The silent Thanksgiving guest is with you always. You bring this guest with you to the table. It is with you during the holidays and beyond. It is YOU, the observer, growing aware of your mind’s interpretation of experience.
Thanksgiving always conjures up the image of tables laden with ruby cranberries and plump, caramel-colored turkey, replete with pumpkin pie. Family is gathered around the table, hands extended to pass a generous bowl of sweet potatoes. A cozy fire flickers in the background as laughter bubbles up around the autumnal room.
Well, that’s the image anyway. The Hallmark-meets-Williams-Sonoma-catalogue of the idea of Thanksgiving. The Norman Rockwell of family, of loving comfort and filial security.
The reality is often quite different. According to a poll by the American Psychological Association:
“Nearly a quarter of Americans reported feeling ‘extreme stress’ come holiday time.”
The reality can involve anything and everything from experiencing the recent loss of a loved one to not getting along with your in-laws yet having to break bread with them.
The change in routine, the potential long-distance travel, the anxiety-provoking reunion with family members—some or all of the external factors can make the cozy image of Thanksgiving morph into a Haunted House of horrific possibilities, where you will be thankful for just surviving the family gathering.
So, how can we experience the feeling those Folger’s House coffee commercials exude around the holidays? And what are those feelings anyway?
According to coach and speaker, Dr. Amy Johnson, feelings are our interpretation based on the interplay between our left (thought) and right (feeling) brain:
“…feelings are fluctuations of energy to which our mind attaches words and stories. Our left-brain interpreter labels and defines the energy dancing through us. So, when we talk about feelings and emotions, we’re experiencing two things: the movement of energy plus our mind’s commentary on that energy.” Dr. Johnson, Just a Thought
Let’s apply Dr. Johnson’s left-right brain awareness to a potentially stressful Thanksgiving situation now. Your flight to visit your family is delayed. You speak to your aunt on the phone to let her know about the delay.
“You’re not going to make it?” she asks.
“I don’t know. The flight’s delayed.”
“Are you wearing your mask? Are people wearing masks there?”
“This is terrible.”
“I’ll call you when I know more.”
“Yes, call me as soon as you know.”
You recognize words (left brain) that come to your mind when you reflect back to the talk with your aunt: judgmental, anxious, bossy.
You recognize feelings: tired, nervous, frustrated.
But now, aware, you can interpret your feelings a different way. You don’t need to tell the same habitual story about your aunt and her effect on you. You can interpret your feelings as excitement to see your aunt and her frustration at the situation as a hunger to see you.
Remember: our heart races when we are on a roller coaster and in physical danger. It’s our interpretation, our mind’s deciphering of the left-brain language our mind uses that makes the difference.
Thanksgiving, steeped in years of familial habits—er, traditions, offers a powerful opportunity to practice Dr. Johnson’s mindfulness while in the company of loved ones who just might (inadvertently) push a habitually hot emotional button (or two).
So, when you find yourself stressed about how moist the turkey is or upon hearing the banter in the family room grow louder with politics, go inward, and consider a different interpretation for the energy you are feeling. The labels we give our experiences aren’t “real”; it’s only the mind “doing what minds do” that makes it feel real. Each of us has the power to create a different interpretation.
The silent Thanksgiving guest is with you during the holidays and beyond. It is YOU, the observer, growing aware of your mind’s interpretation of experience. You can make peace with this guest at any moment—not just this November 25th. Figuratively break bread with your mind’s interpretation of what you are experiencing. Our feelings manifest in our body as energy; when we consider our left brain labels through a different lens, we can change our very experience.