Many of us struggle with the coming together of old friends and family that happens at Christmas. So how do we bring ourself fully into these occasions?
I think first it is important to acknowledge that some relationships are difficult, due to clashes (or more likely similarities) in personality. This is part of the rich tapestry of the human condition and is not our fault. Once we acknowledge and accept this we can focus on the love and connection in the relationship. We can focus on our good qualities and the good qualities of the other. We can also recognise that all of our bad behaviour and acting out (and that of others) comes from our suffering and then use this recognition as a way to feel compassion for ourselves and for those around us.
If all else fails, take yourself off to the loo for a self-compassion break. There is a lovely guided version of it, that you can follow, on our Mindfulness Based Living app available for Apple and Android devices. In this practice, we acknowledge the difficulty, recognise our common humanity in facing this difficulty and then bring kindness to ourself.
If nothing else, coming together with old friends and family can provide an excellent if uncomfortable opportunity to explore our ingrained habitual patterns. These habits might be a result of coping strategies we developed in our youth, but they may no longer serve us. It is interesting to become aware of our expectations and assumptions about how to relate and how these might be different from others. These clashes of expectations and assumptions can cause a deal of confusion, upset and uncomfortableness – but expectations and assumptions are just ideas we have bought in to.
We can also become aware of conflicting narratives about a common history. All of us placing different interpretations on the same event dependent on our individual conditioning and associated preferences. Again, these stories are no more than ideas we have bought into.
Be curious about the suffering that manifests simply because of the ideas we buy into! We can be curious about our own, but best not to point out those of others!
A common habitual pattern, which is strong in me is taking responsibility for others’ behaviour, born out of a desire for harmony and control. It is exhausting trying to anticipate each flash point and relentlessly smooth things over. Often when we do this we are tacitly condoning the bad behaviour of others, tiptoeing around them to avoid conflict, which is not compassionate to anyone. If this is one of your habits, practice refraining from it and let the others take responsibility for their own behaviour. It may turn out quite differently from the carnage you expect!
Another one of my Christmas (and if I’m honest all year round) habits is a sense of self -pity arising from a storyline about how I have to do everything and no one ever helps me. This storyline collapses as nonsense upon inspection. But it doesn’t stop me boiling with resentment as I peel the sprouts, after having just done all the washing up, peeled potatoes, laundry and on and on and on. I am learning to ask for help before I explode.
My other support is music – it is impossible to be resentful, singing or jiggling along to music – for some of us it might be Christmas carols. Not me. For me, I have just downloaded the Ministry of Sound ‘I love disco’ – just let a DJ save your life and allow the run up to Christmas to become a boogie wonderland. Humans are evolved to get joy and connection from dancing! You might find everyone else joining you in a kitchen disco inferno! Enjoy!
Need some support for a Compassionate Christmas? Why not join one of mindfulness Christmas practice days. We’d love to see you there!