close up on two people's feet in cozy socks in front of a fire

When I was a child, I loved the holidays for the stuff—candy, cookies, advent calendars, and, of course, presents. As a young adult, I wanted perfect situations: everyone feeling good, looking good, doing good deeds. This got so stressful that by midlife, I decided that I’d just focus on finding peace. I called it going Home for the holidays—not home as in a geographic location, but my real Home: a state of calm, relaxed being.

I didn’t expect much from this new practice of Homing, just a little stress relief. But it turned out I’d stumbled into some real holiday magic. Not only did Homing allow me to feel content no matter what was going on, but it seemed to create some kind of magnetism, drawing in everything I’d ever wanted.

As I went Home and stayed there, the stuff I’d longed for but never received (objects, situations, experiences) began to find me. Some were enormous, like true love. Others seemed almost trivial. For example, one day I was hiking near my home, feeling deeply peaceful but wishing I had a motion-activated camera trap to take shots of wildlife. I looked up to see a friend hiking toward me…carrying, as a gift, a motion-activated camera trap. As I went Home more and more often, this kind of thing happened to me so often, I began to believe that everything we hope and pray for is immediately sent—but only to our real address, to genuine peace.

Here are some thoughts about how you can go Home for the holidays. It’s a joy in itself, and I believe it will also connect you with a thousand joys and blessings you may have wanted for a long time.

Why Homing is especially important at this time of year

I’ve coached thousands of people and one thing I’ve discovered is that everyone, from career criminals to living saints, feels most “at home” in a state of inner peace. I believe that’s because in our essence, we are peace; our deepest core is made of it. But the pressures of the world can push us off this peaceful center.

Ironically, this is especially true during the holidays. Along with an endless “to do” list comes a barrage of media images telling us to be happy now, right now! Financial stress teams up with emotional stress and relationship stress to wrench us away from our calm center—and that’s if our lives are going well. If we’ve suffered a loss, an illness, or a breakup since last holiday, the pressure to be happier and do more can become devastating.

It’s easy to neglect opportunities to detach from holiday turmoil, get quiet, and turn inward. But in times of trouble, very much including “the most wonderful time of the year,” connecting with the peace at our center is the best—sometimes the only—way to stay whole and happy.

How to go Home

Our culture doesn’t teach us to go Home. We’re taught how to get things done, how to measure up, how to achieve, how to serve others. We aren’t taught how to be still and contemplate our own inner state of being. This is a simple process (babies can do it), but we’re so strongly socialized away from it that it may at first seem odd, boring, or even frightening. Here are some ways to approach it that are both powerful and gentle.

Give yourself permission to be as you are.

Find ten minutes, any time during the day, to be alone in a private space (the bathroom counts). Take a few deep breaths, exhaling completely. Close your eyes and notice whatever’s going on inside you. Whatever you notice, think the words, “I have permission to .”

Even if you’re in a blinding rage or deep sadness, give yourself permission to feel those things. If you’re in physical pain, you have permission to be in pain. If you have racing thoughts, you have permission to think racing thoughts.

This may cause a wave of emotions as you release what you’ve been holding back. You may cry or shake. That’s okay, and it won’t last. If you keep allowing yourself to be as you are, the intensity will drop and your internal sensations will begin to shift. Without resistance, negative emotions tend to rush through us in about 90 seconds. Physical pain becomes more bearable. Thoughts gradually get less frantic. Allowed to be as you are, you’ll find everything in your body, mind, and heart automatically moving toward the peace that is your Home.

Offer compassion to any part of you that is suffering.

If you’re feeling a lot of stress or pain, permission to feel whatever you’re feeling opens up access to self-compassion. You don’t have to feel soft and mushy to do this. Just offer compassionate words. While focusing on whatever hurts, mentally give yourself kind wishes like, “May you feel better.” “May you be well.” “May you be happy,” and “May you be at peace.”

