Here come the holidays. We gather with family and friends for a time of sharing and fun and envision something out of a Martha Stewart holiday book, with the festive table, candles burning and everyone loving, accepting and happily tolerant.

Here come the holidays. We gather with family and friends for a time of sharing and fun and envision something out of a Martha Stewart holiday book, with the festive table, candles burning and everyone loving, accepting and happily tolerant.

We hope family issues are over. Then Aunt Agnes says something. Uncle Charlie takes the bait, and we feel emotional discomfort cut through the air like a laser through ancient rock. Undercurrents of unresolved emotions erupt. A slight utterance by one becomes the hammer on the head of another. Those who want peace say something to calm the situation, but if that does not work, there are those who will get up, put on coats and leave while others wring their hands in protest. Sound familiar?

To be sure, full-blown quarrels don't always ensue, but you can bet resentments and grievances that arise will fester away, robbing us of inner peace and contentment — if we let them.

It is time to take control of how we feel, how we respond, and take our power back. Here are some suggestions. Pick one, two or all for your holiday peace arsenal and share them with your family.

Do not take the bait. If someone says something that bothers you and you feel your blood pressure rise, recognize that you are being hooked like a fat rainbow trout. Watch your mind carefully. Don't take it personally. Realize what was said was from the "perception" of the other. Just remain quiet, take a deep breath, and do not respond immediately. This is where your power is.

We have two inner thought systems built into our mind. One system is the ego. It speaks for attack, revenge, separation, giving in order to get, manipulation, etc. The ego responds first (the blood pressure rising) and loves a fight. The other thought system, your higher self, speaks for love and sees everything as either love or a call for love.

Your choice: the ego or higher self.

For peace, simply go inside, and ask your higher self to respond with love. You will soon know what to say, if anything. Something may surface from the peaceful mind. Responding immediately from the ego will cause guilt for you and the other. The ego's food is guilt.

The past is over. How can we see anyone fresh, if we continue to impose the past upon them? Memory and judgments from the past keep us and them trapped. Let the past go by dropping your inner ego critic and ask to look with new eyes and vision. Ask to see others differently to let the past go.

Watch your projections. The ego part of our mind projects what we dislike about ourselves onto others. Why do you dislike Aunt Rose? Whatever the reason, find it in yourself — maybe not in the exact form, but look for similar content. Example: Aunt Rose seems like a phoney; she is never real. When have you acted like a phoney? Maybe when you're nervous? Own your projections but let any of the ego guilt go. You are not your ego. You and Aunt Rose are both the light of the world. Forgive and judge not. We forgive when we realize everyone is fighting a hard battle. Everyone has made mistakes. So what? Only the ego cares because its food is guilt and blame. Guilt keeps us separate and alone. We really cannot judge because we do not know what our lessons are or anyone else's, for that matter. Be compassionate with them and yourself.

Sally McKirgan facilitates the Inner Peace column and A Course In Miracles study group in Ashland. Contact her at innerpeace@q.com.