Tag Archives: holidays

season of contrast globes 121915

What is up with me and this time of year? I find myself feeling all awkward and wonky like clapping off the beat and tripping over the curb.

I’m not one for organized religion but even my odd spiritual amalgam does allow me to see that this is a special season in many ways. It’s just that I feel out of sync and clumsy for most of it.

Perhaps more than any other time of year, there are a whole tangle forces at work: nature and culture, sacred and secular, light and dark, giving and receiving, grief and celebration. Life is always full of everything but in December, there is a lot more of everything. In fact, part of the reason I feel buffeted by the holidays is that this is the season of contrasts and contradictions.

For example,

  • Our side of the earth will be its darkest in just a few days. Nature’s natural cycle lends itself to nurturing introspection and healing rest now. And yet, flash-sparkly lights are strung on everything that doesn’t move and some things that do. The artificial pop and shimmer can be fun, breath-taking, delightful… and disorienting.
  • Temperatures drop (usually) into the windshield-scraping zone which makes me want to snug-bundle by the fire with an unending pot of tea and the warm, quiet company of cat and man. And yet, we have more parties and gatherings and high-heel-wearing occasions in the next two weeks than in any other time.
  • Gratitude and generosity are at the heart of the season. I love offering gifts of love to the people for whom I am thankful all year. And yet, it is also now when empty chairs are painfully obvious. Whether separated by distance or death, anger or the Army, feelings of loss stand fully alongside those of connection.

With all these wildly contrasting forces at work, it’s no wonder I feel a little scrambled up inside: I’m swinging between life’s extremes and after a while, that swinging makes me want to put my head down.

Instead of swaying back and forth between contradictory conditions, what happens if I opened enough to feel both at the same time? Appreciate the inky depths of the solstice sky and the simultaneously glowing moon. Snuggle into the warmth and nurture of company and community. Fully feel the complicated love for those who are here and those who aren’t.

Simultaneously light and heavy, bright and dark. Giving and receiving. Grateful and grieving.

A tricky balance, I grant you, but perhaps less confusing and unsettling to feel it together.

Contrasts coexisting concurrently.


LEAVE A COMMENT, GET A GIFT ~ ‘Tis the season of appreciation for Focus Pocus readers! Please add a comment below or at the Focus Pocus Facebook page and I’ll send you a gift for creative meditation! You can choose from the super-cool one from last week about The Gap (it’s got a hidden message!) or a new one for this week (which I haven’t made yet so who knows what it will be!). ❤



melting expectations sjm xmas 1970The other night, I yelled at the cat for sitting on the tissue paper (and then eating it), chasing after the ribbon (and then eating it), and attacking the scraps of wrapping paper (dessert!). I was sitting by a fire with a cup of tea surrounded by gifts and bags and boxes and cards and curly ribbon…in a Christmas kerfuffle.

In this season of hurrying around and family travel and trying to get the stupid wrapping paper to lay flat…well, often I need a reminder to exchange my crazy complainy-pants for some genuine gratitude slacks.

I’m an anxious thing by nature. I’m a worrier and a planner and I would be very pleased indeed if someone could please let me know ahead of time how everything is going to go.

As the years go by, I realize that no amount of planning or worrying is going to guarantee that things will turn out according to my preferences. More and more, I’m dabbling in the practice of planning what I can and letting go of what I can’t.

This works fair-to-middlin’ most days.

But something happens to me the day after Thanksgiving weekend. I have no interest in Black Friday or, heaven help me, shopping on Thanksgiving Day. I deeply enjoy Thanksgiving weekend but then on Monday morning, I feel a tightness in my chest and stomach.

How in the world I’m going to get everything done that needs doing in the next month?

My life is full as it is, and in this time when I would dearly love a little quiet introspection, the holidays pile on layers of complexity and busy-ness. (Of course, I allow the holidays to do this. I don’t have to give gifts and visit family and go to parties but I want to…it just feels like a lot all at once.)

When I find myself in the midst of an embarrassment of riches and yelling at my cat for doing what cats do, I take myself back to gratitude school. If you could use a hit of gratitude in this season, come along for a step-by-step journey.

Elementary Gratitude ~

This is the low-hanging fruit of gratitude: things that are obvious and what most people say when they are asked what they are grateful for. Elementary gratitude is the fundamentals: family, home, friends, food, health, an excellent cup of tea. Find gratitude for the basics first when the complainies kick in and see if things that seem irritating don’t simmer down some.

