I turned the music up. Maybe the extra volume would supply me with the Christmas spirit I seemed to be lacking and jumpstart my enthusiasm for putting up decorations. Pausing in a roomful of opened boxes and tattered bags stuffed to the brim with memories, I waited for the music to work its magic. Nothing. I sat down and closed my eyes, giving myself full permission to halt the decorating process and, instead, simply invite my favorite Christmas music to infuse me with its exuberant energy.
Still nothing. The music was graceful and uplifting and comfortably familiar, but it seemed to fill the room without filling me. I continued on, dismantling my “everyday” decorations and replacing them with wreaths and stars and candles and trees and Santas and snowmen. I worked at a focused pace, detached from the usual joy this process brings me and motivated to finish only because a friend was coming over at 3:30 for a writing session. I needed to have all the boxes and bags put away before she arrived. Just before 3:30 I made several hurried dashes up and down the stairs to my basement, daring myself to carry as much as I possibly could in each trip. My heart raced as I did. It was the most alive I’d felt all day.
My friend called to say she was running late, so I took a moment to rest and enjoy the fruits of my labors. Except that I didn’t. Well, I did sit down to rest, but the enjoyment part didn’t come. I looked around me. The decorations sat in their usual places, but they seemed disjointed and somehow awkward. They just didn’t seem to belong with each other, and they didn’t seem to belong in my home. And there were too many of them, all crowded together yet creating an odd sense of isolation. The sterile emptiness within me expanded. I wanted to take them all down, but didn’t have the energy.
So I left them up, and as I write this I am surrounded on all sides by the beloved symbols of the Christmas season that normally fill me with warmth and gladness. In years past these spirited and sparkling decorations have mirrored my inner feelings of liveliness and joy during the holiday season. They have served as loving reminders of the abundant blessings in my life and my deep gratitude for those blessings. They are rich in color and texture, reflecting the rich, colorful and textured life I am living.
Except this year, the texture of my life has been woven with a lot of soft grays and velvety blacks. The vibrant reds, greens, silvers and golds of my holiday decorations seem a bit jarring and out of place. And the sheer number of decorations crowded into every nook and cranny is at odds with my deep need to create space – space to acknowledge loss, space to grieve, space to simply be.
I have experienced a series of losses in my life this year and, while I have also experienced wonderful pleasures and incredible moments that can only be described as grace-filled, it is the feeling of loss that is closest to me now. Essential elements of life as I’ve known it have shifted or dissolved, leaving me unmoored and floating in the void. It isn’t really unpleasant here, I’m surprised and grateful to discover. There is sadness, to be sure, but there is so much more. In this space is pure potential, and from this space anything is possible.
I have been in this place before. And one thing I’ve learned about being in the void is that you simply have to allow yourself to be here. It is not something to be avoided or expedited or analyzed or judged. It exists outside of time and cannot be measured in time. It is not a place we go after checking the requisite tasks off our to-do list, the way we might schedule time at a spa after a particularly hectic and demanding holiday season. The void is a state of being within us, a state of self acceptance so limitless and profound that absolutely no action is required. It is also a state of Not Knowing – with our rational mind - what might be next, and a deepening trust that our innermost wisdom will lead us step by step where we need to go. It is where beginnings and endings dissolve into formlessness, creating the fertile ground from which all new forms will emerge.
The forms of holiday celebration I have known are, like the other elements of my life that have changed this year, shifting and dissolving. New forms have not yet emerged. I am asked only to acknowledge this, and to be kind to myself. Had I more readily and consciously surrendered to the gifts awaiting me in the void before this moment, I probably would not have chosen to put up my Christmas decorations. I would have chosen, instead, to be still. But now that the decorations are in place, they serve as a different kind of reminder for me this year. They remind me that the space I truly need is already and always within me. It is already and always within each of us. May we all be blessed with the wisdom and comfort of that inner space this holiday season.