The first time I tried this I had an excruciating back spasm. As I offered my back compassion, I realized how I’d been battling against the pain. I began to relax, and at first, the discomfort grew. A wave of sorrow washed through me. For a few seconds, I felt awful. Then the door to Home opened. In the space created by compassionate wishes, my heart and back both felt a space of ease. I was bigger than my pain; I was the kindness observing it.

This is the way self-compassion always works: suffering, then kind wishes, then heightened awareness of suffering, then ease. Learn to ride the intensity for a very short time and this practice will take you straight Home.

Let your mind disappear into music.

Most of our stress comes not from situations themselves, but from our thoughts about situations. That’s how you can spend a holiday safe, well-fed, surrounded by loved ones, and completely wretched. Maybe it’s because your spouse is traveling during Hannukah, or your siblings are sniping at you about politics, or you didn’t have the money to buy the twins everything on their Santa list. Your thoughts may keep reminding (re-mind-ing) you of that to the point where they drown out the peace of the present moment.

Music can help you get a break from all this. Studies show that the brain has a very strong response to music, especially if we sing and dance along with it. If Christmas carols don’t float your boat, make a playlist of the music you love most. Put on some headphones and let yourself focus entirely on the sound. After a few minutes (especially if you’re moving or singing along) you may notice that your repetitive negative thoughts went away for a while. Notice that gap in thoughts. Use music to help it return. Go Home.

Find humor in distress

Another way of Homing actually encourages you to think—but not in typical ways. Worry, sadness, and other negative emotions often come from the unhappy stories we tell in our minds. This story-telling happens primarily on the left side of the brain. The right side of the brain can use language but for just two specific functions: poetry and humor.

Anything that makes you laugh can reduce holiday stress. Laughing at holiday stress itself is one of the best ways I know to go Home. For years, I’ve been recommending something called Dysfunctional Family Bingo to do this for clients and other loved ones.

To play Dysfunctional Family Bingo, find at least one friend who will not be spending the holidays with you. You and your friend(s) can then download a Bingo Card and print it out. Each person fills out their Bingo card squares with terrible things that always happen during holiday celebrations with their family. For example, “Celia rushes away in tears,” or “Dog eats something potentially fatal,” or “I hear myself making promises I can’t keep.” Take the Bingo card to your family’s celebration. When the thing listed on a square actually happens, mark that square. The first one to get Bingo texts in triumph to all other players, and will later receive a free lunch and be crowned Sovereign of Dysfunction.

Playing Bingo causes your mind to seek laughter and play, instead of tension and work. As you open up to humor, your mind quiets and your soul goes Home. Notice that.

The unexpected consequences of Homing

Just getting a little space, a little comfort, or a little humor can lighten the load of holiday stress and make everything feel better. If we keep going Home over and over, this internal state becomes more accessible, and we can stay longer without losing our center. At that point, something very interesting begins to happen.

If you stay in your inner Home, the people you find most enjoyable will be more and more drawn to you. Problems become less knotty, and then start to loosen and unravel almost by themselves. Things you’ve always wanted—moods, relationships, and yes, even physical stuff—may find their way to you for the first time.

You can feel this happening around those among us, especially children and animals, who are very connected to their own Home. When someone is perpetually lit up with relaxation, joy, and gratitude, you want to give to them. They become magnetic to kind acts, good company, and gifts. And if you spend enough time at Home, this will happen to you, too.

It’s as if the universe has always sent exactly what you most deeply longed for—but it has been delivering all your presents to your real Home address. When you connect with inner peace, the things you requested are finally able to reach you. It’s not that you did anything wrong, or that you didn’t deserve goodness all along. You did. But you won’t feel how precious and valuable you are, how much the world wants to offer itself to you until you go Home. No matter where you are, no matter who you are, you can always do that right now.

You can learn more about “coming home” in Martha Beck’s flagship program, Wayfinder Life Coach Training.

This essay was first published in Maria Shriver’s The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise.