Last weekend I had the joy of making Peace Bracelets in person at the 8th annual Gingerbread Festival at the Wood Memorial Library and Museum in South Windsor, CT. What a treat it was to connect with so many special souls all searching, like me, for a way to give themselves what they need so that they can in turn give loving kindness to the world around them. I will be back at The Wood this Saturday, making Peace Bracelets again from 10-5, and as I prepare for the event I’m left ruminating on the power of a talisman during the holiday season.
The end of the year - through the holidays and transitions it brings - seems to me to be the ideal time to wear a talisman, like your peace bracelet, each and every day. I think we all know, to some degree, how trying and tiring this time of year can be. Does any time of year seem to test our patience, our empathy, our ability to practice metta more than between the months of November and February (lets be real here, March!)? Me thinks not!
As magical and special as they can be, the holidays can also be a source of stress, sadness, and general tsuris for many people. Being with the people we love so dearly also often means being around the people who can push our buttons and somehow bring out of us aspects of ourselves we thought we had worked hard to move beyond. Being without the people we love can leave us lonely, feeling disconnected and hopeless. In the face of so much manufactured joy, our inability to create our own inner jubilation can feel heavier than at other times of the year, as if we are somehow failing by not feeling the warmth and excitement that seems to scream from every street corner and TV screen. We can end up grumpy, or sarcastic, sometimes even mean. We may end up feeling withdrawn, or maybe the opposite — too involved, too put out, too obliged.
Being around our loved ones, the people we have known through all/so many of the emotional stages of our lives, can sometimes throw us back into patterns, or habits, or just general feelings that we thought we worked hard to leave behind. Aspects of ourselves that we have learned to manage and let go of can suddenly be driving the show, leaving us feeling disconnected, discouraged, and generally down in the dumps. Being alone when we are told we are supposed to be together can do the same thing — making us forget that we are content with our special little lives because they don’t seem as grand as everyone else’s.
We can end up feeling like we are wearing the skin of someone we once had to be but no longer need to hide behind, and that can leave us spiritually, psychically, energetically suffering. We can end up hiding behind a smiling face, or in a corner, or behind the stove, or in front of a TV, instead of interacting in the ways we’d really, truly, like to. Often, we find ourselves reacting from this space of stress, anxiety, and loneliness, instead of acting from love like we know we should, like we want to. And at the end of it all, we are the ones who really experience the trauma of that suffering — not those we lash out to, or disconnect from, or expect to give us something we can, do, and must give to ourselves. We can even, if we’re really overwhelmed, end up in a negative feedback loop that pushes us into the New Year with less hope and more frustration.
So what do we do? How do we continue through this season with an open heart, an open mind, and an ability to work through love in the face of such trials? How do we walk confidently, honestly, lovingly into the New Year, able to give empathy and love to all those we encounter? How can we keep from retreating into those old, dark, uncomfortably-comfortable spaces and instead, stay in the light of our truest intentions?
There are so very many things that we can do for ourselves, many of them as easy as making a cup of tea or letting ourselves take that extra few minutes in the warmth of the shower. The most important thing that we can do, and there are many many ways to achieve it, is to create for ourselves a space in which we can find (and mindfully return to!) peace, love, and patience during times of difficulty. By doing the work every day to create that spiritually nourishing, energetically connected, mindfully aware and deeply loving space for ourselves — through acts of self love, compassion, and awareness — we give ourselves (and the universe at large!) the greatest gift of any holiday. We give ourselves the gift of loving kindness. We give ourselves the gift of metta.
Metta is the practice of benevolence, or loving kindness, as prescribed by the Buddha in the Metta Sutta. The practice of metta is multi-layered, but the basic essence of the concept is the wish for all things to be happy. When we regard others through the lens of loving kindness — of empathy, of compassion, of universal connection — we are practicing metta. When we stand up for our truths, instead of allowing others to hurt us, and in turn hurt themselves by keeping us from doing so, we are also practicing metta. When we give without expecting anything in return to those who deserve our unconditional love, we are practicing metta. When we treat ourselves tenderly, giving ourselves into consistent self-love rituals and routines, we are practicing metta. This aspect of the practice of metta — the day-to-day, personal practice of loving oneself — is in some ways the most important aspect of the practice. For until we are able to give ourselves true loving kindness and compassion, how can we expect to do so for anyone else?
