Whatever your difficulties—a devastated heart, financial loss, feeling assaulted by the conflicts around you, or a seemingly hopeless illness—you can always remember that you are free in every moment to set the compass of your heart to the highest intentions. In fact, the two things that you are always free to do—despite your circumstances—are to be present and to be willing to love.
The holidays can be festive and joyous! But they can also be challenging and difficult. There are the inevitable challenges, which arise from increased family togetherness. There are also long-lasting issues, which at other times of the year are manageable, but can seem more difficult during the holidays, when we are surrounded by images of happy people who appear to have no problems at all! In such circumstances, it is easy to sink into despair and feel a sense of powerlessness.
Jack Kornfield’s beautiful quote reminds us that we are not powerless. We are free, as he states, to set the compass of our hearts to the highest intentions. While we may not be able to control the outer circumstances of our lives, we can choose how we respond.
But following through is another issue. It’s easy to tell ourselves to be present and to be loving. And we may even have a momentary feeling of elation with the realization that we are not stuck in a negative mindset. But, actually living in the present and living in love are not always so easy, especially as we are confronted with our habitual patterns to do anything but feel the pain of our present circumstances!
So, how can we stay present? Very simply, the breath. The breath is the one part of our Autonomic Nervous System, or involuntary nervous system, that we can actually control. By slowing down and deepening our breath, we can calm our emotions and our “reactive” habits. We can ground ourselves and step back and get perspective on whatever we may be experiencing.
And the other choice we have, as Kornfield states, is to be willing to love. We can transform the blame, resentment, anger and jealousy into love. We can will ourselves to love. But, again, how?
Through intention and through the breath. We silently make the intention to be loving—loving to ourselves and loving to others. And, something I have found quite helpful, is to do a visualization in which I inhale and imagine I am receiving love, and exhale and imagine I am giving love.
Sometimes I really struggle with this, especially when I am surrounded with aggression, conflict, and anger. But, I realize, it’s less about how I feel, and more about what I am actually doing. I don’t judge myself. I stay with the feelings, whatever they are, knowing that they, as all feelings do, come and go. And, by making the intention to give and receive love I can transform my inner state.
During this time, I encourage you to be with your challenges, not to run away, or to judge yourself for your feelings. Be with whatever is, and try to see these challenges as an opportunity to be present and to be willing to love.
Here is a breath work exercise focusing on loving kindness.