And realising that they are free
This time of year I always have to fight my fight or flight instinct…it makes me want to shut down and run away. Any of you who have got to know me a bit over the years, you’ll know that that is not how I usually deal with things, I am a Taurus after all, and usually face things head on, sometimes snorting and stomping, but even then, finding a way to end up smiling!
The shorter days and greyer skies play their part, and when it’s so rainy I don’t get to do the same amount of outdoor exercise tending to the land and connecting with nature as I usually do, and as my mental and physical equilibrium prefer (although there is also a part of me that quite likes rainy days, as it gives me guilt-free time to concentrate on the indoor work, like marketing, business strategy, and writing this blog post!)
But what really causes the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach is the frenzied, compulsive shopping and consuming that has become synonymous with Christmas over the years. I can completely understand the lights and celebration and getting together and wanting to share joy and warmth and cheer during the darkest, shortest days of the year…but when did that translate into Must-Buy-As-Much-(usually plastic)-Throwaway-Crap-As-Possible? Present buying should not be reduced to this pressured, guided by the media and the Joneses-Next-Door, and why do we need to be told to give presents just once a year anyway? Why aren’t we, don’t we feel, free to give presents whenever we like? (And don’t get me started on Christmas cards!) It’s another way of herding us like symbolic sheep of the Nativity, dream-like into believing that our lives have to be an endless cycle of spending all our time working to earn money to buy the ones we love things they don’t need to try to make us, and them, feel better that we are not spending more quality time together, which we can’t do because we’re all too busy working to pay for the things we keep buying that actually aren’t making us feel any better.
Don’t get me wrong, of course I’m not against giving - presents or presence. But how can we not see the distorted, vicarious reality we are projecting onto our children? What are we creating, by every year scrimping and saving, ducking and diving, to create this money pit under the Christmas tree? What are we actually teaching them? What message are they absorbing? Are we helping them to become realistic and resilient adults? Are we teaching them about sustainability, saving the planet – their planet, a strong work ethic, patience, non-attachment, or rather reinforcing the instant gratification, five second, throwaway culture that’s being drip-fed to them with every scroll of their blue-screen (latest model of course) device? The Christmas hangover ends up lasting far longer the Boxing Day.
Of course it’s all a huge distraction technique so that you don’t actually think about what caused the big gaping hole inside that you’re trying to stuff full of new things and fancy food. But here’s the thing, that big gaping hole can only be filled up with love. And love is not a physical, material thing. In fact, usually the more love you have (and therefore have to give), the less material things you realise you need. One of the central tenets of Buddhist teaching is to learn not to become attached to things, that only when you are not attached to anything (physical, or emotion, or outcome) are you free to truly be and accept the world (including yourself) as it is. And when you are truly present, that’s where you find love, for everything. Similarly, in Christian belief, the real significance of Christmas (often forgotten?) is based around the four principles of love, hope, joy and peace.
So how about this Christmas, we try to give that instead? Although I am not a Christian (and why should that matter anyway), it’s what I will be doing – and what I do my best to share out all year round as well. There’s always a virtue signalling meme or two going round the internet this time of year about giving presence not presents. But the message is valid. It’s only when you are allowing yourself to be present and let go of the attachment you have towards making Christmas all about buying presents that you can see it. And remembering that presence is not just about being there for other people, it’s about allowing yourself time to connect with yourself too. It's only when your own buckets of love, joy, hope and peace are full that you can start to dip into them and share them out with others too.
If you’re not sure where or how to start, here are some questions you could ask yourself every morning or every evening:
“What brought me joy today?”
“What am I grateful for today?”
“What/who made me smile today?
“Who did I make smile today?”
“When am I most at peace? How can I make others feel like that too?”
“What little thing made a difference to my day today?”
“What little thing can I do to make a difference to someone else today?”
“Who would appreciate a helping hand today?”
“What can I/did I do for my community today?”
“What can I do to be more sustainable today?”
“Who can I donate this money to that I saved not buying something I don’t need?”
After a while you’ll find you’ll fall into the habit of doing these things naturally, and won’t need to keep asking yourself the questions so much. That said, I find it helpful as part of my daily routine to take the time to reflect on my day every night before I go to sleep, the things that brought me joy and made me smile, and every morning, set an intention of making that day as good as possible for me and everyone around me.
Wishing you love and joy and hope and peace this Christmas and every day,