The holiday season is a crucial time for us to keep up in our practice of metta. It is a time when people need more love and understanding than usual, ourselves included. And yet, there are so many cards stacked against us this time of year — especially those of us who live in the colder, wintery climes! Little sun, cold bones, and a seemingly endless calendar of events — both obligatory and truly desirable — can make even the most benevolent of souls a wee bit prickly! And so more so than any time of year, we can really use the help and support that energetic tools like a talisman can provide.
A talisman is an object that gives its wearer protection and strength, and in terms of the practice of metta, a talisman can be an incredibly powerful way to support your practice of loving kindness each and every day of the year — especially during the holidays. Even if you aren’t “into” talismans, you probably have many without even realizing it. Your favorite sweater that you wear whenever you’re feeling like you need a hug? That’s a talisman. The ring your grandmother gave you that helps you remember her love and in turn, how lovable you are? A talisman. The keychain you bought on your road-trip that keeps you connected to the brave and passionate soul within you that put you out on the road in the first place? Yup, you got it — that’s a talisman too.
Traditionally, talismans have often been pieces of jewelry made from a variety of natural materials. The materials of these objects, as well as their colors, their design, and the intention that went into their making, help to create an object that is more of a friend than an inanimate thing to wear. When I designed my Peace Bracelets, I intuitively created a line of wearable talismans, each one made to help its wearer in its own unique way.
I hold your name and spirit in my consciousness as I make your bracelet, and with each knot, with each bead, I push into the bracelet my intentions for you to find peace and compassion so that you may always act in the service of love. If I have been fortunate enough to learn more about you, that knowledge sits with me at the table as I make your bracelet, and into the subtle energies of the bracelet I program my wish for you to find the specific support and guidance you need to continue your practice of loving kindness each time you wear it.
Each design serves a special purpose, is able to help you in different ways. Maybe you know that in order to sustain your metta practice, you could use a little more balance, or a little more clarity. Maybe you know you need some more patience, or perhaps a little more faith. Sometimes we need to trust our intuition more. Or maybe we just need more love. The design of each bracelet — the color, the materials, the design itself — determines the way in which it can help you. The meanings behind each design comes printed on a card in your personalized Peace Bracelet package, so that you can always revisit the ways in your bracelet can help you the most. Often, the design we are most attracted to represents the things we need the most support with, though I am always happy to help you find the right design, too. I do believe, though, that the spirit often chooses the right bracelet — sometimes even without awareness — and so I do encourage you to let your decision be intuitive and to honor that initial intuition.
In many ways, a talisman is like a winter jacket. A jacket keeps us warm, protects our bodies from the elements, and allows us to function in conditions that otherwise might physically and energetically prevent us from functioning. In the same way, a talisman keeps our souls warm and pliable, so that our spirit and subtle energies can continue to function in the face of less-than-preferable conditions. As a jacket shields us from the cold, a talisman shields us from the negative energies that pervade around us. A talisman protects us from energies that do not serve to help us, so that we may keep our spirits high and able to vibrate at a level that benefits not just us but all those we encounter.
And just as a jacket warms our bodies with our own warmth, a talisman fosters our spirit with our own spirit, increases our love by giving us our own love. A talisman acts as a touchstone by which we can re-connect to our inner strength, our inner peace, our inner awareness. By wearing and connecting to our talismans, we are strengthened, we are embodied, we are able to act from within our safest space of true intention, instead of the chaotic spaces that we might find our physical selves in. Just like we can stand comfortably outside on a cold day in a jacket, so too can we stand comfortably amidst holiday craziness if we allow ourselves to wear and connect to our talismans as a part of our every day practice of extending boundless love and compassion to the world around us (to sort of quote the Buddha himself!).