Relax: Celebrating the Holidays with Mindfulness

By Pat Jurgens 

          Whatever your cultural or religious tradition, the holiday season will be more enjoyable if you cultivate mindfulness. A powerful Eastern practice founded in Buddhism, mindfulness meditation has attracted thousands in the West who seek peace amidst the complexity of modern living. Many of us meditate every day, wanting to calm our minds and hearts. Modern applications have been developed in psychotherapy, management training, dispute resolution, law enforcement and health care.  Mindfulness meditation can relieve anxiety, depression, stress, anger and other negative emotions.

          What is this magic? And how can it prepare us to meet the ups and downs of the holiday season? Essentially the practice of mindfulness is focused breathing and the awareness of your breath.  Breathe in, breathe out…in, out.  It is simple, but not always easy. Thoughts may race around, worries collect, distracting feelings accumulate and ruminations pull us. Whenever this happens, we bring our mind back to the present moment.

          Mindfulness meditation can be practiced sitting, lying down or walking. As you breathe in and out, you notice the rise and fall of your own chest, holiday music in the next room, the cry of gulls out the window or a fog horn in the distance. You feel your stomach relax, watch your emotions dissipate and see problems past and future letting go.  You are as you are; things are how they are.  At this moment everything is all right.

          Another approach is cultivating mindfulness in daily life. Stress during the holidays is almost inescapable. There are grown children arriving from out of town, grandchildren to buy presents for, parties to host or attend with friends, activities to plan, a house to clean, meals to prepare and special foods to bake. You can probably name a dozen to-do’s in one breath.

          Practicing mindfulness requires you to take time to be alone and centered in the midst of activity around you.

          Try this:

        Set your alarm half an hour early and sit quietly before others arise in the morning.  Or retire to your bedroom earlier than usual and take time to go inward.  Make this a priority, part of your daily schedule.

        Do a quiet activity with mindfulness. Knit, crochet, quilt, whittle or even cook. Breathe in, breathe out… Put your mind at rest, and when it wanders, bring it gently back to the task at hand.

        Do a physical exercise with mindfulness. Swimming laps is repetitive and can be very meditational; so can the treadmill or cross trainer. And, of course, yoga is the essence of meditation, using the breath with each asana (pose). 

          The holidays are full of things to do, places to go and people to see. Make it your intention this holiday season to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. 

        Play Christmas carols on the piano or guitar. No matter if you’re not a virtuoso — allow yourself to enjoy the experience.

        Eating mindfully can be a true delight. Special holiday baked goods like German stollen, Russian hoska and African American sweet potato pie have an aroma and flavor to be savored. It’s amazing how good food tastes when we pay attention to every mouthful.

        Wrapping gifts. Maybe like me, you wait until the last minute before rushing home with ribbon and paper to wrap presents. Try setting aside an evening well before the gifts are presented.  Rather than rush through it as a job, enjoy cutting and smoothing the paper; feel the silky texture of the ribbon.         

          Mindfulness can be practiced with our friends and family members. When was the last time you gave undivided attention to a loved one who was distressed? Problems and conflicts can arise during the holidays, as people carry stress from past as well as present situations. We don’t need to have answers for others; listening deeply with an open mind and heart is a gift in itself.

          Think of other ways you can increase the well-being of others:

   Baking cookies with love in your heart and distributing them to neighbors and friends can be practiced with mindfulness rather than feverish haste.

   Giving a person who lives alone a ride to their place of worship or to the shopping mall may make their holiday.

   Reading or telling stories from your cultural or religious tradition at a daycare center or library can make children happy.

Finding ways to express generosity by sharing your time and energy is living in mindfulness. 

          This holiday season just pause every now and then, and become aware of your breath. Notice what there is to notice, right then and there. Let go, and let it be as it is; a present moment, wonderful moment. 

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Further reading:

   Kornfield, Jack. Buddha’s Little Instruction Book. New York: Bantam, 1994.

   Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go There You Are; Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.  New York: Hyperion,1994.

        Thich Nhat Hanh. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching; Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation.  Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1998. 

Pat has practiced meditation on and off for the past 30 years. She can be contacted at: [email protected]


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