Holiday Dhamma: A Reflection on Love, Joy, Habits & Worry


The following reflection originally appeared in the newsletter I sent out on December 19th, 2022. The above picture was taken from Christmas-time 2012, when I was just beginning my four year spiritual journey.

Feel free to read just the bold words and skip the rest, maybe even only reading the sections that interest you. 



Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked to many people about wisely navigating “the holidays.”  In today’s reflection, I’ll share some of the highlights from those conversations, which cover four primary topics:

  • Maintaining good habits
  • Radical love
  • Uprooting worry/anxiety
  • Ever-present joy

Below, each of these topics is its own self-contained reflection.

In turn, I would recommend treating the below four reflections like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, just picking the one that feels most resonant, taking that to heart, and leaving the rest aside.


Maintaining Habits

For many people, their normal routines are altered around “the holidays.”  This could mean travel, hosting visitors, social gatherings, or even if none of the above, perhaps a shift in their work schedule.

When our routines are altered, oftentimes our good habits go along with them — however, this doesn’t have to be the case!

The starting point is to reflect a little on which habits feel most vulnerable yet important to keep up; e.g. meditation, exercise, appropriate bedtimes, mindful eating, or any number of other things.

If you can identify even one good habit you’d like to keep up over the next week or two, I’d recommend the following three steps:

  1. Reflect on how/why this is a priority for you
  2. Set a firm yet gentle intention to maintain that habit during this period of thrown-off-routine.  I would only recommend doing this for habits you are sincere about maintaining.  Half-hearted intention setting is usually counter-productive.  If you tell someone close to you of your intention, it tends to be much stronger.
  3. Formulate a plan.  Often, step #1 and #2 is enough, but this one makes follow-through even more likely.
    • For anything that is a top priority, my go-to strategy is to do it first thing in the morning. I tell those around me, “don’t expect to see me the first 20/40/60/90 minutes of the day, as that’s when I’m attending to my personal essentials. I’m all yours after that.”
    • If the habit is something you’d like to abstain from, like overeating, try using a simple noting practice.  For example, when you notice yourself overeating or have an urge to overeat, silently say to yourself, “overeating.”  Then take a deep breath, relax your muscles, and remind yourself how/why it’s a priority.

Even more essential than any of the above is just being gentle with yourself.  If your inner critic or judgmental side comes out, just kindly tell it “no thank you,” and give yourself a break.

The route to wise living is built over years and decades, not a one-week period.  In turn, even if you fall off the wagon, you’ll likely learn a thing or two you can use next time.  This stuff is hard, so for goodness sake, please be gentle with yourself!!


Radical Love

Life is sweeter when we’re abiding in a place of goodwill, care, kindness, and love.  It feels better internally and it tends to lead to more relational harmony.  If love were a reviewable item on Google Reviews, it would definitely get 5 out of 5 stars — the highest recommendation!

In turn, in considering how to maintain a sense of goodwill & love over the holidays, it can be as simple as setting a “firm yet gentle intention” to take the radical step of loving no matter what.

When I’m around others (or by myself), I often smile and silently repeat the phrase in my mind, “May you/I be filled with loving-kindness,” as inspired by this song.  It’s a simple way to help radiate goodwill to others and make good on that radical intention.

However, sometimes the love just doesn’t seem to be flowing.  If it’s the case that love rarely or never, well, that’s a bit outside the scope of this reflection — but starting with mindfulness, forgiveness, and feeling your body are pretty good starting points.

Conversely, with temporary stoppages in the flow of love, below are two common challenges people face over “the holidays,” along with some strategies for navigating them.

  1. Interacting with people we don’t know very well; aka “neutral people” or “relative strangers.”  If you will be attending a work party, having a large family gathering, or having a friend’s gathering with many acquaintances, you’ll likely be surrounded by people you don’t know very well.
    In these situations, it’s all too easy to disconnect, take no interest in anyone, or become numb.  For these times, my go-to strategy to channel more love and goodwill is to reflect on how everyone around me is “like me.”  More specifically, they are all feeling beings, born from a mother’s womb and someday passing away.  When I really take to heart my commonality with each person around me, I might still be quiet or introverted, but at the very least, my inner landscape tends to shift from “disconnected” to “open-hearted.”
    Note: here is a guided meditation I recorded on “Loving-kindness for neutral people.”
  2. The second “holiday love challenge” is interacting with people we find difficult. Maybe this is the annoying co-worker, the extended family member with opposing political views, or that friend of a friend who we find disagreeable.
    In these situations, the temptation is to close off our hearts and go into an inner place of criticism, grumbly’ness, resentment, or ill-will.  It can be very seductive and intoxicating to do so, but when carefully observed, we see this mostly just creates suffering for ourselves.  To let go of criticism is to choose inner ease over stress.
    As a remedy to this closed-off-ness, I like to either double down on my intention to love no matter what, or to:
  • Arouse compassion, reflecting on that person’s suffering (like their health challenges, their emotional pain, their heartaches and setbacks in life, etc.).
  • Imagine them as a young child, like a baby or toddler.  It may be easy to hold a grudge against their present-day form, but it’s much harder to maintain ill-will when we think of them as an innocent little child who just wants to be loved and cared for.  That little child still lives in them (and in you!).
  • Reflect on their commonality, as described in the neutral person section above.

