One of the jobs I get to do is to come up with the monthly themes and phrases for the MA monthly calendar. Then I send them on to Lisa, who works her magic and creates the beautiful calendars. For Christmas I chose a theme of connecting at Christmas because often this can be emotionally quite complex.
Some of us are on our own at Christmas. If this is the case for us, can we create conditions to connect with our loved ones before or during the festive period, in person or via technology. Do we take responsibility to actively create conditions that will be conducive to our happiness, or do we leave it to others to do this for us? Can we be proactive?
Also, if we know people who are on their own, can we find a way to connect with them? Can we do this in a way without imposing ourselves or our wishes on them? Some people are quite happy to be on their own, even though this might seem strange to us.
Some of us are likely to be part of family gatherings, which may be joyful comings together of a group of people who love each other and enjoy each other’s company….or at least you would think this from the Christmas adverts on television. For some of us these family gatherings can be challenging events, which are emotionally exhausting. There may be certain people who we will meet who trigger a whole host of uncomfortable emotions and habitual patterns in us, which are as old as we are.
Some of us exhaust ourself by working tirelessly, in addition to our day job, to make Christmas a wonderful experience for others. Some of us sit back and allow others to do this for us.
This year there is the added burden of Covid. Many parts of the country will have heavy restrictions imposed in the run up to Christmas, disrupting long made plans and long held family traditions. Some of us will be more careful of how much we are willing to mix, others will be more relaxed. There will be difficult discussions of who is in and who is out of the bubble, or families will split into several bubbles, which will take skilful negotiation.
So how do we negotiate these complexities with grace and in such a way as to minimise the suffering of ourselves and those around us. In a small way, this is what I hope the daily guidance in the calendar will help with.
One this is for certain. Focussing on I, me and mine is likely to lead us in the direction of suffering. Focussing on what’s beneficial for everyone is more likely to lead us in the direction of happiness. However, this requires us to balance self-kindness, with kindness for others. So, how do we do this?
My usual go to is tonglen practice (we teach this as part of our Level 2: Responding with compassion course), but if you are unfamiliar with this then a simple kindness practice can help.
When you are meeting someone that day, or are due to have a conversation with them about the thorny issues raised above, before you do so sit and relax for a few minutes. Bring to mind your intention to be kind towards that person and then reflect on why living in a kind way is important to you. Focus on the sensations of breathing for a couple of minutes and ground in the body, feeling the feet on the floor. Then bring this person to mind, bring to mind some of their good qualities and notice how that feels. Then begin to say some phrases of friendliness to them in your head, such as: May you be happy, May you be well, May you be safe, May you live with ease. Notice what happens when you do this. What thoughts, emotions or physical sensations do you notice? Do this for a couple of minutes and then move into the next moment of your day.
Sometimes when we do this type of kindness practice our heart will open. If this happens, revel in any felt sense of kindness.
Other times when we do this our heart will close and we will experience resistance. This might be numbness, or an emotion like anger or sadness. Notice what thoughts, emotions and sensation arise and be open and curious about what can be learned. Then bring to mind your intention to be kind, even if in this case it is easier said than done, this intention is a wonderful thing and so rejoice that you have this intention to be kind. Then do something to be kind to yourself. Say some kind words to yourself, make yourself a nice cup of tea or give yourself a hug.
Remember, there is no right or wrong way for this practice to be. Whether the heart opens or closes, there is always something to learn. Whether the heart opens or closes we keep going, developing our value of kindness, building on our intention.
Whenever I have done this, I have always been surprised at the results in daily life when the conversation actually happens. Somehow my intention to be kind, reinforced by practice, works some kind of magic.
I hope that it works for you too.
Remember that the Mindfulness Association are here to support you in your practice over December and throughout the Christmas period. We have our free daily sits, each weekday morning at 10.30am and each evening at 7pm – including Christmas Day, Boxing Day and over New Year. In addition, we have some practice days scheduled between Christmas and New Year to support you in being present, responding with compassion and seeing deeply so as to become more familiar with these minds of ours.
And then there is the calendar!
I wish you joy in your preparations for the festive season this year.