How Will Your Light Shine

The winter sun casts its long shadows. The darkness gathers quickly, and the cold wind blows. Yet, within each of us there kindles a small flame, a hopeful twinkle to answer the call of the long winter months ahead. How will your light shine in 2023? Where will you go and how will you measure success beyond your bank account or 401k statement?

Great things in life seldom happen without resolve and creative action. The fruits of your labor are the result of vision, meaning, hard work, and patience, and an understanding that you will likely not succeed before you accomplish something. But you will learn, and you will grow from both success and disappointment.

There’s some truth to what naysayers’ voice about resolutions, but the concept remains a good one. Used well, daily, and with meaningful intent, resolutions can provide a focal point needed to turn aspirations into that “new normal” we keep hearing about.

We all have answers to what we want out of life. The problem is we ask ourselves the wrong questions. Change “Why is this happening to me?” to “This is happening to me.” Lead with “How will I do this?” or “How will I make this helpful?” See the difference?  Now, say it out loud.  Most people who try something new are rarely successful on the first, second or even third try. Yet, they can persevere.

If a dream is worth dreaming, then it’s worth relentless passion and creative action to realize your true north. Perseverance and resolve are key. Little in life is accomplished without these. So rather than abandon your New Year’s resolutions, try adding this one: “I resolve to create a life worth living.” Ask yourself, “Where and what is my Polestar, my true north?”

Navigate those uncharted waters and stop being your own worst critic. Celebrate both your successes and failures. They make you who you are.

To be open to joy, acknowledge the suffering in you and others. Understand that commitment and kindness matter. Remind yourself frequently of what you hope to achieve and pursue it with an urgency that says my time here is short, with no guarantees. Life didn’t leave you behind. It’s starting now. These are more than just platitudes of encouragement; this is the reality of your existence. Show up, participate, feel sorrow, embrace joy, know disappointment, but above all else, embrace your Polestar.

May you head into 2023 believing you can make it a year filled with new goals, old dreams, and hope.

Peace and kindness,


“You Will Be Visited by Three Spirits”

by Don Laird, NCC, LPC

Scrooge. It’s a name synonymous with a cold and heartless man concerned more with greed and gain than mercy; a cultural archetype who wants nothing further to do with humanity and has no use for words like compassion or care. Yet, on closer examination, Scrooge’s story reveals some remarkable insights into the malaise of our modern times. The narrative is universal and enduring, but Charles Dickens’ tale is more than a harsh commentary on the mores of his time.

On its surface, Dickens’ Victorian yarn can be overlooked as just another holiday story. The tradition of spinning stories of spectral visitors was quite common for the time. However, there is much more at stake now for our cultural and individual wellbeing in this seasonal tale. Therefore, I assert that Dickens’ seminal 1843 work A Christmas Carol remains one of the finest illustrations of existential psychotherapy ever written (albeit in fictional form).

The tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge opens a time and space for those who want to reflect on life in all its suffering and beauty. This is also a starting principle for good therapy. Reflecting on existence and the human condition is not about instant transformation for the client or utilizing a positive psychology to soothe the existential fears of both client and therapist. It is a crisis that is illuminated by one of the key tenets of psychotherapy – fear of death.

It is here that I want to briefly highlight the other side of Scrooge. No one arrives at a fixed point in their development without a back story, and Scrooge’s history is one filled with disappointment, suffering, and neglect. He is an ignored and isolated child, abandoned even at Christmas by his family and friends. Scrooge knows emotional pain all too well at an early age. The world around him and its inhabitants are not to be trusted. People, above all, should be shunned. They are to be feared for needing emotional attachment and engagement – qualities easily dismissed by a young man whose growing trust in currency will engulf his life for years to come.

Stave I of A Christmas Carol exemplifies one of the central canons of existential depression and anxiety, life has always been this way and it will always be this way. There is a critical loss of agency here, and caustic determinism quickly fills the void. When the third spirit beckons Scrooge to look down on his own tombstone, Scrooge, in a moment of sheer existential terror, experiences a cognitive opening and a spiritual awakening. His life can be written differently and what seems to be etched in marble and stone isn’t.

This cautionary lesson is compelling; an opportunity for Scrooge to experience what life might look like following his death. With his shroud-covered corpse left abandoned on a table, he watches in horror as
strangers and former servants quibble over his meager belongings and mock his demise with no regard or mercy. In death as it was in life, he is no longer an agent of change. He is a spectator of the cruel and vicious world he helped create.

