Wisdom Too Much: A Yogi’s Reflections on the Holiday Season & the Art of Happiness “Our collective psyche cannot sustain the obsession with consumption, comparison, the haves and the have nots.” By Heather Lilleston Photo by Helena Hertz We are now entering a time of year when the have-s and the have-nots become highlighted. Those who have large families, big homes and money for the hallmark holiday and those who do not. We are inching towards winter everyday. The days are short, the nights are long. It is cold in the northern hemisphere. We have less light. And we have the approaching holidays – that in the euro-centric Christian influence, have turned into consumerism at its worst. We hoard food on Thanksgiving. We over-purchase unnecessary gifts for our friends and family for Christmas. We drink too much. Some of us are easily triggered by unhealed family dynamics, and amidst the overeating, under exercising, alcohol-induced “holiday”, this time often ends in tears and deeper cuts then existed before. We lose our focus. We tell ourselves that we will “take a break”, take “a holiday”, slow down. But we don’t. We don’t pare down as the winter asks of us. We gorge. Our gluttony exposes itself in the worst time of year to do just that. We cut down trees, cover them in plastic trinkets, fake snow, tinsel, only to throw them out. To throw them out where? Oh, right, the dump … the imaginary place where we think we can “get rid” of things, but now are finding that no thing can be “thrown out”. It will wash up on our shores, and in the streets, and in the forests, in the air, and in the water, and in our fruits and vegetables. You can’t really throw something out. It stays here, in our home, on the earth. We think we feel good when we wrap things in paper, only to fill the garbage cans. We think this is what makes our kids happy, that this is what a good parent does, that we are succeeding in the holiday season. That is if we can afford to do this. Everything – our gifts, our food, our clothes – is covered in packaging and plastic and tape. Shipped around in trucks and airplanes. What are we doing? I ask myself this every single year. I am not above this. I too buy into this whole holiday show. I have spent most of my life trying to keep up with it. I too want the big family, the biggest tree, the massive thanksgiving table, the best wrapped gifts. I even go so far as thinking I want to be spending christmas in aspen and jetting off to st Barths for new years. I want it all and yet I don’t actually agree with it. I have this split inside, this inner debate. And you know who wins every year? The consumer-driven voice. The one that reminds me I will feel lonely, isolated, like I don’t belong if I don’t keep up. If I had kids, I imagine I would feel guilty if I raised them without Thanksgiving and Christmas. So many of my friends who have kids say about the holidays “I don’t want to do it, but I have to do it for the kids.” If the family is disjointed, if you are poor, if you lost your job this year, if you are homeless, if you are alone, if you cant afford to splurge on all of these outer consumer culture expressions of “I am happy” then how do you feel about yourself? What does the culture tell you about how you are allowed to feel about yourself? It’s another reminder of what you don’t have. People say, make yourself feel better and go out to a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter and serve. This is beautiful advice, and I agree with it. It shows us that in the end, all that we have is our service: to each other, to the planet, to the future human beings who will walk this earth and breath this air and drink this water. No matter how beautiful that is, something in our culture still says, “You didn’t make it, keep trying, maybe next year you will have, and somehow you are less of a person if you don’t have.” The holiday season has become another opportunity to compare yourself to someone else and feel horrible. Another opportunity to rehearse the lack mentality that drives capitalism and consumer culture, a culture and mindset that is destroying our connection to our greatest assets (gratitude, service, imagination, contentment, simplicity) and replacing it with the narrow-minded obsession with buying, having, taking, fitting in, and letting consumption be an expression of our state of happiness. How are we going to break ourselves free from these burdens and unhealthy rituals? The earth cannot sustain this misuse of resources. Our collective psyche cannot sustain the obsession with consumption, comparison, the haves and the have nots. I have many friends that have. I have many friends that have not. We are all equal in our humanity, our desire to be happy, our need to be loved, held, cherished, to rest, to be fed, to be silent and to be full with our communities, to laugh and to share. It starts with all of us breaking away from this addiction to gluttony and destructive abundance. It starts with breaking away from the incessant glorifying of having stuff. It starts with using this time of year to celebrate reducing our consumption and popularizing cutting the ties to excess. It starts with re-evaluating these holidays as a collective. It starts with sharing. It starts with entire communities unplugging and unsubscribing from this nonsense. It starts with logic. Eco-logic. Which in the end is what the economy is truly based on, ecology. Whether you have money or not, family or not, these holidays are hurting the soul of humanity and they are hurting the earth. Be honest about it. Do more of us feel good during this time or horrible? I both dread this time and do whatever I can to keep up with what will make me feel accepted, like I belong, successful, abundant and “in the game”. I want to feel abundant and I don’t want to be left behind. Because of covid, many of us are experiencing this deep sadness because we cannot be together with our loved ones freely. I also sense that this sadness comes from the fact that covid cuts our ties with the glorification of some gluttonous event that makes us feel like we are competing well in the consumer driven holidays. We are both genuinely sad to not be together, and genuinely uncomfortable without the whole shebang of the holiday. I don’t have a solution for this holiday conundrum. I am starting with stating some of my personal reactions to the holiday season, to what I observe in others, to what feels right in relation to the earth, and to the real art of happiness. The art of happiness is one we have yet to understand well in a capitalistic society. There is a collective soul beneath the surface, that even though you yourself may have “made it”, be doing the grandiose holiday, with money in the bank and a big happy family, there is something happening deep in the soul of humanity when so so so many others are left out. You can feel it deep down inside, something isn’t right. When we leave others behind, when happiness in a culture is defined by something that not everyone has access to, then we have lost an understanding of the true art of happiness. For those of you who struggle in the holidays, I hope you feel less alone reading this. For those who don’t struggle in the holidays, I hope you can take a moment to recognize that not everyone is experiencing this time as you do, and that our culture and society need help in redefining what this time of year is truly about. I also encourage you to ask yourself, is it really making you happy? And if so, WHY? We always have the option of re-evaluating and doing something different. Who will be courageous enough to break ties with the old destructive ways of holidaying? Will you? Can we together? — Heather Lilleston is originally from Northern California, Heather has been teaching yoga since 2003. She lived in NYC from 2000 – 2015, and now resides in Venice Beach, California. She began teaching yoga after completing the Jivamukti Teacher Training with Sharon Gannon and David Life while finishing her bachelors at New York University. In 2008, she completed the 800-hour Advanced Certification with Jivamukti. More recently, she has added a more Iyengar based approach to yoga based on her studies with Colleen Saidman and Rodney Yee at the Yoga Shanti 300-hour teacher training in 2010, which she later assisted as a mentor, and teaches as a lead teacher. She has trained numerous teachers at Pure Yoga, The Shala, Yoga Vida and Yoga Shanti as a mentor and has been a contributing member of their respective teacher training programs. From 2012-2015, she revised the 200 hour Yoga Vida Teacher Training and Mentorship Curriculum, as well as developed the 300 hour Advanced Teacher Training Program for Yoga Vida while acting as Yoga Director. She continues to advise and contribute to curriculum in various studios. She is registered with Yoga Alliance as a 500 hour E-RYT. She was recognized by Yoga Journal as one of the 50 innovators changing the game of the wellness industry, and held their cover for the January/February 2017 issue. Her classes integrate aligned based vinyasa sequences with meditation, chanting, good music and spiritual philosophy. She is known for her sweetness, humor, passion, sincerity and enthusiasm. In 2012, she Co-Founded Yoga For Bad People with Katelin Sisson, a yoga based company focused on leading retreats worldwide. She mainly focuses on YFBP, leading retreats, trainings, and classes in NYC & LA. She is also a senior teacher of The Class developed by Taryn Toomey. In 2019, she became a doctoral student, pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute.