This time of year, I get some serious Scrooge-a-phobia: that’s a word I just made up that means “the fear of becoming a curmudgeonly party-pooping grump.” I enjoy a holiday as much as the next guy, I really do. I like the special break from routine, time with people I love, a little dress-up, a bit of fancy food, music that makes my heart swell. But there is so much of it all. It tires me out, this season that stretches from well before Halloween to New Years, jam packed-to-bursting with exorbitant expectations, forced-frivolity, and so. much. sugar.
Part of me wants to celebrate, but mostly, at this time of year, I just want to put my head down. I feel like an old salmon swimming up the cultural stream of excess. As every day gets darker and colder, and the list of holiday things that I need to do piles on top of all the things that I already do, I feel exhausted rather than energized. All those decorations on mantles and houses and lawns and cars, seem like clutter and distraction and feel like imitation happiness. (Those “Rudolph cars”? The ones with the two antlers stuck into the driver and passenger doors and the red nose on the grill? They kill me. Yesterday, I saw a fallen-off Rudolph antler in a parking lot rain puddle. C’mon people, that’s just sad.) All of the trimmings and traditions, the cards and carols, the tins of ribbon candy and peppermint bark – it all just feels relentless.
Sure, I know, I don’t have to put a blow-up Santa in my yard. I can make choices that align with my values. I can give donations and experiences and homemade gifts. I can avoid the chocolate-frosted, eggnog-flavored butter cream coating on everything. I can listen to The Little Drummer Boy to remind me that the gifts we bring are our talents more than our frankincense and myrrh. I can remind myself to make of the season what I want, and that I don’t have to go along with the consumer crowd. And mostly I do. But sometimes, the piles of plastic toys and the pop holiday music and the dark dark darkness leave me feeling like I can’t breathe.
That’s why at the holiday season, I really relate to the intercostal muscles. (Doesn’t everybody?) That’s right: at this time of year, I feel like a beleaguered little intercostal muscle. Take a deep breath right now and you can feel those determined little dudes between your ribs. Since they are the main muscles that move the chest and rib cage, those poor guys never get a break. Take a nap, and your leg, shoulder, and core muscles all get some time off to relax but not the intercostals. Nope. Those puppies never stop. Which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. We need breath to live. But still. It’s relentless.
Or it can seem that way.
Look closely at the design of the intercostal muscles and you’ll see that there are both external intercostals (which allow inhalation and expansion of the ribs) and internal intercostals (which allow exhalation and contraction of the ribs). The two sets of muscles overlap and work together to allow breath … and they give each other rest during every breath.
If I really stop and pay attention, maybe it isn’t as relentless as I thought. If I relax and let my body breath naturally, there is a little pause at the top of the breath and an even longer one at the bottom. A little sliver of rest right in the middle of the business and busyness of breathing.
Perhaps I can find a sliver of rest in my holidays, too.
Maybe you love this time of year. Maybe you can’t get enough of the tinsel and toffee. Maybe you are itching for holiday music in October. Maybe the swirl and jingle of it all lights you up.
Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t.
Either way, we can all take a lesson from the brilliant little intercostal muscles. Take a breath and feel the peace that is woven into your body. Even in what seems like the relentlessness of living, they find a little space, rest, and peace.
They need it and so do we.