Collegiate Gratitude ~

After I’ve got the basics covered, I graduate to the next level. Collegiate thankfulness is for the things that we tend to take for granted: clean air and water, a car that goes, well-maintained roads, people who pick up the trash, and food on the grocery store shelves. Appreciating that which we often don’t notice can amp up our gratitude quotient in a hurry. Think about it right now: the room that you’re sitting in, the device on which you are reading, the heating or cooling that is keeping you comfortable, the bathroom you just used, the snack you just ate. It’s really pretty stunning to take it all in.

Graduate Gratitude ~

This is where gratitude gets real. Not unlike graduate school (or so I’ve been told), graduate level gratitude is not for the weak of heart. Here is where I take time to appreciate the things I don’t want, that which I resist, even the things I prayed would not happen. The illness and injury and (stay with me here) even death. The breaks in relationships, the conflict, the suffering, even religious extremism can be a reason to be hopeful (see the OnBeing interview with Reza Aslan ~ the whole piece offers excellent perspective but right around 49 minutes, I heard the most hopeful thing I’d heard all year.)

Love is a necessary precursor to grief. Injury and illness can create deeper appreciation for and connection with each other. Suffering can be the impetus for change. Life is, in part, as sweet and precious as it is because it ends. Graduate gratitude is when I find a way to be grateful even for that which I would never have wished to be.

Investing in advanced gratitude education is an exercise in perspective and on choosing how I want to see my life. The very fact that you are reading this makes you one of the most privileged people on the planet. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have troubles and sadness and hardship. Of course it doesn’t. But it does mean that you can choose to recognize and remember that perspective when your cat is barfing up curly ribbon by the fire.

May there be peace on Earth. May you feel peace in this season and through the new year.

melting expectation sri chimnoy quoteWhat are your expectations? Of the holidays? Your family? Your colleagues? Yourself? Expectations leave disappointment in their wake. There are consequences, young lady, when you don’t live up.

Judgment, criticism, blame:  all tied directly to somebody’s expectation.

What would happen if you let expectations melt away? If you replaced expectation’s icy tension with warm liquid flow? If you stayed open to the many ways this time of year can be and unhooked from attachment to how things turn out? What if you set the intention, planted the seed, gave the gift … and released it?

Ice to Water, Water to Steam.

“-25. Feels like -39.” ~ my smartphone on Sunday, December 29, 2013

My husband comes from a big family. Enormous by my one-sibling standards. He’s the youngest of 7 and they procreated and then their procreations procreated. On the day I married Frank, I inherited 13 nieces and nephews, and 4 great nieces and nephews (a number which has ballooned by 8 in the years hence).

I love his Bergland clan. They are some of the kindest, gentlest people I know. I feel lucky to be included in their number. It’s taken me years, though, to handle a full-on family event.

In my family, a normal gathering is of 8 or 9. We might have an occasional outburst from an excited child and the cat might jump in the basket of paper and ribbon, but that’s about as crazy as it gets.

McLean Christmas 2013 019

Get 40 plus Berglands together and it is chaos. Loving, happy, kind chaos. When they’re in full swing – eating flatbread, playing cards, and telling stories — after a bit, I feel like I need to go sit in a corner, put a blanket over my head, and rock.

Berglandia Xmas panorama 009

Frank’s family just takes all the noise and chaos and children and food in stride. For them, it’s totally normal and appropriate for family gatherings to go just like this.

The morning after the Bergland family Christmas this year in northern Minnesota, we woke up to sub-zero temperatures. Seriously sub-zero. My phone read “-25. Feels like -39.” I grew up in New England. I went to school in Maine. I’m no stranger to winter and cold, but this? This was completely out of my realm of experience.

Frank and I went for a walk just to say we did. We put on long underwear, wool hats and mittens and wrapped soft scarves around our faces. We pulled on heavy socks and boots and our warmest coats with Obi Wan Kenobi hoods. After about 20 minutes, our skin was tingling. We had white halos of frost. Frank even had frost on his eyelashes.

Berglandia continues 013

After breakfast, our boy took a cup of hot water, threw it off the front porch and it exploded into snow before it hit the ground. Damnation. All these years, I thought that was just Minnesota trash talk. But no, for them, it’s normal and appropriate for water to freeze in midair on a December morning.

It’s got me thinking: what’s normal and appropriate in my life? What do I take for granted just because it’s what I’m used to? Vegetarian food. A house that’s almost always quiet. The freedom and uncertainty of being self-employed. The likelihood that I could wear flip-flops in January without risk of frostbite.

Like David Foster Wallace’s famous “This is Water” speech, whatever is normal and appropriate for us is the water we swim in. It’s easy not to notice the water when it’s all around us. It’s my intention to bring awareness to my “normal and appropriate” and to make conscious choices about whether or not this is the particular body of water I want to be paddling in.

