The holiday season is nearly upon us; it is the perfect opportunity to connect with the feelings of peace and goodwill to all that embody the spirit of the festivities.
And yet for many of us this time of year can bring its own stresses and worries, not only interfering with our enjoyment of the holidays, but subtly eroding the positivity that’s supposed to be at the heart of the yuletide message.
Separation from families, money concerns or loneliness can contribute to feelings of lowness and anxiety. Even the ordinary head-long rush to get everything done, keep the kids happy, buy gifts and organize that big Christmas meal may leave little time for quiet time, reflection or peaceful celebration.
But there are some simple, enjoyable meditations with a pencil that we can do to give us a little breathing space and help us truly embrace this time of light. So whether you celebrate Hanukkah, the pagan Yule or Christmas itself, here are a couple mindful drawing exercises to help cultivate more inner peace and goodwill this holiday:
Finding a Little Inner Peace
This simple mindful drawing exercise focuses on the breath, and helps us calm our overactive brains, relaxing into a quieter, more peaceful head space.
Close your eyes and sit quietly with a pencil in your hand and a pad of paper on your lap.
Tune in to the feeling of holding the pencil.
What does it feel like?
Where does it press against your knuckles of finger tips?
Can you feel the paper beneath your hand?
Bring your attention to your breath.
See if you can follow a breath all the way in, noticing how the belly, ribs and chest moves to allow the air into your body. And then follow a breath all the way out, again noticing how the body adjusts to the air flowing out. Follow your breath like this for 10 breaths.
Don’t worry if you get distracted and your mind wanders off. When you notice this is what’s happened. Just bring your attention back to the breath coming in and out.
Still sitting with your eyes closed, start to move your pencil in time with your breath. Move it on the in-breath, move it on the out-breath, so that it feels almost as if the breath is moving the pencil. Relax your hand, arm and shoulder as much as you can, and just go with the feeling that the breath is moving the pencil. Keep the pencil on the paper—don’t take it off—just move it in time with the in-and-out of your breathing.
There are no right or wrong ways to do this—the marks people make with this meditation vary from tiny to huge, from fluid and circular to jagged and spiky—so just move your hand in what ever way feels natural to you.
Keep your attention on your breath and on the feeling of the hand holding the pencil and moving. You can also try this with your non-dominant hand. If you do, make switching the pencil over to your other hand a slow and mindful movement.
Try setting an alarm for five or 10 minutes—or longer if you need it. The focus and concentration of this exercise, and its emphasis on the physical sensations of breathing and drawing will help calm your mind and bring a greater sense of inner quiet and peace.
And Goodwill to All
This mindful drawing exercise invites us to use colour and connect with the heart. We can use it to develop more feelings of warmth, openness and kindness towards ourselves, but also extend that out to our friends, family, or indeed anyone else in the world that might need a little goodwill.
For this drawing meditation you’ll need lots of brightly coloured crayons, pencils, pens or even paints. Lay them all out on a piece of paper in front of you before you start.
Sit quietly in front of your colours, just looking at them, whilst connecting again with the breath. As you did in the last exercise, follow the breath all the way in and all the way out, paying close attention to the way the breath moves through the body. As you do this keep some attention on the sensations in the hands too.
Close your eyes and continue to breathe, focusing on the sensations of the breath in the middle of the chest, around your heart centre. Allow yourself to sink down into your chest and notice what feelings are there. Place your hand gently on this area, and allow yourself to feel the soothing warmth of your palm. This stage of the mediation is something we an do at any moment we’re feeling a bit stressed, wobbly or low over the holidays.
Continue to hold your hand on your chest and breathe in the warmth of your palm, but now open your eyes and look at the colours before you again. Which colour are you drawn to? Which one seems to go with the soothing warmth of your hand on your chest? Which one makes you feel happy or peaceful?
Choose this colour, and keeping that sense of connection with your heart centre, start to move the pencil, crayon, pen or brush in time with your breath.
After a little while, start to doodle. Just make the shapes and patterns that make you feel good. Keep checking in with the feelings in your chest, and occasionally pause to put your hand on your chest and feel that warmth.
Wish yourself well, by consciously offering any feelings of warmth, well-being, openness, happiness or positivity that arise to yourself. You could try writing your name as you do this.
You can also offer the positivity and goodwill to those you love, those who might be alone or unhappy over the holidays, those who are in war-zones or refugee camps, or are homeless—or to any other individuals or groups you feel you’d like to.
Keep a mindful connection to your chest and your breath as much as possible, so that the colours you use, and the goodwill you are cultivating is really coming from the heart.
If you’re someone of faith, you could make this meditation part of your prayers for the festive season.
Author: Wendy Ann Greenhalgh
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Art journal page done using good-will drawing mediation. Copyright: Wendy Ann Greenhalgh 2015