I probably should’ve written about this sooner considering that many of you are probably necks-deep in the holiday deluge by now, but here we go anyway.
Christmas is great. Well, ideally it’s great. The prototype for Christmas is of happy kids, good food, and a harmonious gathering with family. But it’s called an ideal for a reason. I’ve never known a Christmas without at least a little exasperation.
Some bickering here and there as everyone stresses out to get all the food ready. Maybe a drunken Uncle opens up a can of worms. The dog starts eating the scraps of wrapping paper that are still laying around. Maybe the mashed potatoes boil over during that millisecond I’m looking away.
Christmas is a great time to practice. It helps us to get the most out of the situation without boiling over. Here are some tips on how to survive Christmas:
- First breathe, then speak. Most arguments start when we let our blind emotions take us for a drive down a busy interstate. Maybe one of your relatives says something snotty (as usual), and you feel that little shadow of irritation flutter across your mind. That’s an opportunity to stop, take a breath, and tune into the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is that there’s a floor beneath your feet, clinking silverware, open space all around, and the smell of Christmas dishes floating from the stove. When we embody all of our senses, we immediately create an environment that’s inhospitable to anger.
- Be mindful of the meaning. Remember that idealistic fantasy X-mas we talked about before? Keep the meaning of it with you as you go about the day. Remind yourself that this is all about kindness, altruism, and connection. The best way to remember this is to try to put it into action, to be kind, altruistic, and accommodating. To let people be themselves, even if you hate their guts.In essence, Christmas is a celebration of generosity, patience, and goodwill—three of the Six Perfections that all Mahayana practitioners, uh, practice.
- Potato. If you’re familiar with tubertation, this is a good time to use it. It helps reinforce points 1 and 2 while also keeping our moods light.
- Tian-a (T’ien-ya). This is the Mandarin translation of the Japanese term “Boketto.” Boketto means, “Gazing into the distance without thinking.” T’ien-ya means, “Questioning the sky.” Pretty, right? This is just what I like to call the method of neither pushing unpleasant experiences away or pulling pleasant experiences toward us. When there’s neither pushing nor pulling, a kind of space opens up that feels like resting on solid ground while peacefully staring at the horizon—t’ien-ya.
You see all of your thoughts and feelings clearly, but also see past them to a wide open space.So, while you’re peeling potatoes, walking from room to room, or listening to someone chat about this and that, be mindful of your mind—especially when a strong emotion pops up. “Is there pushing or pulling?” Then look, no need to answer yes or no. You can also shorten it to, “Is there?” once you get the hang of it.
- Yueshi (Moon gazing). Our minds are like the moon, and our moods are its light and shadows. Anger, sadness, fear, greed are the shadows; elation, excitement, and ecstasy are the light. Whenever you sense yourself getting carried too far in either direction, you can picture a half-moon in your mind and focus on it until you feel even again. I usually visualize it enveloped in the night toward the top of my visual field, like it’s above me.
- Gratitude. Keep in mind who all these people are to you, the history. The laughs and loves, the challenges overcome. Think of how fragile things are and how amazing it is that any of us are here at all. If you find yourself missing someone, feel that grief but don’t wallow in it, turn your mind toward being thankful that you knew them to begin with. And if you’re surrounded by people you just can’t stand, you can be grateful that they’ll be leaving soon.
- Counting. If you’re new to practice—or at your last straw before blowing up or melting down—counting the breath can be helpful. A deep breath in, “One.” Deep breath out, “Two.” All the way to ten and repeat as needed. It helps to feel your muscles tense when you inhale and relax as you exhale.
If you’re alone today and bummed out because of that, it’s a good time for a long, diligent meditation session and study. Apply yourself to all of the Perfections. Make this into a hermit’s holiday. It’s also a great time for Metta Meditation (sitting and wishing for all beings to be treated well, to be happy, free of suffering, and enlightened).
I’m not a huge fan of X-mas. It’s too commercial for my taste. But I do love the basic idea behind it. Also, Christmas lights are kinda cool. I wish we hung psychedelic stuff on our houses year-round. Happy Holidays everyone. May you practice diligently and be free of suffering.