Sacred Downtime


Thanksgiving Morning –  Sunrise over the ocean

In her recent piece Musings on Comfort and Joy, Laura Munson writes:

Whoever you are, wherever you are,the holidays are bound to leave your heart in shreds at least a little.

I get this.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the edges of my heart were a little frayed.  I needed a sign around my neck that read: Fragile. Handle with Care.  The sudden death of an old friend and neighbor shook me to my core; I felt raw and vulnerable.  Our Thanksgiving plans were unclear – we vacillated between traveling and staying home.

Then we received our dog’s bone cancer diagnosis.  This news put our hearts in a choke hold.  Our chocolate lab, Ellie, has anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to live.  Phil and I sat on the floor of his home office and hugged and cried.  There was no question where we needed to be. We had to tell our kids that their dog was dying.  We needed to huddle up, hunker down, and hold each other close.

We needed what my good friend Gerry calls: Sacred Downtime.

The word sacred comes from the Latin “sacrare:”  to consecrate, set apart, immortalize, dedicate.  After a frenetic year filled with the buying and selling and moving of houses, it was time to lay down some roots.  To stop, breathe, and be.  To be able to say, “this is our first Thanksgiving in this house, and it will be Ellie’s last.” This year, we needed to do things differently.

That being said, memories of Thanksgiving run deep: a dining room filled to capacity: an abundance of food, wine, and familiar faces.  Trying to re-create the day we typically share with extended family just didn’t feel right.  Cooking an enormous turkey for the four of us felt kind of….depressing.

Munson writes:

Let’s change the way our holiday minds think.  Let’s look truthfully at what is comfort and what is joy.  And let’s create a save haven around us.

What would bring us comfort? What could cultivate joy when our hearts felt so heavy?

We sat down with Emma and Phoebe and said: “You are Pilgrims planning the first Thanksgiving.  What do you eat?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” said Phoebe.  “Pancakes.”


“And popcorn,” added Emma.


“What are you going to wear?” we asked.

“Pajamas!”  (Followed by multiple costume changes).


And what did Pilgrims do on this fantasy first Thanksgiving?  “They got massages.”


“They danced to Lady Gaga on the Wii.”


The ordinariness of the day soothed my shredded heart and frazzled nerves. Frederick Buechner says:

The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments.

Mid-afternoon, we all lounged around in the living room doing our own thing.  Emma reading her book, Phoebe playing with her Barbies, Phil and I flipping through the paper.  Ellie limped into the middle of the room, and with a heavy sigh, laid down at our feet.  I knew this was the moment to tell them. I ditched the pre-canned speech and five books I had ordered off Amazon.  What needed to be said just…came to me.  Just like that. Which, by the way, never happens to me.

“Hey Girls, we need to take extra special care of Ellie, because she’s really not feeling well.”

Emma looked up. “You mean for Christmas?  Like get her extra bones and toys and stuff?”

“Well…sure.  But really she just needs a lot of love.”

“Will that make her leg better?”

I looked over at Phil who was now crying into a pillow.  Apparently this was going to be a Steel Magnolias parenting moment.

“No.  She’s not going to get any better.  This will be our last Christmas with Ellie, so we need to make her feel really special and loved, ok?”

Emma’s eyes got huge.  “You mean she’s going to heaven, with Nannie?”


She got quiet and started biting her nails.  She looked up as Phoebe returned from the bathroom, naked.  Because that’s just how Phoebe rolls.

“Phoebe,” Emma began in her best Caring Big Sister voice, “I need to tell you something very sad.  This will be Ellie’s last Christmas with us.  Then she will go to heaven to be with Nannie and Aunt Terry.”

Phoebe, perplexed, put her hand on her cocked, naked hip and said, “It’s Christmas?”

Emma gave me a look that said,  Ahh, to be Phoebe, for just one day.  I gave her a smile that said, I know, right?  She went back to gnawing her fingers.

Then, as organically as the conversation began, it ended.  We made more popcorn.  We watched Bee Movie. The girls had a bath and then went to bed.  Just like any other day….but the best day.

Knowing that 24 hours of sacred downtime was probably our limit, on Friday we hosted a “Keep On Giving” get-together for some friends.  Typically party prepping in our house can get tense, simply because Phil is slow and I am frantic we move at different speeds.  But this time, as we chopped and diced and pureed side by side, there was an ease and rhythm in how we worked together.  It was, dare I say, peaceful.



“Peaceful” is not my usual set-point, especially in social settings.  I attribute this newfound zen to a sense of balance I gained from Sacred Downtime.

When I taught yoga, I often gave the cue root to rise: Find stability by rooting -not gripping- your feet into the ground.  Notice how feeling stable and grounded allows for expansion across your heart, and freedom in your upper body. Virginia Woolf said:

I am rooted, but I flow.

Carve out some Sacred Downtime for your family -and yourself – this season.  Root to rise.