The Open Secret

I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Normal is someone you don’t know very well.” This is a good thing to keep in mind always, but especially now, when we assume that the normal people are all having “normal” holidays. You know—festive homes decorated in Martha Stewart splendor; inboxes crowded with party invitations and mailboxes stuffed with Christmas cards; harmonious families primed for weeks of good cheer. Do you know these people? I don't!

Most of the people I know (myself included) will barely pull off a Christmas tree and a chaotic family gathering. Life is busy and the times are stressful, so if you want to experience the real meaning and magic of the holidays, let's start by unburdening ourselves of impossible expectations. The most effective thing you can do to have your own happy holiday is to wipe the word “normal” from your vocabulary.

In my work and travels I have met thousands of people from all walks of life. I have yet to meet a normal one, if normal means consistently sane, contented, and capable. And yet most of us hold ourselves up to an unattainable standard of human perfection. The 12th century poet Rumi called this phenomenon, the “Open Secret.” He said each one of us is trying to hide the same secret from each other—not some racy or evil secret, but rather the mere fact of our flawed humanness. We expend so much energy trying to conceal our ordinary bewilderment at being human, or our loneliness in the crowd, or that nagging sense that everyone else has it more together than we do, that we miss out on the chance to really connect, which is what we ultimately long for—especially during the holidays.

So, here’s something you can do: Open up your Open Secret. Overcome your embarrassment at being human, and tell a friend that you didn’t get one party invitation. Maybe she will reveal the same thing, or she’ll bring you to the one party on her list, or together you’ll go your local homeless shelter and help the kids decorate the tree…..Instead of sweeping family secrets under the rug, tell your sister that you are worried about how much your father drinks at family gatherings; ask her to support you in dealing more honestly with him this year…..Don’t just say “Fine!” when a colleague asks how you are at the office holiday party. Say, “Sometimes all this ho-ho-ho makes me feel socially inept.” You’ll be surprised by the response. Suddenly a mere acquaintance will open up his secrets to you, and soon you’ll feel more connected, not only to him, but to the real meaning of the holidays.


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