“If you think you’re enlightened…go home for a week with your family.”

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Days ago, I returned from a spiritual trek to Peru. Each morning of our 10 day journey, Puma, the shaman, would start with an enthusiastic statement, “Today is the best day of our lives!” Our group of 12 women would eventually join him in unison, and we came to embrace the reality that the moment that we were making this affirmation was actually a crucial premonition that it was, in fact our choice to see this day as the best day ever. How could it not be? We were in an exciting bubble: exploring new lands and on sacred ground, in constant spiritual ceremony, on a trek of self discovery.
I wholeheartedly agreed with the mantra when the unexpected exploration of sacred lands stood before us. It was easy to wake up and synchronize with the affirmation when removing oneself from the mundane to journey into the Andes. Far away from connectivity to our individual comfort zones, we found ourselves in a bubble of sacred mystery. It was quite easy to recognize the best day of my life when my breath was taken away by the majestic landscape at a height of 5000meters…close to the gods of the skies with feet anchored into earth. Best days were constant when traveling on sacred land, supported by trusted guides. It was easy to chant as a group, “This is the best day of our lives!” as we danced in the Peruvian nightclub after a beautiful meal and toasts of Pisco sours, recollecting our journey with new best friends who were mere strangers only 10 days before.
I knew that there would be future moments that would test my belief in this statement of the moment: this “best day of my life” thing. That happened only the day after Puma was no longer there to lead us in the outward chorus of our new mantra. That was the moment that it was up to me to remember the teaching and integrate it as my own.
On my travel day back to the states after spending a solo day in Cusco after the rest of the group departed, I arrived to the airport to see a line 5 wrap arounds deep to drop off baggage. I deepened my breath and watched the clock, and reminded myself that this, too, was the best day of my life. I silently repeated the mantra on my second flight, where the couple in the row in front of me loudly recounted their trip as they drank buzz balls and got progressively more drunk and loud enough to be heard through my earphones even after asking them to consider being a little quieter. I reminded myself that this is the best day ever even when I had no credit cards to purchase a drink on the 6 hour flight from Lima to Fort Lauderdale because my wallet was stolen a couple of days prior in Cusco. I practiced believing that it was the best day ever while having the opportunity to watch the flight attendant party and celebrate with the drunk couple in ear and eye shot of me while their loud buzz tested my patience. I reminded myself that it was the best day ever when the Fort Lauderdale airport was closed because of a bomb threat (welcome back to the US of A!) for 3 hours delaying my last flight to my Mom’s house.
I reminded myself that it was the best day ever when I woke up the next morning at mom’s to Fox News blaring at top volume from the large flat screen television, causing my mom, my step dad and me to all yell above the volume to attempt to communicate with each other. I reminded myself that it was the best day ever to just be with my mom…who is one of my best teachers to put my so called “spiritual practice” to practical use every time I arrive and attempt to melt into her life’s landscape, which varies diversely from my own.
In the shamanic tradition, energy is not seen as “good” or “bad.” In Masters of the Living Energy, Joan Wilcox writes, “In the West, we are always trying to reduce everything to dualities, to positive or negative, to good or bad, to right or wrong.” The work of the shamanic practice of transmutation is to sit in center of life as it is and understand the process of shifting energy…turning one energetic pulse into another. It can be as simple as greeting the discomfort and breathing the breath and moving energy consciousness to a new space.
The holidays seem to trigger many people to meet their personal edges when operating in groups, families and crowds. This is a time where we all have the potential to learn how to put our “spiritual” and “personal” practices into real time action. As I observed the waves of renegotiation of my own choices since landing from Peru late Sunday night, I want to share with you some practical strategies to stay enlightened through the holiday season and especially when you are met by your best teachers: your family.
Deep breaths and remember…”this is the best day of your life!”
Here are my top 10 strategies for staying sane with family and holiday crowds for the 2018 season…
  1. Communicate with yourself what you need to stay in your center. When I first arrived to my family’s house, I started to melt into their habits and patterns. I recognized that I was heading down the rabbit hole (not in a good way). On day #2, I asked to be driven to the grocery store and got food that nourished me, and encouraged my mom to join me in enjoying the butternut squash soup that is my go-to grounding solution.
  2. Find a solution. There is always a solution. Arguments with close family members are typically a power play…an attempt to “be right.” Instead, communicate your needs with “I” statements, and find a solution to honor both sides of the needs of the person involved in the conflict. *** This is also called “compromise.”
  3. When in doubt, drink water. Dehydration makes people cranky. Stay hydrated, especially if you are already triggered by holidays, differing food and scheduling shifts and typical family dramas and traumas.
  4. When in more doubt, lock yourself in the bathroom. This is a personal favorite of mine. The bathroom is an interesting place…one where (generally speaking) no one attempts to bother you. I sometimes run a bath, or just go into a private space and do some centered breathing. And, if you are acknowledging strategy #3, most likely, you will find yourself in the bathroom more, so use your time wisely.
  5. Find a space for constructive use of your time. When spending an extended period of time with family, think ahead. I chose to ship my computers to my mom’s house because I didn’t take them with me on my trip. Before my computers arrived, I spent more time catching up with friends and planning my 2019 schedule, and giving myself a little extra time to write and contemplate.
  6. Nourish yourself. Pay attention to what comes in your mouth. Of course, during the holidays, extra food, sugar and alcohol are abundant. This is a perfect time to regulate what you are putting in your mouth. Drink extra water, which will limit the amount of food and alcohol you are consuming. Notice how you feel, and what will truly nourish you.
  7. When in even more doubt, take a walk.  Fresh air and exercise always helps. Better yet, encourage a loved one to go with you and catch some quality time with someone you love. You can create beautiful memories this way.
  8. Slow down and watch what comes out of your mouth and how it comes out of your mouth. We can’t take back words that are said (or in my case, yelled)…so slow down and pay attention to speaking with compassion. Sometimes, it is important to actually say something that has been on your mind for some time, but when it is shared in a way where emotions are deescalated, the conversation can be absorbed in a more beneficial way.
  9. Take a break when you have hit your limit. My favorite break (when I have no exit route) is to get on the phone with a friend or find some comedy on Netflix. The important thing here is to acknowledge when your limit is being reached, and take a breath or a break before you exceed your breaking point!
  10. And, simply remember that Today is the BEST day of your life! Make memories that will last a lifetime. Enjoy every breath…even the ones that challenge you to meet your edges.

*** The post’s title is a dare by the great spiritual teacher, Ram Dass.

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