sincerely,
    A TRULY HSP Man 🙂

    • Wow, thank you, Rashad. Your comment is so honest, insightful, courageous, and beautiful. I’m so sorry that your partner chose to allow his fear to take over, and yes, it’s very painful to watch someone retreat and run, but I have no doubt that you will meet a partner who is ready to meet you fully and learn about love with you. What a gift that will be.

  • Katie

    Thank You Sheryl, What a beautiful post, it truly got though my heart! I have a one year old Baby girl and she, has you describe it here, has a natural interest (and dare I say compasssion) for everyone and everything that surrounds her.
    It is like she is thinking, just as you said: ‘I see you. I see your goodness. I see your heart’.
    Thank you for sharing this post and many blessings for you and your loved ones this holidays.

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, A truly heart felt blog! I’m sure your adorable son has learnt from you how important it is to give the people who are most in need. He will do the same when he is older enough to work for his money. If only more people are giving in this world like you. As they say the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. My mother always taught me and my brothers always give to less fortune as it helps you as person. And we have donated to the blind, to the homeless and family & friends. The people that don’t help people in need are too self absorbed until maybe one day they will know what it feels to have less. Only way to learn how the culture should be.
    I wish you and your family a Happy, joyful, spiritual, Christmas and most importantly full of love and peace.
    Sending love xxxx

  • ChristmasA

    Thank you Sheryl, wow what a good reminder. I’m a teacher and just emerging from an end of term virus. How annoyed have I been to be ill at this time! About not having energy to see dear loved family and friends. And of course that manifests itself in fixing on my husband’s faults, which tends to happen when he is unhappy. His mother died 3 years ago today and he finds the run up to christmas very grief full. I think it’s good that he can access his grief at times (cry, say what’s upsetting him). The other night I had this understanding when he was crying and I was crying too (seeing him upset and I lost my sister almost 3 years ago too to cancer) how much grief is behind our everyday life and how we are coloured by it.

    I know that this is the way life is and thank you for shedding light on the importance of honouring grief but sometimes I just want things to be easy and happy and when I’m not feeling well I find it really hard to keep things going. I’m reminded by this post about the immense amount of love and connection I do have in my life. Often my husband and I find ourselves longing for a closer connection to a community of friends around us (we have moved to my country relatively recently after living all over the world – it’s not his country). My husband tries to meet new people but it often seems to trail off into nothing. His confidence is getting low. I don’t know why this is happening because he is a loving, interesting, generous hearted, fun person. Sometimes I think he is just too eager for friends, and they get put off. While I have dear friends and family near me, I work an incredibly demanding job as a teacher in a highly pressurised environment (which isn’t suiting me, but I am leaving) and hardly have time for more than maintenance on my social relationships.

    I admire people who can give whole heartedly and who live positively. My parents are like that. Sometimes I worry that my husband and I are not managing that and won’t ever. That is the big worry that it will always be like this. I do sometimes feel like I’m chasing happiness and light heartedness I haven’t felt consistently for years and years. I do blame it on my husband sometimes as it feels like he can drag me down at times.

    I should mention that he is my absolute rock, my soul mate, friend, devoted life partner, funny, clever, beautiful, inspiring, looks after me, has loads of integrity, and knows and manages and loves me like no other, and I don’t regret marrying him (this year) one bit. 2015 is sure to bring lots of changes as we are expecting a baby in spring. Lots of transitions around!

    When I write it down like this I see how many different threads of things there are going on. What is my intention in all this? What is my hope for the holidays? Maybe just peace with it and acceptance of it. I was thinking about something I read about not attaching a story to everything. So for example if husband is in a bad mood or I don’t feel ready for Christmas, accepting it as that and not going b. ackwards and forwards into the past and future, thinking about what things could or should be. I think I’ll stick with that over the Christmas / New year period. Just peace acceptance, and of course giving in the real sense of the word. 2
    Much christmas love all around xxxxx

  • Leah77

    Sheryl, thank you, thank you, thank you….. This was just what I needed today. I am crying as I write this, long-awaited tears following a very tough few weeks. Seeing peoples’ light and goodness is indeed not only a gift to others, but is also the kindest act of love towards ourselves we can ever offer. We put up barricades all the time between “us” and “them”, but when we find a way to soften our heart and allow the barricades to fall away…..we feel connected. And that’s what it’s all about! Sheryl you are an angel. Thank you for helping my heart soften on this dreary, dark and wet winters day. Much love, Zoe xxx

  • Rae

    Thank you for taking the time to remind us all that holidays are really HOLY days; reiterating the importance of living with the intention of honoring the goodness in everyone, including ourselves where it seems for many of us to be most difficult. I want to thank you for enriching my 2014 and honor you for the joys you will undoubtedly bring me in 2015 with your poetic words of wisdom and goodness. Happy holidays!

  • Patricia

    I’m a Pastor and your thoughts parallel mine. Thank you for reminding me of a great joy in life! When I was maybe 15, I wrote a little ditty born from this understanding of approach life. “I see nothing sad or anything ugly. People will always do bad, but look into.them, they’re quite lovely.”

  • Justin

    Wonderful article Sheryl. I stumbled into your articles about a month ago and I have been referring to them to help me recondition the way I think about love and life.

    With regard to this article, I’m also surprised that teachers and counsellors—like myself—struggle with managing their own intrusive thoughts and maintaining an open heart (especially when it comes to their romantic partnership). I find my counselling work to be fulfilling—and somewhat therapeutic— in that I feel openhearted when i am working with clients; however, it’s ironic that I have a difficult time transferring this openness to my own relationship.

    Sheryl, your insights bring a lot of clarity to a pervasive issue that our cultural grapples with. We are culturalized to think that romantic love is a very different and unique type of love. We are wrongly led to believe that we should consistently expect loving and passionate feelings from our partner and that these feelings should seem effortless. In my opinion, if many things in life follow similar patterns and principles than this concept doesn’t make logical sense. For example, many important things in my own life that I have felt drawn towards—for example my career, home, and close friendships—have taken work. The work has never felt gruelling or overly arduous because I gravitated towards things that I felt connected to. Also, I have never sustained consistent and intense feelings of passion towards any of these things; however, I don’t believe that this is a red flag or that I don’t love my career, home, and close friendships. In fact, when I reflect on my career pathway, the place that I call home, and the friendships that I’ve maintained over many years, I feel a very warm, loving feeling inside. To me, love and attraction towards a romantic partner should follow the same pattern and principles.

  • Ferns&Moss

    it is so easy to forget the potency of gratitude and empathy. Thank you for reminding us, and shining your light. It takes tremendous courage to consciously give when we feel greedy for getting, and to remind ourselves that sometimes the mostly loving action we can take for ourselves is to remember the fantasies we subscribe and escape to may not contribute more to our wholeness and growth.

    Blessings and gratitude to you on these Holy Days, and thank you for sharing and spreading your wisdom!

  • Thank you 🙂

    I haven’t heard of Robert Johnson or his book before. But I just ordered his book “We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love”, so thanks kindly for the suggestion!

    Happy Holidays to you

  • sammy jones

    dear sherryl…i have been suffering from anxiety issues for the past 1 year..i have overcome a lot of those issues…but lately my anxiety has clinged to my relationship…the insecurities i carry with myself..all that negative baggage..and the “what if’s” start to centre around all those negative baggage…but deep down i know somewhere that whatever negative i may think of myself i am a good person..just want to ask 1 question..that during relationship anxiety…when the ” what if” strike…like say “what if i dont really love her” should we go with our gut feeling…i read somewhere that the gut feeling can often misguide you..particularly in relationship anxiety…so it confused me all the more..so can you please shed some light on it…i i have been reading the wonderful articles on this blog and found them very inspiring and helpful…i just wanna ask…during any phase of anxiety…do we still retain the inner self,our inner conscience…which i read in one of your posts was much deep rooted than all our fears and anxieties, and can we trust that conscience…that inner soul.. to guide us to what we really want to do

  • Avigayil

    I feel the wells of love inside me bring tears to my eyes when i read this post. I resonate so deeply with what you say. I am so thankful i found your wonderful blog a few months ago. You have helped me so many times of crisis and fear in my relationship. since than i’ve grown tremendous loads in my life. I thank the angels and the gods for guiding me to you. Your words have touched my heart and my soul so deeply. Thank you, love, for choosing to share your insights with the world 🙂 i hope many more people will find comfort in the things you share. 🙂 god bless your soul 🙂

    • Thank you, Avigayil. I consider it a privilege to share my insights with such thoughtful and open-hearted readers, such as yourself. Blessings to you as well.