Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

The REAL challenge of the holidays

Can you see the divine and sacred spark in all?

We often hear of holiday stress associated with all of the shopping, traffic, financial and time pressures, travel nightmares, managing family conflicts, office party politics, and unrealistic expectations for a happy holiday season and experience. However, I'd suggest that there is really a much bigger and more important challenge for us during the holidays.

This time of year it seems that all of the major religious and spiritual traditions offer important holiday celebrations and traditions including Christmas, Hanukkah, Muharran and the more secular (or at least less sectarian) holidays of Kwanzaa, New Years, Winter Solstice, and Boxing Day. It is also a time of year when charitable acts and donations are encouraged too.

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For example, my son along with some of his high school peers, spent part of the weekend putting donated food baskets together for and distributing to needy families in our community. Driving him back from this part of town that he rarely visits, he reflected on his experience providing us both with an opportunity to talk about the biggest challenge of the holiday season (at least in my humble view).

And so, what is this challenge?

I think the real challenge for us this time of year is to see the divine and sacred in all and to be in solidarity with those who are outside of our typical circle of friends and family (and especially with those who suffer, struggle, and are often marginalized). Being in solidarity means walking and engaging with others as equals in mutuality.

Most of the end of year holidays often refer to light in the darkness. This makes a lot of sense now during the time of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Certainly the Christmas story (mostly coming from the Gospel of Luke) as well as the Hanukkah celebration and the newer Kwanzaa tradition speaks to being light in darkness and the remarkable power and influence of even a very small amount of light. Even the famous New York City descending ball at the stroke of midnight on New Year's speaks to this image of light in darkness. I wonder if during the holiday season (and perhaps year round) we can work hard, very hard,  to see the light in everyone (even with those who we don't like so much or who we want to have very little, if any, to do with in our daily lives). This can include not only those very different from ourselves but even people in our circle of friends, family, co-workers, and such who we have much troubles and conflicts with.

Can we see the divine and sacred spark or light in all? Can we love all? To do so is the real challenge of the holidays in my view.

If we can see the divine and sacred in all and love others (even if we don't like them very much at all), we are much more likely to treat everyone with more respect, more compassion, and more care for sure. The world would be a better place.  We'd be a more ethical people. And I really think we would be happier and healthier to boot. It's pretty hard to do but it would be a win-win all around.

So, what do you think? Are you up to the challenge? See the sacred and divine in all and love them. Try it this holiday season and beyond.

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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