If you’re less than thrilled about Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, perhaps it’s because you’re letting others dictate what you should be doing. Kathleen McIntire, creator of Guiding Signs 101, explains how to celebrate the season in a way that means something to YOU.
Nevada City, CA (November 2011)—The winter holidays are just around the corner, and if you’re like most Americans you are looking anxiously at your calendar right about now. How will I ever manage the avalanche of parties, cocktail hours, get-togethers, and ceremonies I’m supposed to attend? you wonder. Shouldn’t I be cherishing these festivities? How long do I have to do my shopping—and how will I afford it? And should I really be feeling resentful about having to bake yet another batch of cookies, decorate the house, or spend time with relatives I rarely get to see?
It’s an uncomfortable truth, but many of us do feel an inexplicable dread of the holidays and the expectations around them. And according to Kathleen McIntire, it’s those “S” words—“supposed to” and “should”—that are the problem.
“Any time you listen to what others say should be right for you, you ignore your own inner wisdom…and of course that leads to feelings of resistance,” explains McIntire, creator of Guiding Signs 101 (Soaring in Light, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-615-46500-5, $19.95), a set of powerful, yet fun road sign-inspired “divination cards” that come with a guidebook that explains the meaning of each. “The bottom line is, your heart wants an authentic life that you consciously create.”
Being guided by your own insights and intuition is actually difficult for many people, McIntire explains. That’s because beginning in early childhood we begin to allow outside forces—society, family members, the media, and even our own conditioned ideas about the sacredness of tradition—to shape our perception of reality. In other words, we allow those “shoulds” and “supposed tos” to be the sole arbiters of what is right, proper, and desirable, even if those things don’t fulfill us, cause us to grow, or make us happy.
“This disconnect between what we desire and what we do happens all year long (and all life long!), but at the holidays we really notice it,” says McIntire. “That’s because we really long for what the holidays stand for—love, friendship, joy, spiritual meaning—but we settle for representations of those things instead of what’s real. We just go through the motions and our spirits don’t get nourished. Instead, we all need to learn to listen to and follow the guidance of our hearts.”
If you’re ready to consciously create your own holidays instead of passively letting them happen to you, here are a few tips:
Get in touch with how you really feel about the holidays. McIntire has said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Most of us approach the holidays from a place of obligation. We’re expected to buy and exchange gifts, so we do. We’re supposed to attend gatherings and events, so we do. And throughout all of these holiday events and traditions, we’re supposed to feel excited and joyful. However, because we are approaching at least some aspects of the holidays from a place of duty, we feel dread instead of positive anticipation.
“In many aspects of their lives, people tend to be quite disconnected from their true feelings and desires,” McIntire confirms. “We are being controlled and manipulated by outside forces, so of course it makes sense that—on some level—we resent it. However, when you get in touch with your inner voice and desires, all of that can change. When you realize, for example, that hosting your annual cocktail party primarily drains and frustrates you, you’re in a position to change your plans and cut those negative feelings out of your life.
“Make it your goal to first gain clarity on how you really feel about the upcoming months so that you will be able to navigate them from a place of wisdom,” she suggests. “Then you’ll be able to identify what an authentic holiday looks like for you.” (NOTE TO EDITOR: See sidebar titled “Holiday Cards: How to Use Guiding Signs 101 to Shape a Holiday Season That’s Right for YOU.”)
Be aware of your family dynamics. Even if we live hundreds of miles apart, most of us are reunited with our families during the holidays. We’re supposed to (there’s that phrase again!) cherish this time and make positive memories with each other, but the truth is that many Americans aren’t exactly looking forward to their impending reunions. According to McIntire, a lot of this dread boils down to the fact that when we go back “home” we fall into our old roles of relating to one another. We re-enact old—and often negative—scripts, becoming the bossy older sister or the powerless son who still fears his (now ninety-five-year-old) mother.
“When you’re aware of why you dread your family, you can take steps to change those dynamics—or make the decision not to participate in them at all,” asserts McIntire. “I suggest asking yourself whether going home feels like stepping through a black hole back to your eight-year-old self instead of remaining the adult you live with day to day. If the answer is yes, you are allowing something—perhaps your family’s expectations, opinions, or prejudices—to determine your self-worth. It’s important for all of us to remember that love isn’t conditional and that we are worthy just as we are.”
