Burning my Advent Candles at Both Ends

I recently discovered that each Advent candle has a traditional message as it is lit on the 4 Sundays running up to the Christmas celebration:  Hope, Grounding, Joy and Love

Sitting here in the light of the third Advent candle, I can’t help but reflect on each of those small flames in this darkest part of an extraordinary year.

Each flame represents a beautiful quality yet, as with all strengths and values, they lie on a continuum. Which end of each candle are you burning? 

An openness to other truths and perspectives. A deep knowing that there is learning and resolution in all challenges. Courage to let go of worry, what ifs and assumptions and trust that there is a resolution in it all. My work as a coach and coaching supervisor means that this is my business. I am working from this place of hope daily.

At the other end of the continuum lies the ‘finger-crossing-wishing-for-something-to-be-different’ kind of hope. I wonder how many times you’ve said something along the lines of, “I’ll be ‘happy’ (or insert your own word) just as soon as…” or, “If only … I could… “ 

I know I’ve been hoping and wishing to see my family in England for Christmas and thinking, “Christmas will only be happy if…” and “I wish they could create a vaccine so that all this can finally be over.” Or even, “I hope that I’m not first to try the vaccine out, but I really hope this is the answer.”

Grounding is about preparation; stopping, checking, clearing the clutter and realigning. It’s like preparing to dive; dive-buddy checks, dive site debriefs and emergency drills are all about checking-in, looking to see who and what is around me and realigning my compass and dive computer.

The opposite end of this candle is perhaps control. We ground ourselves and prepare for every eventuality before we dive, yet if I start thinking about all the things that I can’t control or plan for, I’d probably never dive! The amazing thing about diving is that we are actually safest when we are fully in the moment, breathing steadily and curiously aware of our surroundings.

Joy is difficult to define, yet we all know what it feels like. Joy doesn’t rely on anything or anyone else although it’s often triggered by connection. We can still feel joy in a difficult situation. Joy just is. It’s within us and surfaces when we are open and in the moment; when we are open to possibilities, curious and looking for the gift, opportunity and learning in difficult situations. Joy makes me think of children and dogs! Everything is fascinating to them as they explore what is with awe and wonder.

The opposite end of the joy continuum is, paradoxically perhaps, ‘happiness’. The conditional happiness of, “I will be happy as soon as …” that comes with a feeling of need and joy being somewhere down the road rather than within us. This kind of conditional joy becomes past or future based; waiting for things to go back to a certain way or assumptions and wishes for something to be or happen in the future.

Are there conditions for your joy?
When was the last time you felt pure joy?
What would it take for you to tap into it again today?

This whole holiday is born of love; love for the world and love for each other. In its purest form, love is about being there for someone; being present, listening deeply, seeing the ‘gold’ in them.

I know too many people who dread Christmas because they grew up in a family where the meal and everything about the day had to be perfect and flexibility wasn’t tolerated. Showing love through gifts, food, expectations or striving for perfection leads to exhaustion and stress, often igniting resentment and arguments. 

My own family has a Spaghetti Carbonara Christmas Eve tradition. This started as a way of spending less time stressing in the kitchen in order to be 100% present with each other and became as loved and anticipated as if it was an exceptional feast. This year, we are pushing the boat out to create both traditional Swiss and English Christmases on the 24th and 25th December and I commit to lighting that last Christmas candle with presence, fun, laughter and appreciation of the people around me and each thing we do together.

I have been burning my candle at both ends just lately.
What about you?

I am going to allow our family Advent candles to remind me of my commitment to notice where my own candle is lit and, when necessary, shift back to keeping the flame at the top.

If anyone sees me starting to stress, worry or resent any part of this COVID Christmas, you have my express permission to remind me to stop and check which end my candle is lit!

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