Gerry Raftery: "I believe the mindfulness can also help us to manage the many stresses and strains associated with the festive season"
OVER the past few years I have practised mindfulness and meditation and I have delivered courses in mindfulness to hundreds of people.
Recently I have been exploring how mindfulness can help us to have a better and more enjoyable experience of Christmas and New Year. I believe that mindfulness can also help us to manage the many stresses and strains associated with the festive season.
One of the key recommendations of mindfulness is that we live in the present moment - that we learn to be in the now! Christmas is full of nostalgia and memories so we are often drawn back into the Christmases of the past. Like Dickens we meet “the ghosts of Christmas past!” These “ghosts” may not always be happy ones.
Sometimes past Christmas experiences can make it difficult for us to see this Christmas as a new and fresh experience. We see this Christmas through the lens of childhood or we associate it with good and bad Christmas experiences in our lives.
Some people have to manage very difficult and painful memories at Christmas and New Year. Somehow or other at Christmas grief and loss are much sharper, loneliness is much deeper and poverty is more distressful. But Christmas can be a time of acceptance of the past, if we let go of the past we are freer to live in the present moment.
Christmas and New Year is a time to be experienced moment by moment as it happens. We accept the good and the bad. We try to manage them both as best we can. If the “memory triggers” bring us into sad or lonely places stay there just for a short while and then move on to happier and more joyful experiences.
Christmas has many wonderful traditions. We can either see them as chores and duties, or we can see them as opportunities for more kindness and dare I say it, love, in our lives. Each Christmas event can be special if we approach it in a positive spirit and give it time.
A great feature of Christmas is the giving and receiving of gifts. The gift can be a sign of love and appreciation for others. And when we receive a gift we too feel that love and appreciation ourselves.
In mindfulness we speak about kindness. Many of us need to show more of this kindness towards ourselves. One way to do this at Christmas is to buy yourself a gift. This might seem strange. However, it means that you give some thought to your own desires and needs. Then you spend some money on yourself. Why not try it this Christmas and see how it feels.
Gratitude is another healthy and positive part of mindfulness. We have many opportunities to practice gratitude at Christmas and the end of the year. Why not try an end of year gratitude exercise. On New Year’s Eve take some quiet time to look back over the year. What were the highlights of the year? What are the people, places and things for which you feel most grateful at the end of 2016? Think about them, write down 10 of them and savour your sense of gratitude. Hopefully, this will give you a positive sense at the end of the old year and greater confidence and hope as you begin 2017.
Many of the stresses associated with this time of year are of our own making. For example we don’t allow enough time for queues at car parks or in shopping centres. Everybody is in a hurry. Remember shopping is going to take as long as it takes. You’re just going to have to go along with the flow of it. Enjoy it as best you can.
Another stress at Christmas holiday time comes from eating and drinking too much. There is so much food around that we can gorge ourselves and begin to feel unwell, we get that “stuffed” feeling.
One of the mindfulness exercises we tried recently was eating a Malteser mindfully. Why not try it? Just take it from its packet, examine it slowly, place it in your mouth and just allow it to melt. Through a simple experience of mindful eating we can savour our food and we could even lose weight!
Then there is the issue of drinking too much. It can be a very serious issue at Christmas. And the aftermath of the alcohol fuelled Christmas row can carry through well into the New Year. Too much alcohol leads to mindless behaviour. Mindfulness can have the opposite effect. Enjoy alcohol as a celebration, not as a path to mindlessness.
The great thing about mindfulness is that it makes us aware of what is happening in our lives. It is good if that awareness is deeper at Christmas and New Year as there is so much happening. I hope that your mindful awareness this year will give you a truly Happy Mindful 2017.
Gerry Raftery can be contacted on 087-9841821 or at firstname.lastname@example.org