Of course, being love is a life’s undertaking, not a one-week heroic effort; however, if you have a deep aspiration to love no matter what, every little bit of the above you can bring in inches you closer and closer to Radical Love.

Note: here is a guided meditation I recorded on “Loving-kindness for difficult people.”



Maybe you’ve had some of these thoughts:  will anyone get sick?  will there be conflict?  will I finish all my tasks?  will there be enough food?  can I afford this?  will I have a terrible time?  Oh my goodness, this is too much; will it ever end?

Or, maybe in your head, your mind fixates on the worst possible outcomes and compulsively thinks about them, trying to anticipate solutions — aka, it goes into worrying.

At the core, anxiety is a felt experience that’s like a little flame in the feeling-body.  Expanding the metaphor, your worrying thoughts are like fuel, and we all know what happens when you toss fuel on a fire (it just grows bigger).

Add all this together, the simplest & most basic way to calm anxiety is to gently direct your attention out of your thoughts and into your body.  If you have a little time, you could practice a short mindfulness meditation, like this one.  If you’re out & about and notice yourself anxious, you could take 15 seconds to do the following:

  • Silently say to yourself “anxiety”
  • Take a breath (relaxation part 1)
  • Relax your jaw, tummy, or any other tense body parts (relaxation part 2)
  • Shift your attention to whatever is most obvious in your body (i.e. feet touching the ground).

However, to uproot anxiety from the core, you might consider that anxiety is like a persuasive salesperson who has two basic tricks:

  • It overestimates danger (either its likelihood or severity)
  • It underestimates your capacity to deal with it (aka your resilience)

Which of those two feels like the most compelling anxiety trap for you?  Below are some of my favorite remedies that I learned from this excellent Anxiety book:

If your anxiety is overestimating danger, ask yourself:

  • “With respect to the holidays, what is anxiety’s basic message (e.g. I won’t finish all my tasks in time… everyone is going to get sick… etc.)?
  •  Now, when I think from a fresh & grounded perspective:
    • What is the worst-case outcome (e.g. someone gets severely sick, like hospitalized)?  How likely is that (e.g. 1% likely)
    • What is the best-case outcome (e.g. no one gets even remotely sick)?  How likely is that? (e.g. 45% likely)
    • What is the most likely outcome (e.g. some people get mildly sick, or maybe even moderately sick, but they exercise resilience and it’s no big deal)?  How likely is that? (e.g. 54% likely)
  • Whenever that anxious thought comes back up, take a deep breath, and remind yourself of the most likely outcome.

If your anxiety is underestimating your resilience:

  • Try one of these two reflections:

    • What resources or skills do I have that will help me if my anxieties come true?  (e.g. great supportive friends, a steady meditation practice, attitude, kind to myself, generally a good attitude, willing to ask for help, know how to take deep breaths, exercise, etc.)
    • Reflect on how you’ve made it to X years of life and have navigated many challenges successfully (if your mind says “no I haven’t!  I’m terrible at life!  Recognize this is just the inner critic speaking, take a breath and put it to the side). You’re also a member of the human species, whose perhaps #1 most remarkable skill over the last several millions of years is their/your adaptability.  You’ll be okay; and, even if you won’t, you’ll probably manage alright.
  • In the moment you recognize anxiety, label it, take a deep breath, and remind yourself of the wiser perspective.

If it really, truly feels like your worries are valid and there are some things you actually need to attend to, instead of compulsively thinking about them, put them down on paper — e.g. practice formal problem-solving.

Mostly, I wish to say it’s possible to navigate the holidays without anxiety causing you much strife — it might still arise, but it doesn’t have to overtake you.  I have total confidence this is possible for every one of you.  If you sincerely apply them, the above strategies will help greatly.




Of course, “the holidays” offer many possibilities for gratitude, connection, and sweetness.  Depending on what you’re doing, they may also bring a nice dose of rest and relaxation, or, conversely, novelty and excitement.  In any of these cases, I like to apply one of the key teachings from James Baraz’s excellent book, “Awakening Joy,” where he said:

“Don’t miss it.”

Basically, it’s easy to get swept away by the tide of all the to-do’s and busyness.  But if you pause from time to time and reflect, “this is a nice moment,” it can really turn the tide of your experience.

Curiously, not missing it doesn’t just mean the pleasant moments.  To borrow from Thich Nhat Hanh, through mindfulness, we can experience, “present moment, wonderful moment.”

In other words, even if your back hurts, your mind is tired, and you have a long to-do list, you can still breathe fresh air and feel the ground beneath you.

Even more to the essence of it, no matter what’s happening, right now, you can take a deep breath, soften your jaw & tummy, and shift your attention out of your thoughts & into the present.  This capacity to be present is available to us literally every single right now of our lives.  Over the next week, I’ll be practicing many present moment, wonderful moments — and not missing it.  I invite you to do the same!

How about starting right now?  Deep breath in.  Deep breath out.  Soften muscles.  Feel the body sitting.  “Present moment, wonderful moment.”  A little smile.

May even one sentence of one of these reflections stay with you over the next couple of weeks!!


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