The festive season is often conceptualised as a time for togetherness. As each day of your advent calendar opens to reveal a delicious chocolate — or a mini flagon of fizzy gin, or a gingerbread-scented deerstalker — you’ll be decking the halls increasingly fervidly with boughs of holly and tra la la la la-ing between celebratory dinners, a trail of biodegradable glitter and good tidings in your wake.
Except when you won’t. Because, sometimes — in fact, almost all the time — the calendar dates flanked with the weightiest sets of concrete expectations tend to presage in the experiences that surprise us the most. For a period of the year spent by the global population in such a diverse array of ways, the festive season clings onto its stereotyped elements incredibly tenaciously. The benefits of meditation are many and varied, and establishing a practice can transform the course your sleigh-ride through the emotional ups and downs of this busy time.
When you can’t see the good for the (traditional) trees
Preconceptions about the festive season can often result in sensations of alienation and loneliness, particularly in relation to the aspects of your plans for the period that clash most dramatically with widespread social expectations. Are you accidentally holding yourself to obsolete societal ideals? When we are able to disentangle our hearts and minds from these kinds of preconceived notions about what a particular situation is going to be like, we can appreciate it for what it is. This often creates an opening for an influx of new areas of enjoyment which would never have been possible before.
If you already have a meditative practice, you will find that it increases your capacity to let go and go with the flow of vegan gravy — or against it — navigating whatever environment you find yourself in without getting your tinsel in a twist. And if you don’t, it could be the perfect time to think about building one, with a course or class in London.(Link)
Meditation using personalised mantras is an incredibly simple technique, but as you deepen your practice, the skills you will develop will serve as a protective bubble that can insulate you in ever more complex emotional situations. So whether the circumstances you find yourself in this festive season are better conceptualised as candy canes, tangerines, dreaded lumps of coal or some kind of festive smoothie with attributes of all three (Starbucks, take note!), your newfound ability to access the silence beneath the noise will help you through it.
Peace on earth, when everything’s wild
Does the sheer volume of presents you ‘need’ to buy send you into a financially-fearful frenzy? Or does the thought of the family dynamics you’ll encounter at Christmas drive you to distraction? It may not seem like something that will ever be within your power, but meditation using personalised mantras has powerful calming effects on your central nervous system.
As your practice develops, so will myriad different capabilities within your mind’s operation that allow you to resist stress. The result? Your ability to approach whatever the festive season brings your way will be as unprecedented as some of the happenings themselves! You might even experience the biggest surprise of all; some moments of relaxation across a time period generally characterized by its intensivity.
The ‘Connect Effect’
For many people, the festive season involves gathering the family together to share a meal and exchange gifts. In theory, this is a joyous occasion, but it can feature or be dominated by fractious interpersonal relationships. And for everyone whose festive season doesn’t feature a particular occasion, it can be easy to feel as though you’re missing out.
The effects that meditation has on your relationships with others include being able to see the bigger picture, increased empathy and finding the detachment necessary to avoid clashing over points of view; detachment which paradoxically can allow you to cut the cord on old discordances and find new ways to enjoy the shared moments together.
The increased sense of self-knowing and ability to reflect on your connectivity to those around you will also make it easier to identify any new people who have become special within the fabric of your life over the past year, as well as giving you the confidence to celebrate these connections You may have more special people in your life than you’d realised (including some unexpected additions!). And although your favourite people may not be rolling their eyes alongside you in front of the Queen’s speech at 3pm on the 25th of December, they nevertheless weave importantly into the fabric of your life.
Oh bring us a figgy pudding, (easy on the brandy butter!)
It is easy to get carried away on bountiful waves of roast potatoes over the festive season, only to spend the cold dark days of January in a punitive state of carb-avoiding remorse. And the only thing worse than regretted roast potatoes is not enjoying any at all (if indeed you actually like your potatoes roasted best of all the cooking methods, which it is well worth soul journeying to discern).
If your eating habits are tied to your leading emotions, any attendant anxiety, insecurity or sadness tends to have us forgoing food, or reaching for leftovers until there are none left. Rather than over or under eating this festive season, letting your conscious mind guide your eating choices will give you the protection you need against the impulsive binges, or undue abstemiousness, that you could otherwise come to regret later on. By allowing us to greet our cravings with a critically engaged palette, your meditation practice will help you towards the comfort that comes from delicious nourishment and away from comfort eating.
Baby, it’s cold outside…kombucha?
The booze flows freely throughout this time of year; as freely as it does at…any other time of year, if your beer goggles are firmly affixed and programmed to notice that the booze is flowing freely. As with any habit, we see what we want to see; the choice to indulge, re-indulge, and perhaps even over-indulge in alcoholic beverages is easily backed up by our perception of finding ourselves in festive contexts where all fifty shades of drunkenness are de rigueur.
For those of us who want to cut down on drinking, however, celebratory contexts in which everyone else is going for it can be tempting traps. Developing a solid sense of self-possession is key to remaining clear about your drinking goals — whether they involve cutting down, or cutting it out.
Meditation can bring you an increased ability to see the shifting cocktail of reasons behind every drink for what they are. This will help you know when you stop if refusing the next round is something you are struggling with, leaving you with fewer regrets and many more memories; whatever interactions they happen to contain.
Tune into the silences between the jingle bells
As your meditation practice advances, you will find that — even in the busiest shopping centre, the most noxious familial political debate or through the loudest hum of machinery on your night shift — you will be able to discern pockets of silence in newly apparent gaps. Zero in on these, and a world of expansive calmness opens up, which you can relax into whenever you like, anywhere in the world.
When you come out of a meditative state, you will find it easier to approach the situation in front of you with a clear-eyed, practical positivity. This kind of conscious awareness is a rare gift — but it is one you can give yourself, without a camel trek through the desert. With amplified awareness, every moment becomes the best possible version of itself, because you gain increased control over your participation within it. Whatever the time of year, that is something worth celebrating, in a style all your own.