What is your water? What is normal and appropriate for you? Are you consciously choosing it or did it just happen? In these last days of 2013, I invite you to investigate the question and inquire into what you want to be swimming in in 2014.

intercostals christmas lightsNeighbors’ dueling light displays. Glowering at each other. Competing for Most Festive.
Holly-Jolly-Jingle-Bell-Rock-Santa-Baby in every store.
Bags and tins and boxes of chocolate-covered buttercream sugar balls.


Or is relentless an illusion?

Just like the intercostal muscles. Not the muscles that never rest.
Muscle pairs get space and rest in every breath.

I’m reminded:
“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

Intercostals’ invitation: find peace interwoven in the fabric of living.

intercostals reindeer-car-costumeThis 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.

intercostals greys anatomy

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.


The strangest thing happens to my perception of time in December.  It feels like it gradually speeds up starting at Thanksgiving, rocketing through Hanukkah, whizzing to Christmas and then careening right to midnight on January 1.  Whatever you celebrate at this time of year and even if you don’t celebrate anything, there is no avoiding the swirl of the season.

Wild People Singing

One of my favorite Christmas carols is The Carol of the Bells.  I love the energy of the music.  For me, it captures the speed of the season.  I’ve never actually sung this carol, so for fun, I looked up the lyrics.  The chorus goes “Gaily they ring, while people sing / Songs of good cheer, Christmas is here! /
Merry, merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas! / Merry, merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas!”  First of all, I just love the flurry of “merry”s!  Second, my whole life, I thought it was “wild people sing.”  That’s how this season feels to me:  wild people singing…and shopping and eating and drinking and celebrating…and arguing and stressing out and drinking some more.

Winter Solstice

Right in the middle of all the man-made holidays of December is the winter solstice:  the longest night of the year.  The solstice is nature’s way of inviting us to slow down, to decelerate in the midst of all the wild people singing.  The human holidays, what with their emphasis on flashing lights and sparkling tinsel and music sung by a hundred voices and lavish eating and drinking, seems to me to be a manifestation of our resistance against the darkness.  Most people want to push against the natural movement toward darker and slower energy of winter, but there is great power in deceleration.

The Power of Deceleration

In Nia, we use deceleration to increase our strength and to protect our bodies from impact.  Nia is designed as a non-impact movement form, so in its classic form, deceleration in the lower body is focused on the relaxed roll of the foot into the floor rather than dropping the weight as we step.  As you move, whether in Nia or any other way (including hiking, running, or walking across your living room), practice stepping silently, decelerating the feet as they connect with the floor.  Deceleration is about talking softly, like a cat.  Even when we introduce micro-hops or jumping into Nia (as we will when we do Firedance on Wednesday*), we can use the strength and control of the lower body to slow down and land softly and silently.

We can also use deceleration in the upper body, especially when executing martial arts movements of blocks, punches and strikes.  By mindfully decelerating to the end position of any strike, we protect the joints from being pulled out of alignment and strengthen (rather than compromise) connective tissue with changes in speed of the movement.

Decelerating Through Life

As always, The Body’s Way is not just about what we do in class.  The Body’s Way invites us to move our lives with the same mindful intention.  Winter Solstice reminds us that slowing down has hugely regenerative and healing power.  Take a few breaths before you approach the buffet table.  Let others talk at dinner even if you hear someone say something that you want to comment on or correct.  Slowly sip a glass of water before a glass of a spirited drink.  Set aside time for quiet and contemplation as well as socializing and celebrating.

Just as decelerating our movements does in Nia, decelerating our days during the holidays has the power to strengthen especially the connective tissue of our lives.  What can you do, in the midst of wild people singing, to decelerate?  Please do comment below about your choices for deceleration in Nia and through the holidays.  “Like” the Focus Pocus Facebook page, and if a post resonates with you, share it!


Special Classes this Week

* I’ll be teaching two special classes this week:  Wednesday, December 19, 1045-12noon at ACAC Albemarle Square, we’ll dance Firedance to the beautiful, powerful music of Riverdance and on Friday, December 21, 9-1010am at ACAC Downtown, we’ll do the silent class called ChakraDancer with music that is tuned to balance us.  Of course, I’ll also be teaching on Monday, December 17, 1045-12noon at ACAC Albemarle Square and Thursday, December 20, 9-1010am at ACAC Downtown.  Those playlists are in their formative stages but are sure to have their share of festiveness.  Please do join us.

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