Mindful Holidays

As the Christmas season approaches, many of us have our regular routines modified by adding in extra visiting time, shopping, baking, decorating, and all the hot chocolate drinking. As someone who values this special time of year but also gets overwhelmed by any “change” in general, I’ve put my mindfulness practice to use around the holidays and would like to share with you what I’ve learned so far.

As of today, I’m almost a decade into researching and practicing mindfulness. Over time, my approach has evolved to become rooted in practicality and purpose. The practical bit came from being a busy mom of two, having a husband with three jobs, a dog, and all the other “things”that come with life. The purpose part of my mindfulness practice came from a sincere longing to enjoy the experiences of my life, instead of living (as Idid for years) in the past or the future. Since so many special things can happen over the holiday, I thought it would be useful to share some specific tips to infuse these memorable days with mindfulness.

Holiday Planning…but don’t I have to stay in the moment?

When I first started studying mindfulness, I thought, this is going to be exhausting (yes, I was quite the skeptic). I can’t be in the moment all the time! I have to plan lunches for my kids, I have to book doctors’ appointments and sweep the floor and…and…and. I thought that mindfulness meant that I wasn’t allowed to be anything but present. It’s true…but not in the way you may think it is (like I did). Mindfulness encourages us to be fully present, train our brains to intentionally focus, which actually brings clarity to our planning and future events. You can get your Christmas shopping list completed in less time without distracting thoughts of money woes or worrying about finding a parking spot at the mall. It’s clear. It’s productive. It’s in the moment, even though you are planning ahead.

You are also allowed (the mindfulness police have told me) to daydream and get excited about the holiday things you like. Whether your idea of holiday magic is being in a bath with a pine tree-smelling bath bomb or a big, fancy office party, it’s ok. It is totally mindful to indulge in future thoughts and imaginary sensations (smell that pine, feel those bubbles) to enhance your holiday experience before it actually happens.

Calm mind, fun time?

Equanimity is an aspect of mindfulness that encourages us to be less emotionally tugged one way or the other by our outer experiences. The point is not to be disconnected but to create space between action and re-action. For example, say your holiday cookies get burned. Instead of reacting by slamming the oven door closed, thinking that Christmas is ruined because you now can’t bring your homemade cookies to your neighbour’s party and you are a total failure, with equanimity, the inner dialogue is more like: Oh. Cookies burned.What do I feel like doing? Bake more, or buy some. Nice right? Much more reasonable. But… on my personal quest to be an über good mindfulness student, I (unfortunately) took equanimity so far that people had to poke me to make sureI was actually still alive (not really, but you get the point).Non-reactions to everything actually made me unconsciously skip the giddy feelings of watching the Christmas tree light up for the first time and expressing the big “THANK YOUs!” after receiving a surprise gift. I lost out on a lot of fun, and I’m sure I was not that pleasant to hang out with either. I’m still working on it, but I can offer this advice to you from my experience thus far. Meet the moments with openness. Allow feelings to be big and bold, moving through them with acceptance of whatever they are. Equanimity doesn’t mean lose enjoyment. 

But…it is supposed to be PERFECT.

I remember one holiday season in my late teen years, I went through almost the entire holiday season not being mindfully present at all. And let me tell you – it wasn’t very good. I participated in all the activities that I usually did around Christmas but none of them felt right. I expected family members to be in the mood to do what I wanted to do. “Really??! No one will do a puzzle with me?” Others expected me to smile and pose for our traditional family shots, but I had gained about 20 pounds over the course of the year and felt completely uncomfortable. I didn’t want any photos taken of me and was hiding every chance I got. I expected the weather to bring fluffy white snow and instead it was icy, dry, and cold. The expectations of myself and others led me to be on a constant roller-coaster of emotion – never taking the time to engage my senses, observe, or even listen. Practicing mindfulness around the holidays can encourage a sense of peace and acceptance by becoming aware of expectations and not letting them run the show.

The overall message in all of these little mindfulness tips is that things are going to happen. Some the way you want, some not. With intentional focus on the present, without judgement and expectation and with a sprinkle of optimism, I believe you will be just fine. Have a cookie, enjoy whatever weather comes, and take care of your mind as well as those around you. Happy Holidays!

Written by Tamara Hackett

Tamara Hackett is the author/illustrator of two best selling children’s books, (Mindful ABCs and Mindful 1,2,3) and founder of Sweet Clover Studios, a creative boutique of inspired products for mindful living. For more of her work please visit www.tamarahackett.com or www.sweetlcloverstudios.com