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Mindfulness for Change, Part 7 (Holiday Edition)

The holidays are an especially hard time to stay in the present for most people. Piles of last minute work before vacations, we have to get the holiday cards out (what would our friends think if we didn't?), the last minutes gifts and all those ads that show us how happy we should be.

Never mind that for many people, the holidays are also a time of stress or melancholy, of thinking of loved ones who are no longer with us; a time that's different for us from what the t.v. shows us.

So for this week's writing, I'd like to suggest 4 tips to stay mindful during the holiday season and hopefully bring more peace and enjoyment than you might otherwise experience.

Doing our daily mindful practice helps manage feelings of being overwhelmed and helps us shift into a place of being more clear and awake, yet enabling us to remain relaxed and at ease. Remember, mindfulness doesn't necessarily mean being chilled out, but is about being aware and present in the current moment.

1: Take 5 minutes to practice mindful breathing.

  • Take a seat that's comfortable in a quiet space.
  • Place your feet on the floor, resting your hands in your lap or alongside your body.
  • Notice your body for a minute, notice any tingling, any warmth, or any other sensations.
  • Now, take slow deep breaths, breathing in...and out...in...and out.... Continue with this pattern for two or three minutes.
  • Then notice the air flowing into and out of your body as you breathe
  • And notice whatever thoughts or feelings that pass through your mind. But, just notice them. Don't judge them or try to alter them.
  • If you like, you can focus on a holiday related memory, scene or sensation while you breathe.

2: I remember one old sitcom in the '70s, set in an office, where one character grumbles "yeah, yeah, happy whatever..." as they trudge past a coworker greeting them with holiday wishes.

When you greet a loved one, or coworker, take time to really notice them when they say, "Happy Holidays" or "Happy New Year" to you. Use the mindfulness skills you've been practicing to be in the moment.

When you greet someone, take time to actually pause and look them in the eyes. Genuinely ask them how they are, or about their family. Then listen. Don't say anything. Take time to really hear them.

So often we don't take time to really notice those we spend time with. Like that character in the sitcom, we just get through our day without being mindful of those around us. Usually this leaves us, and them, feeling isolated when we could have all these wonderful connections by being present.

3: "The Striving Mind" can tell us how the holidays should be. How many decorations we should put up, how many gifts (and which ones) we should buy, how joyous we should be while mopping the floor and welcoming in-laws into our homes. All those ads I mention create the images of holiday bliss that are an illusion for so many of us.

As best as you can, use mindful practice to accept the current moment as it is.

Frustration that a storm derailed your plans, or being disappointed by a ruined meal or angry that you got another ugly sweater as a gift from your uncle - these experiences are really all just thoughts.

Thoughts can be accepted and let go.

Don't wrestle with them. Don't spend your energy on them. Just come back to your breathing.

Take some deep, slow calming breaths. Be in the present moment.

4. Take time to connect to yourself. If you find that you need to take some time away from family, or holiday festivities, then okay, take some time. If this is the time of year that you enjoy and that energizes you, then notice that. Whatever they are, notice your own needs. Keep on with your exercise and nutritional plans.

And, above all, compassionately give yourself the best wishes for the Holidays and New Year!

Dave Marks, LCPC