Whether we celebrate Christmas or not, its presence is felt, seen, smelt and heard. If we were an alien, dropped in on earth for a visit, we would become aware of something extraordinary. It is very apparent. It is evident in the streets, in offices, in the shops and on TV. Streets, usually maybe dull and unnoticeable suddenly come alive with twinkling lights. These lights take the form of icicles, reindeer and snowmen. Trees and bushes are just bursting with nondescript shapes of light. Some lights are still, golden and peaceful. Others are busy and gaudy with bright flashing colours.
Shop shelves are rearranged to accommodate a vast array of Christmas fare. Suddenly we are disorientated. Our regular auto pilot shop becomes confusing with items having been moved from their regular place. Moreover, shops are suddenly filled with glittering temptation. This can make the shopping experience more time consuming and costly. We are tempted with objects we would never even dream of putting on our shopping list. Yet there they are, riding on the conveyor belt towards the shop assistant’s barcode scanner. Before we know it they are in our shopping bag heading home with us.
We go to the effort of bringing a huge cut tree into our homes and dress it in with baubles, tinsel and lights. We put a special star on top. There it sits for a few weeks until the needles from the tree shower down making the carpet resemble a forest floor. As an alternative we buy a fake tree made of plastic, and dress it the same as a cut tree. For the rest of the year it lives in the attic or garage gathering dust until the next December arrives.
These habitual midwinter festivities and activities linger from the dawn of history. It was general custom in pagan Europe to decorate spaces with greenery and flowers for festivals. Hutton (1999), informs us that “the abundance of analogous midwinter festivals may indefinitely have helped the choice of the December date, the same instinct which set Natalis Invicti at the winter solstice will have sufficed…..to set the Christian feast there too”.
The month of December is filled with many traditions that we are immersed in. There is more on our minds to distract us. There is pressure of time on us. We are squeezing in unexpected and extra things into our already busy lives. We need to be mindful of stress and pressure and the impact this is having on us. We need to be mindful of the extraordinary. In our mindfulness practice the undercurrent of thoughts, tempting us away from our ‘doing nothing’, may have a Christmas theme. This may manifest as pressure of time, anxiety around money, burden of things to do. The ‘things to do’ list can be extensive: Presents to buy, wrap and give. Cards to buy, write and send. Menus to be planned. Food to be bought and cooked. Families to arrange, people to see, places to go and Christmas parties to attend.
During December our lives are transformed into something temporarily extraordinary. Emotions may be heightened. For many, this is a time of joy, excitement, fun and anticipation leading up to Christmas Day. Gatherings of people, family reunions, parties and reconnections. And if one isn’t taking part in these traditions leading up to Christmas, then it can often be a time of difficulty for people. It can exacerbate existing feelings of loneliness or sadness. There may be some fear present from having to go through this strange time.
It’s a time to be mindful of the extraordinary.
Having just completed an 8 week MBLC for family carers just yesterday, I found this extract which relates to the pressure of time, and dealing with difficulty. It comes from the MBLC manual entitled ‘Dealing with Unwholesome Factors in our Lives’. It resonated with me and inspired this post.
The following suggestions are adapted from “Full Catastrophe Living”, by Jon Kabat Zinn.
“Free yourself from the tyranny of time by reminding yourself that “time is a product of thought” and that our concept of time is bound up in our expectations, agendas and goals. We can let go of “time urgency” by bringing our minds back to the present moment and asking ourselves, “Is it worth dying for?” We can intentionally protect some of our time each day for non-doing, and we can choose to drop into the richness of the present moment by stepping outside of clock time altogether”.
Our weekly challenge is to become aware of the emotions that may be arising during this festive period; to be aware of the pressure of time and how this is affecting us. Moreover, our challenge is to be even more vigilant as we are caught up in the extraordinary. Are we able to remember the importance of our mindfulness and compassion practice? To stop and pause and bring ourselves back to the present moment, with kindness?
Today is the launch of the new Living Mindfully Online Course. This course is designed to help you to develop a daily life mindfulness and kindness practice in a step by step way. There is no better time to start a mindfulness journey. The post Christmas period is also perfect for settling down to read. The new Mindfulness Based Living Course book is available now and has already sold more than 500 copies in less than 2 weeks. It’s also a good time to consider registering on one of the Mindfulness Association’s unique live courses for 2019.
I wish you to be well and happy during this extraordinary time.
HUTTON, R., (1999).The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford University Press.
KABAT-ZINN, J., (2013). Full Catastrophe Living, Wherever You Go There You Are. London: Piaktus