Sunday, December 18, 2005

Longing for simplicity...

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Longing for simplicity, I've been searching the internet for simple wisdom, simple holiday ideas, and simple art. Here's what I have so far.

Dr. Karen Reivich (who writes newsletters for Reflective Happiness) has some suggestions for those of us feeling a bit overwhelmed by the pace of the season and the pressures of the media.

How can we make this season more enjoyable? First of all, she says, don’t try to do everything. It’s great to catch up with friends and family, but if your holidays are packed hour to hour, then there will be little time left for you. So start with a list of the activities and events that bring you the greatest joy and meaning during the holidays. Make sure you balance your “to do” list with some of the things on your “joy and meaning list.”

Make sure to spend time with the people you care about – building and reveling in those connections. For most of us, it’s the time spent with the folks we love that makes the holidays most meaningful.

Finally, pick one or two activities that you enjoy on your own, so that you have something fun to do when you can’t be with the people you care about. Spend time reading a book that you’ve been wanting to read, make some art, or stroll through a museum. Remind yourself that the holiday season is short. So if this is not your favorite time of year, just remember it doesn’t last very long. It might not be the best two weeks of your life, but it is just two weeks.

From Karen Jones of Benevolent Planet and her new idea packed Humane Holidays eGuide we have the following ways to evaluate traditions, to see if we are actually doing what matters most to us:

All That Matters
On a scale of 1 to 5, rank each of these holiday traditions according to how much you enjoy it
(circle the appropriate number).
1=Not at all 2=Not very much 3=Could take or leave it 4=Enjoy it 5=Love it
Giving gifts 1 2 3 4 5
Receiving gifts 1 2 3 4 5
Wrapping gifts 1 2 3 4 5
Sending cards 1 2 3 4 5
Putting up and decorating a tree 1 2 3 4 5
Decorating your home inside 1 2 3 4 5
Decorating your home outside 1 2 3 4 5
Baking 1 2 3 4 5
Making and hosting the holiday meal 1 2 3 4 5
Visiting family 1 2 3 4 5
Visiting friends 1 2 3 4 5
Hosting a party 1 2 3 4 5
Attending parties 1 2 3 4 5
Attending religious services 1 2 3 4 5
Listening to holiday music 1 2 3 4 5
Going caroling 1 2 3 4 5
Watching holiday programs on TV 1 2 3 4 5
Other: _____________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
___________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
___________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
___________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
___________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
Now circle the three to five that you ranked highest. How would your holiday be if you did only these three to five things?
Now, with a red or other colored marker, circle the things for which you hate the process but love the results. (For example, you hate the work of decorating but love how it looks when you’re done.)
> If the results are truly worth the effort, consider whether you can hire or arrange an
exchange with someone. (For instance, you’ll bake cookies for a friend if she’ll hang your
> If the pleasure you get from the results doesn’t really balance the effort it takes for you to achieve, consider eliminating or scaling back that tradition.
For each tradition you practice — especially those you ranked with less than a 4 — answer the
“Questioning Tradition” survey which follows.

Questioning Tradition: _____(you fill in the tradition you want to question)_____
Do you know how this activity became a tradition for Christmas or Hanukkah?
" Yes " No; I’ll look it up now
Do your personal beliefs support these origins? (For example, do you believe that three Wise Men brought gifts to honor the birth of Jesus, the son of God?)
" Yes " No
If Yes, does your practice of this tradition reflect that of the holidays’ origin?
" Yes, it’s pretty much as it was intended
" No, the quality and/or quantity involved bear no resemblance to the tradition’s original
If No, why do you practice this tradition at holiday time? (Check all that apply)
" It’s expected
" I enjoy it
" I never even thought about it
" The kids would feel deprived if I didn’t do it
" I don’t know how to scale back or stop
" Others would think less of me if I scaled back or stopped
" Other: ______________________________________
Do you want to continue practicing this tradition?
" Yes, exactly as I have been
" Yes, but in less quantity
" Yes, but with more quality or meaning
" No; I’d prefer to forego it
How might you alter your practice of this tradition to reflect your true wishes? Try completing this sentence: In a perfect world, I would honor this tradition by….
How might you share your wishes with those who have come to expect the usual practice from you?
If you choose to change or end a particular tradition, here is some sample wording you may wish to use in an email or card to family, friends or colleagues:
“Because I cherish our bond/friendship, I wanted you to know that I’m foregoing [tradition] for the holidays and instead focusing on the simplicity and peace of the season. I would love to share your company/connect with you by phone one day during the coming weeks. Until then, I wish you a warm and wonderful holiday season.”
Can you come up with appropriate wording for other situations? Write down some sample

Now make a list of activities you might like to do instead of the traditions you’ve been
practicing more out of habit than desire. Examples might include taking an evening winter
walk, watching a holiday movie marathon, hosting a holiday dessert party. Decide if you
want to replace some of your “old” traditions with some of these new ones.

Then if you decide you want to spend some quality time on your own, during this season here are some ideas from the Reflective Happiness website.

Take some time during this busy season for appreciation of beauty and excellence
1 Note at least one expression of natural beauty around you every day (sunrise, clouds, sunset, sunshine, snowfall, rainbow, trees, moving leaves, birds, flowers, fruits and vegetable…etc).
2 Make your surroundings as beautiful as you can.
3 Listen to a piece of music or a watch a film and look for what it is that touches you.
4 Visit a museum and pick a piece of art and again, look for what it is that touches you.
5 Explore expressions of beauty in different cultures.
6 Explore beauty on the face of a child, and on the face of an elder.
7 Note how goodness of other people affects your life, do this exercise weekly.

Feed your curiosity and interest in the world
1 Expand your knowledge in an area of interest through books, journals, magazines, radio or internet, for half an hour, three times a week.
2 Attend a function/lecture/colloquium of a culture that differs from yours.
3 Find person in the area of your interest and learn how he/she increased his/her expertise in that area.
4 Eat food of a different culture, find out about its cultural context and the traditions and stories around this food. Become aware of your thoughts and feelings about this experience.
5 Make a connection with a person of a different culture and spend time with him or her to learn about his or her culture and traditions.

"Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend." — Theophrastus
"So spend it well." Lani

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