For many of us, this season of festive gatherings are accompanied by mounds of cheese, cookies and cocktails, gift exchanges, hope and disappointment. December is the most challenging (and therefore most perfect) month to start or recommit to the practice of mindfulness. Here are a few gentle suggestions.
Love your relatives.
In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle writes, “The relationship with your parents is not only the primordial relationship that sets the tone for all subsequent relationships, it is also a good test for your degree of Presence. The more shared past there is in a relationship, the more present you need to be. Otherwise, you will be forced to relive the past again and again.”
People who are close to us, especially people we have known our whole lives, have that rare ability to drive us extra crazy. Getting along with family during the holiday season may not be easy. Every family is dysfunctional in its own way. Regardless, may we be grateful for our families and the love, community and security they provide. And the opportunity to practice! As Ram Dass said, “If you think you are so enlightened, go spend a week with your parents.”
Get into the spirit with conscious gift giving.
Gifts from the heart are more cherished than those in shrink-wrap. Consider making presents for friends and family this year. Write poems, stories or letters. Create watercolors or drawings, candles, magnets or bookmarks. Not artistic? Make a mix CD, bake bread, pot a plant. Stretch your imagination and boycott prepackaged material goods this year.
Another great way to give is by volunteering your time or donating money to a charitable organization in your community. For the past several years, I have donated a few hundred dollars in lieu of store-bought gifts. There are tons of wonderful nonprofit organizations, such as Kiva.org, which provides microloans to entrepreneurs in developing countries.
Instead of buying me gifts, I ask friends and family to donate too. Nothing to unwrap, but still a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. The feeling of lovingkindness, or metta. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown?
Eat, drink and be merry.
Or, should we deprive ourselves and strive for self-control and discipline? Naturally, “the middle way” of moderation takes care of this conundrum. Practice mindful eating, expressing gratitude for the food. Take small bites and chew slowly. Notice the unique taste, smell and texture of everything you eat. Eat small amounts throughout the day rather than three large meals. Take long strolls in the fresh air and practice yoga schmoga daily.
Rules are meant to be broken.
Healthy habits are important, but it’s equally as essential to know when to break the rules. To know that when we break our own rules, it’s okay. Why beat oneself up, internally or externally? If I find that I am consistently breaking a rule, rather than feeling guilty and pathetic, maybe that rule needs to be rewritten. This may sound like a cop-out, but for me it’s the difference between going to extremes and successfully balancing in a state of moderation.
For example, if a sweet tooth wants to lose weight, she may decide to eliminate all refined sugars from her diet. But then she is salivating at the thought of a cookie and letting sugary daydreams get in the way of life. Instead, she could consider replacing the sugar with a sweet treat with honey or fructose, or allow for one sugary dessert per week. Otherwise, after weeks on end without sweets, she will break down and eat a whole cheesecake in one sitting. Not ideal. Insert any “addiction” or craving in the place of sugar.
The bottom line: it’s perfectly fine to indulge — in moderation.
With greater mindfulness throughout the holiday season, we can get along better with our relatives, be compassionate, conscious consumers, avoid gaining weight from eating poorly — yet all the while letting go of goals and expectations in order to experience this holy moment.