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Sylvia Boorstein: A Buddhist plan for banishing holiday ghosts

holiday bluesAccording to tradition (and Hallmark), the holidays are supposed to be filled with happiness and joy. But many people experience exactly the opposite.

One reason: There are all kinds of ghosts—of relationships past and present—that haunt our holidays, from strained family relationships, memories of those we’ve lost, and financial burdens, to the sheer stress of the season. As a result, many people develop symptoms like headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and sadness, according to Psychology Today.

So, what can you do to avoid being haunted by these sentiments and specters? We asked Sylvia Boorstein, a leading Buddhist teacher and the psychotherapist-founder of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Boorstein, who’s the author of several books including Happiness Is an Inside Job, suggests ways to avoid becoming stuck in a negative spiral like Scrooge this holiday.

Sylvia Boorstein
Sylvia Boorstein, psychotherapist and leading author on Buddhist philosophy

Expectations abound at this time of year. We can long for the carefree celebrations of our childhood or past years that we remember as being brighter and happier. Or expect unhappy past times with family to be re-created during the holidays. “Just like at any other time, there’s a possibility of being disappointed,” says Boorstein. “We often expect more than what happens.” The first thing to do is to take a step back and acknowledge the difference between what you had hoped for and how things turned out. “There’s no real antidote to the sadness in life other than just recognizing it exists and thinking, ‘What else can I do?’” says Boorstein.

Once you’ve accepted your inner state, Boorstein suggests shifting the focus outside of yourself. “Generosity is a tremendous antidote to disappointment or despair,” she says. “It just lifts the mind up and puts it in contact with other people in a good way, rather than being buried in one’s own self despair.” Try volunteering at a homeless shelter, babysitting for a friend, or even just observing other people’s kindness. “All of these things are ways of turning the attention from one’s own inner dialogue of how things aren’t going well to looking around outside and thinking that it’s magic that the world doesn’t fall out of its orbit, and that people are being kind to other people everywhere,” she says. “Watch people taking care of other people, and see all of the great, courageous things people do. Either do these things, or notice them.”

Scrooge and ghosts
Don't let your inner ghosts turn you into a Scrooge this holiday season

Finally, don’t forget that just like every bout of sadness, this too shall pass. “In another three months, all of the snow will be gone,” says Boorstein. “It will be warmer, the tulips will be blooming, it will be another spring. Remind yourself that this is only now.” —Lisa Elaine Held