The holiday season can be a time of beauty, love, and joy, but it can also be a swampland of stress, tension, and anxiety. We fill our minds and calendars with stuff to do, we put our bodies and spirits through the wringer in search of the “perfect” holiday (which is, of course, an oxymoron), and we overextend ourselves in the name of our family and friends.  Before we know it, “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing,” turns into, “Hey, Harold, where’d you put my Thorazine?”
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We can choose less.
We can meet our obligations and still choose to take care of ourselves.
We can give our loved ones a holiday to remember and still choose peace.
Real peace.
As a holiday gift from The Zen Teacher, I offer you some reminders for a low-stress, more tranquil Winter Break:
–When the chore list seems overwhelming, tell whoever is in charge of the list (whether husband or wife) to just give you two things to do and that you’ll do them. And then he or she can give me two more. Looking at a list of forty-seven things is daunting and makes us want to curl up with a blankie and an adult beverage. But anyone can do two things.  Start there.
–When the to-do list looks like that picture of Santa rolling out his gift list as if it were an adding machine tape, Repeat after me:  I don’t have to do it all.  Now say it again:  I don’t have to do it all.
–Breathe. No, really.  Inhale slowly.  Hold it. Feel the stress flowing out of your body
like a refreshing waterfall over the rocks of a soothing stream.  Then exhale slowly.  Lather, rinse, repeat.
–Shop less. Spend less.  No, really.
–Save ten minutes before you go to bed and spend that time being still and silent.  Meditate. Reflect. Say a gratitude sentence. Pray.
–Remember to eat some food that is good for you.
–Remember to eat some food that is not good for you.
–Remember to eat.
–Take a walk.  But leave your smart phone in the house.
–Look at a cloud. Or a tree. Or better yet, both.
–Choose less.  But do it better.
–Be present.  (Without lamenting the past or worrying about the future.)
–On a day between now and when you return to school, mark the calendar for a period of anywhere between 30 and 120 minutes. When that day comes, for the time allotted, do absolutely nothing.  You can sit. Listen to music. Maybe read, if you’re a rebel. But that’s it.
–Tell the fam you visit for the big dinner that even though you normally bring two dishes, you can only bring one this year.  Everyone will survive.
–Participate in your Zen Practice (that thing that makes you lose all sense of time and that access your passion—running, writing, quilting, gardening, karaoke of old Kajagoogoo songs.)
–Subtract (Engagements. Spending.  Obligations. Decorations. Cooking.)
–Give.  Love.  Serve.  Helping others makes us feel better inside. Trust me. I’m sure there’s even scientific evidence to this effect out there somewhere.  That’s why God made Google.
This is by no means a complete list, but I hope these ideas help you remember that peace is a choice. No one will give it to you. You have to choose it for yourself.  And there’s no point in doing everything perfectly if everyone else is calmly sipping egg nog, looking at Christmas lights, warming their hands by the fireplace, and otherwise enjoying the perfection you’ve created, while you’re sitting in the corner, hugging yourself in the fetal position and rocking back and forth.
Remember:  It’s your holiday, too.
And The Zen Teacher says you deserve to enjoy it. TZT