Most of us, whether we’ve experienced it directly or not, are familiar with the idea of a comedown. A comedown is what happens when a drug, usually a stimulant, begins the long, painful process of withdrawing from your system. As the euphoria of the high begins to wane and the anxiety washes in, you suddenly start to feel dizzy and disoriented. The drug, previously situated between you and reality, is wearing off and, as it goes, you’re left to navigate the void created by its absence. That means going through the process of reconnecting to yourself, to your body’s natural rhythms and your mind’s natural pace. And when it’s finally over, you’re left feeling listless, lifeless and blank … the soaring high replaced by a crushing melancholy.
That’s how I feel every year after Christmas.
Once the cheer I’ve been mainlining since the day after Thanksgiving dries up, I’m left with an emptiness I can’t quite describe. There’s nothing like the sight of Christmas decorations after the holiday has passed. Walking into a room strewn with yuletide detritus is like returning to the scene of Bacchanalian excess the morning after, when all you’re left with is a headache and a vague sense of shame. The thought of candy, cookies, credit cards – consumption in any form – invites feelings of guilt and disgust. I can’t wait to eat a salad, go to the gym. I vow never to go to the mall again. I just want to get clean. Coming down from Christmas – reconnecting to my body’s natural rhythms and my mind’s natural pace – takes days.
I doubt I’m alone. Most people seem a bit pallid and disconnected, not quite themselves, in the days following Christmas. It’s as if we’re all trying to traverse the void that the holiday, with its attendant excess, has left in its wake. But what if we were to introduce some elements of Ramadan into our celebration of Christmas? Muslims, during the month-long observance of the Islamic holiday, abstain from eating, drinking and sex during the daylight hours. The practice of fasting is meant to teach patience, humility and restraint. It is meant to inspire empathy and appreciation. It’s a way to achieve “God-consciousness” and repent for past sins and misdeeds. Above all, fasting is meant to bring one closer to one’s spiritual self. By denying the body, practitioners are strengthening the soul and the mind. It is an exercise in discipline and meditation that, once completed, should leave one feeling more connected, more whole.
Westerners have a long tradition of borrowing from other cultures to temper an immoderate nature. Yoga brings us calm, Tao brings us balance – so why not look to Islam for a bit of restraint? Maybe we can begin this year at the height, rather than the depths, of self.