A bite-size Christmas

The deepening of the season offers us a chance to turn towards ourselves and our lives and perhaps reflect over the highs and lows, the gains and losses, the joys, and the sorrows that the year has held for us. As we approach the year end, our focus may turn towards what really matters to us, to the life lessons we have learned during the past year. It is strange in so many ways that we are continuously bombarded with advertising and pressure to consume, when it is rarely material things that take precedence at Christmas. Gifts, of course, are lovely to give and receive, as is the care and intention behind them, but it is generally how we are feeling about life and our relationships with ourselves and others that can enhance or diminish the holiday season. People can feel under pressure from many different angles at Christmas so my own practice this year is to attempt to manage things mindfully, in bite-sized little chunks.  

The wheel of life is always rolling and changing, as are we, and this fills me with great gratitude and curiosity. Knowing that things are in constant flux and change can spark hope and a gentle determination to make the most of each moment and to look for the good. Sometimes we can tend to either laud or dismiss whole years, days, or experiences by labelling them as “good” or “bad”.  See if you can notice yourself making broad ‘blanket’ statements like “I’m having a bad day” and take a pause. Maybe we are simply feeling bad in that moment, and it will pass. This year may have been at times, a very difficult one but we must remind ourselves that it was not difficult in its entirety.  Where there have been losses, there may also have been great privilege, goodness and kindness.  

Compassion-based mindfulness encourages leaning into our emotions little by little. Emotions come and go. Allowing ourselves to feel our feelings is crucial to healing. Learning to recognise and experience emotions as they arise frees us up and allows us to move through them gently, so they don’t get stuck. It is literally the moment-by-moment awareness that mindfulness fosters in us that can help us move kindly through what may feel like all-encompassing states of being, like grief and allow us to take joy again in the simple and special moments of our lives.  

To help manage our expectations and emotions we can also approach the Christmas season in bite-size pieces, carefully, step by step. We can plan a mindful Christmas and, if there are empty spaces at our tables this year, we can be extra kind to ourselves and more consciously manage our expectations of ourselves and others. Can we find ways of honouring our absent loved ones? It may not be a wholly wonderful time but there will be moments of goodness, gratitude and joy and we can learn to savour these as we build new memories and traditions.  

What supports or plans can you put in place for yourself now in the run up to Christmas? Christmas time is full of sensory experiences, see if you can notice what brings you joy through your senses and let yourself consciously savour and soak in these delights, perhaps watching the sparkle and twinkle of lights or the glow of a candle flickering. What scents or smells do you love at Christmas? Tune in to your sense of touch, perhaps the feeling of a soft blanket or socks warming you on cosy evenings by the fire. Enjoy the multitude of flavours and tastes associated with Christmas, walks in nature, the company of good friends and family members, the lovely songs and sounds of the season. Plan small and cosy get-togethers. Do what feels right and choose simple, nourishing little rituals and activities to bolster you and create meaning at this time of the year. 

I find huge meaning, compassion, and kinship in my work, and in the wonder of groups. Both the process of guiding mindfulness sessions and the community of people I meet cultivates humility in me and has a calming, grounding effect. In January 2023, I will be guiding another free three-week series of wellbeing workshops, this time for family carers. Being a family carer is part of my own story and developing this programme is my own small way of honouring the empty spaces at our Christmas tables this year. Always present in our hearts.

Drop-in compassion-based mindfulness sessions at Myross Wood, Leap (CECAS.ie) on Tuesday mornings from 10am-11am. €10. All welcome.

Re-connect and Re-engage free mindfulness-based wellbeing programme for family carers at CECAS begin in January 2023. A chance to slow down and deepen our connection to ourselves, nature and community. Please get in touch for more details. www.mindhaven.ie Phone: 087 2700572 email: susanoreganmindfulness@gmail.com or facebook page (Mindhaven) 

Susan O Regan

Susan O'Regan teaches mindfulness and self-compassion courses and workshops in West Cork.

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