Hoiday Stress Busters

Nine meditations to help you get through the holidays with your sanity intact:

  1. Too many parties to attend
  2. Fighting the traffic
  3. To decorate or not to decorate
  4. The shopping experience
  5. Gift-giving expectations
  6. Unbendable family traditions
  7. The demands of meal preparation
  8. The temptations of the season
  9. When work gets in the way
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#7 - The demands of meal preparation

As we cruise into the thick of the holiday season, there are those who eat and those who prepare the food to eat. Frankly, I made a vow a long time ago not to be on the side of food preparation. Makes me feel oppressed is what I say when asked, "Why?" But I'm a killer at clean up and this is one of my only redeeming characteristics when the holiday meal floats into view.

The real stress, obviously, is not for those who feast, but for those who prepare the feast. And my heart truly goes out to you dear souls. I know that there are people who actually say (and I think they mean it) that they love to cook. While this is a concept more foreign to me than shoes for my cat, I have to accept it as truth since I have heard it from several different people. But loving to cook and cooking for the holiday hordes can be worlds apart.

For those who are faced with reading a recipe and translating it for 20 times the output, for those who have to deal with those vegetarians who somehow get invited into your homes without notice and for those who only want to hear a few simple words of appreciation for their monumental efforts, I want you to know that you have my admiration and my sympathy.

But you know that no matter how much you love to cook, this is a stressful event. Even the most athletic of hosts and hostesses are put to the test during the holiday season. Whether you merely admit that it can be a little daunting or whether you are full-on stressed to the max, here is a little meditation to help you through the gauntlet.

As always, you need to find a few moments alone, away from the madding crowd and relax. Let the tension go, concentrate on your breath and relax. When you have achieved a sense of deep relaxation, you are ready to focus on your goal: escaping the stress of a holiday meal and finding a way to enjoy the meal. Of course, one of the most difficult parts of this meditation is to find the time to do this exercise. But for the sake of your own health and that of those whom you might exert unnatural force upon, take the time. Just 15 or 20 minutes. Once relaxed, take two ore deep breaths, in to the count of 4, pausing for a count of 4 and releasing the breath to a count of 8.

The process of creating a large meal involves planning the menu, shopping for the ingredients, bringing in the groceries from the car, laying out the preparation schedule, doing the preparation work, and finally, on the Big Day, cooking the food and pulling it all together. That is quite a list of chores and every step has tension built right into the process. And when we anticipate each of these steps as being stressful, I can assure you, that you are pre-paving the way for just the amount of stress you anticipate. The solution, then, is to change your expectations with visualizations of these steps as you would like to see them. It is time to reorient your expectations. This is going to be a story in which you are the main player. See yourself going through these steps easily and successfully.

You see yourself in the kitchen casually leafing through your recipe books and you find yourself finding the exact right recipe for the side dishes, the main course and the desserts. You go to your cupboards and check for the ingredients you need against what you have already. Surprisingly, you have at least half of everything you need. Making a shopping list, you grab your coat and head to the store.

In your mind, you begin to see the crowded parking lot at the grocery store and feel your stomach tightening. Time to take another deep breath. As you head out of your driveway, you give your head a little shake and re-visualize the parking lot and the traffic all the way to the store. Amazingly, you hit every light just right and as you pull into the parking lot at the store, you confidently drive right up to the front near the door. And lucky you, you see an SUV backing out of the best parking spot in the lot. It's yours. So much for that stressor.

It's time to head into the store and you can just see the long lines, the carts bumping into each other and the race to the vegetable section, to where the turkeys are laid out and to the other fixings just makes you want to gnash your teeth. Time once again to take that deep, calming breath. Shake you head again before you walk into the front door, realign yourself and see a different scene.

As you walk in, someone rolls a cart over to you and says, "Here you go. Have a good day." That was nice. You head to the vegetable department and everything you want is in the same spot and no one is near the bins. You have free rein to take whatever you want, choosing the best veggies and fruits for your recipes. The same thing happens back at the meat section, in the dairy section, down the aisles for stuffing, bread, and spices. As you pass the bakery, you notice the most perfect-looking pies. In fact, why bother making your own when you can save time and pick up a couple of these delicious pies. You just saved yourself hours of work. This is getting too easy.

As you head for the checkout, just as you start to pass aisle #4 because it is closed, a clerk grabs your cart and pulls you into line. Your check takes less than 10 minutes and you are on your way out the door and on the way home before you know it.

When you get home, out comes the take-it-in crew - and without asking. This is too easy. And you feel and express gratitude to those who are helping. You are ready to begin the preparation for your big debut as a Holiday Chef. See yourself moving through the steps. Everything works easily. The lids come off of jars without strain, the dishes you need are found quickly and you are really enjoying this process. When you finish for the night, you take the time to further visualize tomorrow's great success and the appreciation of every face at the table.

The day has come and you are ready. Visualize yourself stepping through each layer of the meal preparation easily and with a joyful, easy flow. The entire meal comes out perfectly timed and when you call everyone to the table, they actually eagerly come. The smells are intoxicating, the presentation is artful, and every dish is consumed heartily and happily. Your feelings are of satisfaction, further joy and confidence in a job well done.

Here's an extra bonus, you did all the cooking but others are doing the clean up. It couldn't be better.

If this is the scenario you envision, you will achieve exactly the degree of expectation you have in these upcoming events. But what if your plans are not to cook, but to go to someone else's house as a guest? Let's say that the dinner will be the annual family get-together and you are anticipating that the usual family squabbles will break out. In the same manner described earlier, first recognize that what you expect usually comes to pass. Go through the entire scenario from leaving your home, arriving at your destination and watching yourself interact with the other guests at the dinner. See it as you want it to be, not as you negatively expect it to be.

Regardless of the holiday meal get-together, whether it is at home with you preparing the meal, going to the home of someone else, or going out to a restaurant, find yourself smoothly sailing through and past those stressful anticipations by turning them into visualizations of how you want it to be. And it will be, based on how clear you are in your visioning and how much you believe in yourself as the creator of your reality. This is certainly a good opportunity to test yourself.

Good luck and good eating. After all, we all have to eat; might as well enjoy it.

Copyright ©2007 TAO Consultants, Inc. All rights reserved.

Chesa Keane has taught meditation and self-help for more than 30 years. To learn how to meditate the right way, using guided meditations, go to: www.meditationwarrior.com.