Holiday Blues

Zen teacher Karen Maezen Miller on enjoying the holiday you’re having, not the one you were hoping for.

Karen Maezen Miller
13 December 2022
Photo by Paola Chaaya.

Question: I find the holiday season really lonely. My husband died ten years ago and my children live far away. Are there any teachings to help me deal with loneliness, particularly during the holidays when other people are enjoying their families?

Answer: Take heart, because many people feel the same way you do. Often the holidays can be the unhappiest time of the year.

But let’s get to specifics. Buddhist teachings can seem abstract until we encounter a real-life situation like yours. We lose someone dear. Our children grow up and leave us behind. We feel forgotten and left out.

Comparing ourselves to others, we feel sad. Life has taken a hard turn, and we experience the Buddha’s first noble truth: suffering. But we can’t avoid suffering, nor should we try to. Suffering is what brings wisdom to life.

The holiday season is laden with idealized imagery and false expectations.

Buddhist practice is rooted in the certainty of change. It’s easy to say, but it’s hard to accept. Luckily, the path of Buddhism shows us how—by getting us to face the facts of our lives and then examine how we respond.

The holiday season is laden with idealized imagery and false expectations. When we hold on to our expectations, we are always disappointed. But when we drop them, we can work with things as they are.

You have to be honest with yourself. Is your loneliness a result of changing circumstances or of the standards by which you judge your present life to be lacking? Suppose you no longer expected the holidays to be anything like they were before. Could you rewrite the script for yourself?

Look for ways to share kindness, generosity, and fellowship right where you are. True happiness isn’t found in a holiday, but in you, to be shared freely.

Karen Maezen Miller

Karen Maezen Miller

Karen Maezen Miller is a priest in the Soto Zen lineage of Taizan Maezumi Roshi and a student of Nyogen Yeo Roshi. In daily life, as mother to daughter Georgia and as a writer, she aims to resolve the enigmatic truth of Maezumi’s teaching, “Your life is your practice.” Miller is the author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood, and most recently, Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden.