What would a conscious Christmas look like for you? When we are surrounded by the festive season’s commercialism, excessive consumption and non-stop busyness it can be hard to stay connected and present. December flies by and suddenly we are starting a brand New Year with a negative bank balance, a severe a lack of sleep and a few extra pounds. Could practicing presence help us to have a more rich and meaningful Christmas? Katie Churchman explores ways to cultivate a more mindful and conscious Christmas and says goodbye to the pressure and the panic that so often follows the festivities.
From a young age I’ve sat in my moral high chair declaring that Christmas is not about the presents: it’s about the ‘people.’ People who probably buy me presents. But people none the less.
Yet as I stand amidst the carnage that constitutes Christmas shopping- on Oxford Street- on Black Friday- I am not feeling so much love for the people. In fact, I push past the people because they are walking too slowly and blocking my way. I couldn’t have cared less about communicating ‘consciously’ with the crowd because they were exasperating every inch of my Christmas cheer.
‘Tis the season to be jolly…yet why does it fill me with dread and melancholy?
I started this article as soon as I got back to my office, fuelled by my very real frustrations of the Christmas chaos I had just experienced. Yet on that very same day a terrorist scare suddenly spread right across the heart of London’s shopping district shocking me with a sharp dose of reality. The Christmas crowds that I so crudely mocked were now streaming out of the side streets, some even dropping bags in a bid to breakaway faster. Looking down from the comfort- and confusion- of a 2nd floor office now in emergency lockdown, I sensed the panic of the people below and feared for the lives of my fellow Londoners. Searching the internet for answers we found only delay and dumbstruck drama, just as baffled as the bodies below. However, out of all the unknowables came a strong sense of comradery and community, which reached beyond the usual boundaries of friends and family and out on to the streets packed full of strangers. Caught off-guard by crisis, I abruptly stopped what I was doing, thinking and feeling and reconnected with my fellow human beings.
Thankfully, the Black Friday terror scare turned out to be a false alarm and within an hour London was back to business as usual. As my panic dissolved, so did my presence and the human beings around me returned to being just bodies in a crowd. I’m sure lots of life lessons were lost as a slightly embarrassed London decidedly forgot the whole affair. However, I haven’t forgotten my reaction to the experience which has taught me a lot about the power of presence. Not only has it made me re-think the focus of this article, it has also resulted in a revision of my ‘people over presents’ slogan: this year I don’t just want to be surrounded by the people I love, I also want to be fully present with these people so that I can truly appreciate and treasure the time spent with them. Perhaps Thích Nhất Hạnh- Buddhist monk and global activist- was on to something when he declared, “the most precious gift we can offer other is our presence.” It takes conscious effort, but when we become present with where we are, who we are with and what we are feeling, we start to discover joyful little moments we would have completely missed had we been thinking about past events or rushing to get somewhere in the future.
So here are some ‘4D’ thoughts for creating a more conscious Christmas with yourself, your loved ones and the world around you. When you offer your presence you will still experience the joy of giving, just without the stress of shopping, wrapping and shipping!
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
– Brené Brown
ME – Gifts to self
When we are rushing around the shops or frantically searching online for the perfect present, I wonder how many of us think about giving a gift to ourselves. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean buying an extra jumper or a bottle of perfume (although by all means go for it!) It could simply mean giving yourself the gift of space and self-compassion. The space to step out of the craziness for a moment and the self-compassion to consider what really matters to you. Gifts that cost nothing but might mean everything, perhaps creating a richer and more meaningful Christmas than ever before.
When we stuff our diaries like Christmas turkeys we might find ourselves saying “I’m busy”more than “Merry Christmas!” It can feel like there is no time for anything or anyone in the very season we are supposed to celebrating love, connection and joy. And when there are more mouths to feed and people to please it’s all too easy to side-step self-care in favour of ‘giving to others’. By all means give to others- to family, neighbours, your best friend’s dog- but don’t forget to give to yourself. Give yourself the gift of space this Christmas, perhaps by soaking in a bath, going to a yoga class or running around the block. Schedule in some me-time so that you can properly check in with yourself and find out how you are feeling in mind, body and heart. It might seem selfish but self-care will actually allow you to give more of yourself to others: if you can be present with where you are and with what you’re feeling then you will be able to share the gift of presence with the people around you. While you are rushing around trying to make sure that everybody else is having a happy Christmas, don’t forget to stop and check if there’s happiness within.
“In an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow.”
– Pico Iyer
You could also give yourself the gift of self-compassion this Christmas. Our internal narrative can be very critical, comparing and contrasting our efforts with the world around us and constantly telling ourselves we haven’t done enough. The pressure to create the perfect Christmas may further heighten this. Excessive preparation, planning and micro managing may cause you to feel absent at the very celebration you’ve been so keen to create.
So this year, free yourself from the need to be perfect by giving yourself the gift of self-compassion. If you haven’t bought the right present, or the roast is slightly over done, offer yourself some kind words, as if talking to a friend. Because who really cares if the roasties are a little toasted! Rather than trying to be ‘super-human’ this Christmas why not focus on simply being human. Being present and being enough. Embrace all of your hilarious habits- whether that’s rubbish wrapping, crappy cooking or horrendous handwriting- and bring those and that smile to the Christmas table! When we free ourselves from the need to be perfect we give ourselves the space to play in the present moment. So this Christmas, if you start feeling overwhelmed, talk to yourself as you would to a really good friend who you love and fill your festivities with a sense of enough.
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
– John Steinbeck
YOU – Gifts to others
What gifts can we give to the key relationships in our lives? Those people we love the most? Again, as we rush around trying to do everything and see everyone before the big day- or even on the big day itself- too many of us are busy doing and not being. We busy ourselves buying the perfect presents but we forget to give the greatest gift of all: our presence. Presence doesn’t need buying or wrapping; it simply requires your time and energy. So here are two ways to offer ‘Christmas presence’ to the people you love most.
Christmas can be a noisy time of year. Excited children, television blaring and the shouts of cooking instructions coming from kitchen all contribute to the seasonal soundtrack that might have you screaming “I can’t hear myself think!” Even if you tend to have a quieter Christmas, mindless TV watching or constant phone checking can also contribute to a sense of disengagement. With all the noise, distraction and disconnect it can be hard to simply listen to the people we love most.
One of my close friends was told by her niece that she was her favourite Auntie. Quite surprised by this revelation (because she’s convinced that she’s the ‘crap Aunt’) she asked her niece why: “because you always listen.” Listening is such an undervalued gift and yet it is something we can all give. So rather than simply going to the superficial level of listening- when we are distracted by something else- or the conversational level of listening- when we are half listening but mainly preparing for our next line- how about trying active or even deep listening this Christmas. Active listening is staying fully present with the person opposite you and really hearing everything they say. Rather than thinking about how their story relates back to you- and jumping in before they’ve barely begun- you stay with their story and respond as it unfolds. Deep listening happens when we start to tune into the spaces between the words, their body language, tone and mood. In these deeper levels of listening we find precious moments of play, story and even silliness that could have easily been missed in our determination to create a textbook Christmas. These are the moments that make Christmas unique and special to us because by simply offering our full attention and presence we may well be gifted with connection and love in return.
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love they will bloom like flowers.”
– Thích Nhat Hạnh
If you’re a Christmas card writer – the never-ending Christmas card list can very easily become another Christmas chore. Suddenly you’re annoyed that your new neighbour has dropped around a card because that means that you now have to send them one too! It feels like an eye-for-an-eye race against the Christmas countdown clock to get every card sent out, to everyone who has ever sent you one too.
It’s so easy to scribble out 100 Christmas cards with the standard sayings and a slightly messy signature. When we send and receive so many cards all saying the same thing, it’s hard to feel any connection to the words. So this year why not send someone a thoughtful, heartfelt card of appreciation. Perhaps to a friend you weren’t able to meet up with or a family member you forgot to buy a present. Show them your love and presence with the gift of words. It may not be as efficient as typing out an e-mail, but it will mean so much more because of the conscious energy, effort and time you took to tell them that you care.
WE – Gifts to the world
And finally out into the wider world. We have discussed how we can give the gift of presence to ourselves and those we love the most. But how can we share this gift with our wider network of friends and family and even out into the world of strangers?
Be in the room
Give the gift of being in the room this Christmas by putting aside your mobile phone for a few hours. Constant distraction from our digital devices is making present attention and focus even more challenging. Smart Phone addiction now has a clinical name: ‘nomophobia’ (no-mobile-phobia), or the fear of being without a mobile phone. And you might be surprised to hear that you too are suffering from this addiction. Do you wake up needing to check your phone? If you answered yes then you’re not alone. According to a study conducted by the Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, they found that 61% of people check their phones 5 minutes after waking up. This number goes up to 88% for those who check their phones within 30 minutes, and 96% within an hour. Now you may not be surprised or even concerned by these statistics because Smartphones help us to navigate and organise our daily lives, interwoven into almost every aspect of our existence. But how might it be affecting your relationships and interactions at Christmas? Do you really need to be checking Whatsapp when you are catching up with a friend over Christmas drinks?
What if you resisted the temptation of checking your messages, or the momentary disturbance of feeling a buzz in your pocket, by leaving your phone in a bag or in another room? Out of sight and out and mind, so that you can be fully present with where you are and who you are with. They – and you -will feel the difference!
Random acts of kindness
When family, friends and colleagues completely fill the diary for December it’s hard to see beyond your noteworthy network. Yet if human connection is what matters most to us at Christmas, why does it have to be almost exclusively reserved for our nearest and dearest?
The idea of ‘six degrees of separation’- a theory that suggests that you are only ever 6 introductions away from everybody else on the planet- makes the ‘small world’ proverb seem plausible. And according to new research by Facebook that figure shrinks to 3.57 if we are active on the Internet.
Random acts of kindness can help connect us to this world wide web of people and share the gift of presence with our global tribe. And when we help others we do in fact help ourselves. When we hold the door for a stranger or help someone carry their bags up the stairs we experience a release of oxytocin, a happiness hormone associated with trust and bonding (this is why giving really does feel good!) Better still, this act will also create a positive impact in the world around you, because if someone sees your random act of kindness they will also experience a release of oxytocin. So a stranger feels helped, you feel happy and a passer-by feels a lot more love for humanity. Three unexpected doses of happy from one simple act of generosity.
“No one has ever become poor from giving.”
– Anne Frank
So what random acts of kindness could you do over this festive period? It could be as simple as offering a few words of gratitude to a tired shop assistant. Or offering your seat on the bus to an exhausted mother. Random acts of kindness are a wonderful way of sharing our presence with the world around us. A present to the world and a present to ourselves.
So why not Consciously Create the Christmas you Choose this year…
Predicable presents, same songs and routine rituals can all distract us from the present moment. But when you stop pre-planning the future and start playing in the present moment you may discover the present is where life’s lovely little details live: you just have to stop and look.
Wishing you a very curious Christmas and a conscious New Year!