Christmas means different things to different people, but there are some aspects on which we can all agree.
It’s a time to share, celebrate, spend time with loved ones, reconnect with people or places you haven’t seen for a while... These situations, in theory, should be a source of joy and well-being. However, and here comes the paradox, they can also be a source of stress and conflict.
The rush, the commitments, the expectations that we won’t always be able to meet, the memory of those who are no longer with us... Christmas can sometimes be a real challenge if we aren’t aware of the baggage that we bring to it.
Often, we’re so busy, so laden down with tasks and “must-do” lists, that we unconsciously set aside the most important thing: to share. And even more importantly, we don’t pay attention to the spirit in which we do it. We’ve been looking forward to Christmas, and when it’s here, not only do we not enjoy it as we’d hoped, but we find ourselves wishing it was over.
As you can see, this is a time when we tend to get lost. If we already find it easy to slip into that state of semi-consciousness that we call “autopilot”, then at Christmas that ease increases exponentially! The lights, the meals, the meetings, the Christmas messages arriving on our mobile phones... All of that external stimulation attracts us like moths to a flame.
However, we can choose to experience these situations from a place of greater awareness, acceptance and commitment. We can choose not to be dragged into a reactive way of dealing with whatever happens to us, but instead decide how we’re going to respond.
In this article and the one we’ll be publishing next week, I’m going to share with you a series of ideas that help me to focus my attention and thus be more aware of what I’m experiencing.
Everybody is aware that technology is one of the biggest sources of distraction we have nowadays. However, we can always decide how we want to use it. The practice of Mindfulness helps us to manage ourselves better and do so from a place of greater awareness.
Consider setting aside, as much as you can, your mobile phone, computer, tablet, Netflix, etc. In my case, I find it really helpful to have an “action plan”. For example, I check my phone once an hour (instead of every time I hear the sound of a delivery notification...) or reserve a time of day to browse the net and return Christmas greetings. I also try, as far as possible, to make all the phone calls that I know I need to make one after another. That way, I feel that I can relax knowing that I’ve accomplished that task.
Christmas is a time that can generate mixed emotions and feelings. Many times, we feel joyful and grateful for all we have to share, but we may also experience some sadness and nostalgia, mainly for those who are no longer with us.
For some people, the holiday season is synonymous with loneliness and loss. Occasionally, the external pressure on everybody to be joyful can cause these difficult emotions to be ignored. It’s important to allow ourselves to recognise and feel these emotions, to accept them gently and let them take their course. Emotions in themselves are neither good nor bad. Those are simply labels that we put on them, depending on what we’re experiencing in the moment.
If you feel emotionally moved, acknowledge it and allow it with compassion and kindness. Make room for yourself and embrace yourself unconditionally.
In addition, when we’re more open to experiencing our emotional world, we soon discover that we’re more open and attentive to other people’s emotional worlds. It becomes easier to create connection and empathy, and our relationships gain in fluidity and significance.
At family gatherings, with your friends or with your work colleagues, remain open and receptive to what they transmit to you with their verbal and non-verbal language. In the words of the Greek philosopher Zeno de Citio, “We have two ears and one mouth, so we must listen more than we say.” Take advantage of these meetings and put this into practice.
When we listen with awareness, others feel that we’re really there for them, that we care. Communication then becomes more true and felt.
Let them express themselves without interrupting. Some things can be difficult to verbalise, so give them time. Stay silent and totally focused on the moment – in what you feel, and in everything that the other person transmits to you with their gestures, words and silences...
Many people spend the whole year talking about the fantastic meals that they prepare at home for Christmas, or how much they love the dessert that’s only eaten during these festivities, but then they sit at the table and swallow the food without savouring it. Lack of awareness makes us fall into excess. And from there, it’s only one step to feelings of failure and guilt...
This Christmas, each time you share a meal with your loved ones, your colleagues, etc., remember the previous tips. Put your phone to one side and listen to others with awareness. Pay genuine attention to what you’re doing: to the meal, to the conversation... Be genuinely interested in the other person and what they’re telling you.
When you’re at the table, pay attention to your senses. Notice the smell of the food. Try to distinguish some ingredient... a seasoning, for example. Chew slowly, savouring every bite. What texture does it have? What sensations does it produce?
Eating is a pleasure. Turn it into a moment of enjoyment, not a reason to practise unconsciousness and then feel guilty. Pay attention to what you eat and the amount you put on your plate. Don’t force yourself to eat a lot out of obligation or simply because you have all that food available. You may discover that your reasons for eating so much aren’t what they seem. Notice if you’re eating with anxiety or stress, and ask yourself why.
Sometimes we’re so absorbed with all the preparations and trying to please everyone, that we forget ourselves. Where there is nothing, nothing can be taken... So, if you don’t take care of yourself, recharge your batteries and allow yourself moments of stillness and silence, you’ll get to a point where you feel exhausted and just want to run away.
It’s important to do things with love – and to do that, you have to give it to yourself first.
Taking care of oneself doesn’t require big gestures. It’s great if we can give ourselves a trip to the Bahamas, but you don’t have to go that far to show yourself love. Light a scented candle, or your favourite incense, take a bubble bath... It’s about allowing yourself moments to recharge with good energy. Take as many breaks as you need. And – very important! – remember that you don’t need to do everything by yourself. You can delegate tasks to other people, or plan them so there’s no need for a last-minute rush.
And don’t forget to practise assertiveness when expressing what you need. Remember that the more tolerant and compassionate you are with yourself, the more tolerant and compassionate you can be with others.
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