However, all Three Spirits present Scrooge with a gift – he was and is an agent of change. It is this encounter with one’s mortality that can lead to a deeper and greater life. In short, to know death is to know life. Scrooge embraces the consequences of this adage so that he may live out his final months and years involved in the vibrancy of close relationships and mercy.

Death anxiety is real; despite those in psychology who often relegate it to the closet of “let’s not go there unless we have to” (even by those seasoned practitioners who should know better). Beware the therapist
who professes that the exploration of death anxiety is not particularly helpful. Yes, therapists can spend far too much time focusing on one area while neglecting another. It happens. Not every therapist is experienced enough to create a new therapy for each of their clients. However, that shouldn’t allow for a surging wave of positive psychology and cognitive therapy to sweep us away from Otto Rank’s maxim, “Some refuse the loan of life to avoid the debt of death.” This is especially relevant in a postpandemic world.

Exploration of death and dying serves as a profound catalyst toward some remarkable life changes. As Dickens illustrates, it is the confluence of both past, present, and future, an investigation of life by way of a spiritual awareness and cognitive acknowledgement of our finite time here on Earth. In this way, we are all a reflection of Dickens’ vision.

A Christmas Carol calls us to consider some definitive questions, “How would the world be different if I were to die today?” and “Do I ever have a true sense of how many lives I’ve touched?” Scrooge’s story may, in fact, provide the answers. Our relationships with others are so intrinsic that our absence creates an entirely different existence – a ghostly existential vacuum, if you will.

In the Victorian era, people saw ghosts and had premonitions. It was a system of supernatural beliefs that were not unusual for the era. Freud came along and said that this was the result of repressed memories. The dead were reduced to misleading or damaged recollections that resulted in certain beliefs and behaviors. Ghosts haunted the mind, not the house. Yet, there is something within Scrooge’s narrative that calls to us, pushes us beyond cause and effect, beyond determinism, and reminds us that we
can be responsible and compassionate with our life choices and that no person is indeed an island.

Life Lessons and the End of 2022

My daughter recently began violin lessons for the first time. We went to have her measured for the instrument, and I watched her as it was carefully packed up. She was so proud of it, sitting next to it in the car on the way home with an ever-protective hand hovering slightly over it in case of any unexpected bumps in the road.

When she began her first lesson, the instructor explained the different parts of the violin – the fingerboard, the neck, the shoulders, and only motioned toward its bow, still firmly nestled in its case.

“We won’t be using the bow for the first few weeks,” he explained, and then had my daughter hold the violin around its neck. “Now hold the violin up as high as you can,” he instructed, demonstrating for her, and she followed suit. “I call this the Statue of Liberty pose. Hold it there for a count of ten. Ten…nine…” when he counted down to one, he had her rest for a moment.

They went through a series of picking exercises, but I was most struck by the Statue of Liberty – the importance of strengthening the arm and hand muscles way before she’d get to playing any notes. It reminded me of working with my kids when they were in preschool with their scissor skills, reinforcing that connection between having the hand and finger strength to cut through construction paper and the later skills of handwriting.

Has 2022 felt like the Statue of Liberty pose to you? Was it uncomfortable? Just plain hard work? Maybe it was a disappointment because instead of getting to play with the bow and get fancy with your year right away, it instead ended up being a series of tough (but very important!) exercises. I think a lot of my year felt that way, too, but although it feels unglamorous and exhausting, there’s a lot of hope there. Where else can the tough times lead except resilience and strength over time? What can be gained from consistently holding up a weight except a stronger muscle, increased focus, and improved confidence?

As part of the violin practices my daughter was assigned throughout the week – moving the violin from rest position to playing position, playing a short, two-note song, etc. – time in the Statue of Liberty pose was also prescribed. I have a feeling that will continue long after she’s able to use the bow, maybe something she’ll have to do for years. And although I know it’s no fun, I’m glad for it, because it’s so much a microcosm of what our own lives are like: so many building-block moments that gradually build on themselves to become a larger picture.

It’s very rare that raw, natural talent delivers flawless performances right from the get-go. 99.999% of the time, we need discipline and practice and training to get where we want or need to go. My hope for you is that if 2022 was indeed a tough year for you, where you mostly just had to hold up your metaphorical arm for a very long time with very little rest, that 2023 and beyond will be filled with beautiful music you have made for yourself.

Until next time, be well!


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About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.