Stop confusing “stuff” with love. Our society seems to be obsessed with the idea that more is better, and we behave as though possessions indicate status and worthiness. During the holidays, those beliefs manifest themselves in the giving of gifts. Doggedly we shop, wrap, and exchange presents with one another…even though (if we’re honest with ourselves) we generally find little fulfillment in this tradition.
“A lot of our holiday stress is tied to obligatory spending,” points out McIntire. “In fact, many Americans are already stretching their budgets way past the point of comfort. And beyond that, most people we spend money on would breathe a huge sigh of relief if we just stopped the gift-giving madness. When my son was seventeen, he mentioned to me that the whole ‘presents’ part of the holidays was so stressful. He said he’d much prefer to just spend time with the people he loved. So that’s when we stopped exchanging gifts.
“Most of us are using gifts as symbols of our love for others, but the message isn’t translating,” she adds. “We’d all feel much better if we channeled that gift-exchange energy into healing, loving, and getting to know and respect one another’s true selves.”
Decide to say no to at least one holiday obligation this year. Unless you’re Martha Stewart, there’s at least one (and probably many) holiday obligations you’d rather skip. Whether it’s an expensive gift exchange, attending (or hosting) a family get-together, or feeling the need to decorate the whole house, if you’re reluctant to participate in an activity, there’s a solid reason: It’s not enhancing your happiness, sparking positive growth, or fostering good relationships. That’s why McIntire encourages you to cut the one activity you enjoy the least from your holiday schedule this year.
“You can never respond to life’s opportunities with a genuine yes until you are fully able to say no,” she explains. “Only then will you be totally in the driver’s seat. And that sort of conscious creation happens through making one change at a time. Be prepared for your counter-cultural decisions to cause a lot of flak, but hold on to hope as well. Personally, I stopped joining my family for the Christmas holidays for several years because of extreme distance and dysfunction. It did cause a big uproar, but I knew this was the healthiest decision for me. I was eventually prompted to write a letter to my family that encouraged healing and understanding—and that letter caused an outpouring of love and alignment between us all.
“My point is, don’t force yourself into situations that are unhealthy,” she adds. “But also keep in mind that you have the power—and the responsibility—to spark healing and change.”
Tell people early. As you start to consciously plan your holiday season, be careful not to make your decisions in a vacuum. Remember that your choices and actions impact others, so be sure to keep them informed of what you will and won’t be participating in. Yes, your first priority is to live with authenticity, but it’s also important to show consideration and respect for other individuals by not inconveniencing them needlessly. And guess what? You might be surprised to find that others feel the same way.
“Chances are, you’re not the only person who feels trapped by a particular holiday script,” says McIntire. “For example, there’s a good chance that your friends might heave a giant sigh of relief when you tell them that you’d like to forgo your annual gift exchange. Remember, the people in your life who truly care about you will support your decisions whether they agree with them or not.”
Do it with love. Realize that when you change holiday plans that have “been this way” for years or even decades, you’ll run into questions, confusion, and resistance. Many people will instinctively take the alterations to your schedule personally (e.g., “What if she isn’t volunteering to coordinate the food drive because she just doesn’t care how hard I have to work?”). Therefore, it’s important to make it clear that you are trying to redefine the direction of your own life, not to reject or inconvenience the people in it.
“It’s very, very important to make all of your holiday changes with love,” McIntire stresses. “Don’t assume that people will instinctively pick up on why you’re behaving and planning differently—make it explicitly clear that you are not rejecting them or their place in your life. In fact, you might go so far as to suggest connecting with them in a deeper, more meaningful way. That was my intention when I wrote the letter to my family after missing several Christmases with them. I made it clear that because I loved them, I wanted to clear away the pain I’d previously been avoiding, and that I also wanted us all to experience healing.”
Create new, more meaningful rituals and traditions. McIntire recalls a holiday event she attended as a child. She received a kaleidoscope from Santa’s bag, while many of her friends were given that year’s “it” toy. At first, McIntire was enthralled with the colors and patterns in her kaleidoscope. But after repeated observations that she must be sad not to have received the same gift as her friends, she was persuaded to trade her kaleidoscope in for the “it” toy. That moment, McIntire recalls, is when she first disconnected from the magic of the holidays—and started conforming to what others valued instead.
“We’ve all experienced a moment like this, when we traded in childlike wonder, curiosity, and magic for what others told us was ‘cool,’” she points out. “Something died in us when we allowed others to tell us how to think and feel, but it’s not too late to resurrect that feeling that our world is truly wondrous.
“Ask yourself where you find, or once found, magic in the holiday season,” she continues. “Perhaps it’s in a candlelight service, baking with your children, or walking through snow-dusted woods. Or maybe trying something entirely new—like spending Christmas Day at the local animal shelter playing with the homeless cats and dogs—speaks to your heart. Build new rituals and traditions around whatever you find meaningful and magical, and you’ll experience renewed joy and nourishment with the people you love.”
“Ultimately, with all of the chaos and uncertainty that fills our current world, it’s more important than ever to connect with the people we love and the values that drive us in meaningful, growth-inspiring ways,” concludes McIntire. “Instead of allowing yourself to be forced into a preexisting holiday template, create your own brand-new paradigm based on your own wisdom and truth. You won’t regret it.”
Holiday Cards: How to Use Guiding Signs 101 to Shape a Holiday Season That’s Right for YOU
Insights from Kathleen McIntire, creator of Guiding Signs 101
(Soaring in Light, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-615-46500-5, $19.95)
For many of us, the holiday season is fraught with powerful and often conflicting emotions. Memories from childhood, leftover grief, and the expectations of others get as tangled up in our minds as strands of colored lights. And that, says Kathleen McIntire, is why when someone asks us what we really want out of the holidays we may realize that we just don’t know.
“Let’s say you’re a single woman who lives far from your extended family and you’re trying to figure out whether you want to go home for Christmas,” explains McIntire. “There’s not always a clear answer. On one hand you don’t want to upset your family. On the other, you’re exhausted from traveling and would like to just relax in your own home. But if you stay put, will you feel depressed and lonely on Christmas Day? Should you consider a third option—perhaps going out of town with a friend instead?”
McIntire’s Guiding Signs 101 cards can serve as a tool for helping you make the holiday decisions that are right for you. Each one features an everyday road sign—yield, road narrows, speed bump, etc.—that has a deeper meaning attached to it. (The accompanying Guiding Signs 101 Guidebook explains each one.) The cards are intended to be a “bridge” that helps people get in touch with their own intuition and wisdom.
Here’s how to use the cards:
1. Become present. Take a few deep breaths and connect to your heart center.
2. Ask. Concentrate on your question or say it aloud. Clear questions will result in clear answers.
3. Shuffle with the deck face down.
4. Draw a card. You can divide the pack in half and turn one half over to reveal your card, or you can spread the cards out on a surface and let yourself be guided to a card. Whatever works for you!
Here are two ways to let them guide you this holiday season:
1. Ask an open-ended question. Addressing whomever you believe provides guidance (God, your higher self, your spirit guides), say, “Please give me clarity on what I need to do to have a joyful holiday season.” Then, consult the cards.
Imagine that you get the “phone” card. This is the communication card. After reading the deeper meaning in the guidebook you realize that you should call your mother. As you talk to her about your mixed feelings on coming home for the holidays, a clear answer may come to you.
2. Ask a “yes or no” question. For this, use only the green- and red-light cards. Ask a very specific question: “Should I spend the holidays at home?” Or even better: “Is it in my highest and best interests to spend the holidays at home?” A green light would mean yes, and a red light no.
About the Author:
Kathleen McIntire is a transformational teacher, speaker, and healer who is dedicated to bringing forth truth, liberation, and awakening. She is the author and creator of Guiding Signs 101, a set of divination cards and guidebook using everyday road signs to tap into your intuition and own inner guidance.
She is the steward of MoonBear Sanctuary, located on 28 acres in Northern California. The retreat center located there provides cutting-edge workshops as well as ceremonies, study groups, and symposiums. Kathleen, whose focus is on restoring the feminine power, also leads sacred journeys with women. She has led journeys to the Andes and rainforest of Ecuador. Her next journey is to Guatemala; it will revolve around the 20-day Mayan Calendar.
Kathleen is the producer of two upcoming Mayan films. The first, Mayan Renaissance, is being made by PeaceJam, an international education program for youth built around leading Nobel Peace Laureates. The other film is The Unification of Wisdom and 2012. In the near future she will be a presenter on the Womens Empowerment (WE) Channel on the CANDO Networks.
When she was younger Kathleen had a successful career in business. She has lived abroad and traveled extensively around the world. Kathleen’s website addresses are www.soaringinlight.com and www.guidingsigns101.com.