We in India are entering our peak holiday season - Ganesh pooja and Id are over, Dussehra is just about done, and it will be Deepawali in a few weeks and Christmas soon enough. Much of these holidays are based on religious occasions and come with their own rich and particular cultural flavour and heritage.
For many of us, especially those who have moved far from our home towns and original communities, it is a time to reconnect with our families of origin and extended communities, which explains why for almost all major modern cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai, the festive season means a mad rush at the bus and train stations as thousands of us rushing to get to our home towns in time for the celebration.
All the loud, colourful and festive celebrations are great for those who feel celebratory, but it is an especially difficult time for those who are going through painful losses, have suffered the passing on of a loved one, or have not had such connections. Festive occasions and holidays are especially stressful for those in such circumstances. It can be depressive and a reminder of what one does not have and a source of pain, loneliness and suffering, as much as it is a source of joy to others.
Which brings us to the conversation: How can one protect oneself in festive times, when the whole world seems to be joyful and we just cannot?
1. In the first place, forcing oneself to be in the 'holiday spirit' and pretending one is not hurting just doesn't work. Rather than avoiding the painful feelings, leaning into it and grieving for what is lost can help.
2. Plan ahead of time. Have a few alternate plans: Plan A could be to join a friend or a relative's family for the occasion, Plan B could be to take off and travel out to a location where the festival is not a big deal, Plan C could be to reconnect with your loved one's memory at a special place. Allow yourself to choose whichever one feels good at that time, but keep options open.
3. Loss has its own special community that only those who have gone through that loss or a similar one can quite appreciate. Seek your own community where you might expect people to get why this is difficult for you. It could be an online group, or a friend or two - someone you can just be with.
4. Share your feelings, mixed as they might be. Keeping them bottled up may or putting on a mask may not help. Allow yourself to feel your way through it, and express them.
5. Allow yourself to remember. Set some time aside to purposefully think of what and whom you are missing, and commemorate it. It could be as simple as a quick sharing of a photo or a memory on Facebook, or a small write up, or some time at your personal altar or garden.
6. You might still find yourself joining in the holiday cheer now and then. Let it be if you do - don't begrudge yourself that joy, and allow yourself the smiles or laughter, and company if you feel like it.
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.