Mindful Holidays

My feelings towards the Holidays have morphed dramatically over the years. Like most people, I often feel a whirlwind of shifting emotions sometimes in a matter of minutes. The holidays can trigger anxiety and fear, love and joy, even pain, grief, and guilt. 

As a young child I loved everything about the Holidays. I always looked forward to "Black Friday,” not because of the shopping but because of our tree decorating tradition. I knew as soon as I woke up my Dad would be playing Christmas music and pulling out all the decorations for our tree. My mom could be found hanging stockings or baking Christmas cookies. Somewhere around the beginning of December we would receive a gingerbread house decoration kit in the mail from Granny. There were five kids in my family and each day one of us got open another flap on the advent calendar, counting down the days until Christmas. I grew up practicing Christianity and like other kids my age sitting through an hour long church service was not my favorite. The only exception was the special candlelight Christmas Eve service. I loved getting my own candle to hold above my head and the special Christmas hymns.  After the service there was just one more ritual before bedtime- the cookies and milk for Santa. 

I can't seem to remember exactly when things changed. My normal state of happy emotions began to shift.  I remember one year specifically when the emotion greed took over. It was the day after Christmas and I was excited to show my best friend the gifts I got. When I went to her house I couldn't believe what I saw. She had gotten around ten times the amount of gifts I had gotten! Why didn't I get as many gifts? 

A few years down the road my emotional roller coaster gained even more speed. I found myself playing the role of manager at a very popular Christmas destination in the local shopping mall. Suddenly I hated everything about the holidays. I often had to miss out on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve parties. I was anxious, stressed and angry. I spent way too much money- often money I didn't have on gifts that I wasn't even sure my family would like. When it was all said and done I found myself exhausted and broke. The worst part was that at the time I didn't think I had a choice, and so I continued this way for nearly ten years.

Then last year everything changed. I had moved to a different part of the country and completed my yoga teacher training. I left my high anxiety, high stress career and started new. I was making less money so I decided rather than buy gifts I would make them. It was the first time since I could remember that I could really enjoy Christmas with my family. I didn't need to worry about waking up at 5am to go through the mall madness. I was filled with gratitude, love and overwhelming joy. 

This year promises to be still different. I've spent the last half of the year in the forests of Thailand as a volunteer, teaching yoga and practicing mindfulness at a sustainable community project. It doesn't feel like the Holidays as I know them, with the hot weather and coconut trees. Everything looks and feels completely different. As much as I would love to be home with my friends and family, I'm so happy and thankful to be able to share this season with new family members. I'm excited to take on new traditions. This holiday season I'm allowing myself space to feel and accept all the emotions. I'm inviting mindfulness into my holidays and would like to invite everyone to do the same. 

Here are a few tips on how to create a mindful holiday Season for you and your loved ones. 

1. Commit to sit. I hear from a lot of people that when things get busy the first thing that goes is their meditation or yoga practice. But this is the time we need it the most. Any time you notice an emotion arise take a few breaths and allow yourself to feel that emotion. Put away the to- do list. Tell yourself that you will pick it up later. Give yourself just five minutes a day to do absolutely nothing. No planning, just time to be with yourself. 

2. Set an intension. Take a moment to understand the intension behind giving a gift. In the past I've gotten gifts for people just because I was afraid how I would look if they gave me one and I had nothing for them. What is the reason you want to give and what do you want to express with the gift. 

3. Make a gift. Creative expression is one of the best ways to share your love with others. Don't think you are not creative enough. There are tons of great ideas on various websites like Pinterest. It's also a great way to practice non-attachment to your work if it doesn't turn out exactly as you wanted it. Remember it's the intension that counts ;)

4. Mindful giving. If you opt to buy a gift vs make a gift then be mindful of who and what you are supporting. Is your gift bought from a company dedicate to helping their employees and the planet or a company just concern with personal gain. 

-Heather Walters

I also wanted to share a link to a recent article I've read. This article has really great mindful gift ideas for lightening our carbon footprint this holiday season. http://myzerowaste.com/2015/11/zero-waste-christmas/

If you would like to learn more about the community project in Thailand feel free to check out our website at www.m-pro.asia or  search "Mindfulness-Project" on Facebook. I wish you all a very happy and healthy Holiday season.