With a little mindfulness, we can direct our energy toward the good amidst the chaos, and change our habitual patterns for the sake of safety this year.
By Natalie Hodgson
In western influenced cultures, the December holiday period is a special time of year for friends and families. It’s the time of flurry and excitement with Xmas jumpers, work events, carols, cooking, relaxing, gifting and spending time with friends and family. But this year things have changed.
We can all agree that nothing about this year is like we expected but ‘it is what it is’. So instead of attempting to change the reality, surely a task that would prove futile, perhaps we should focus on adapting how we respond as individuals and as a community.
This holiday is going to look quite different for many of us. We could respond in complaint, pity, or denial and place more people in danger or we could accept the times and enjoy in more simple pleasures. We could have a quieter celebration, knowing that this situation is only temporary. From the words of Buddha ‘Suffering is wishing things were other than they are’.
With a little mindfulness, we can direct our energy toward the good amidst the chaos. Taking our skills from our practices and putting them into our daily lives. Can this season be a practice of acceptance, of settling for what is, of patience and of gratitude?
So here is our mindfulness challenge if you so choose to partake.
1) Count Your Blessings
The grateful exercise has been around a while now. If you have a gratitude practise you may skip to step 3. If you haven’t then it’s like a shopping list but instead of what you want, list what you have that makes you feel happy. It’s awkward at the beginning but the list gets easier each time. Try keeping a journal, note pad or just count one on each finger before bed or when you wake up.
It’s fine to be thankful for family, house, and meals, but what about the more personal things? That your child did their homework on time, without a fight? That your favourite TV shows just returned? That your partner cooked dinner when it wasn’t their turn? A warm cup of tea in silence. It has more meaning and power if it’s interesting.
2) Soaking in the tub of thanks
So, after you have made a list of things you are grateful for, or just had a moment of reflection, try to really feel them. The warmth, emotions, memories, of them, let it soak into you like epsom salts in a hot bath.
Mark Lewis’ research shows that the longer something is held in awareness and emotionally stimulating, the more ‘neurons that fire and thus wire together’, and the stronger the trace in the memory. Focus on it and give it lots of space. So, each time we feel grateful we are making micro-shifts in your brain, leaving the old habits behind and creating positive, better ones.
3) Walk the Talk
Just telling yourself you’re going to be grateful isn’t the same thing as practicing gratitude. The people at the Greater Good Science Center tell us that gratitude makes people about 25% happier, and it helps them sleep better. So, it’s not mere correlation — practicing gratitude can make you happier!
I don’t mean the polite ‘ thank yous’ in your everyday conversation but the heart felt expressive moments. When something is said or done genuinely in appreciation there are profound consequences for both the receiver and the giver.
So, try it. If we are not able to physically be with our loved ones this Christmas then make them feel how much they mean to you. Instead of just wishing them a quick festive two-minute cheer, try writing a letter of how much you really appreciate them. Take your time and write this beforehand. Make it different, maybe longer than your usual, deeply considering what they have done for you this year. Then surprise them by sharing it on Christmas day. Maybe start with ‘ I really appreciate you because …’
4) Remember to be gentle with yourself
So, you ate too many mince pies, coupled with a glass of whisky or wine since the 24th December? It happens. It’s been a tough 2020, its that time of year and overindulging helps, albeit temporarily.
There are many times I’ve simply written in my journal, “Tomorrow will be better” or “Tomorrow I’ll be better.” It makes me grateful for another day and for second chances. Not everyone has these. Sometimes, it’s really easy and other days really hard. On those days, practicing gratitude may feel overwhelming, or even superficial. But that’s when we need it most. I like to re-read previous gratitude pages to remind myself and some days I just draw pictures of my gratitude.
Nothing will be gained by scolding ourselves. We are experts at it. Research is quite clear that self-compassion is the only way to go if you are looking to change behaviour.
Practicing gratitude will open us our minds and hearts to the abundant world out there which is just waiting for us to notice and appreciate it, even in challenging times. We can’t control the world, but we can control how we choose to perceive it.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone.