On a Mindful Christmas contentment. Why can’t we just ‘be happy’?

trolleyLots of Christmas shopping was done over the weekend. We woke up in the knowledge that money needed to be spent,  car park spaces must be battled  for and crowds coped with. It was daunting, but ’tis the season…’ and all that – jolliness is required of us. Here at The Terrace we do like to offer support to readers over the festive season, but in the rush of consumer madness that is challenging.

So it was good to come across a piece by our own Miranda Bevis, mindfulness practitioner and leader of many of our workshops and courses. She recognises that the real world makes living in the moment (the basis of mindfulness practice) tough, but maintains that with work we can achieve a peace and level of contentment in many of those situations that threaten to overwhelm us. Here she offers some wise words on becoming content. How much of the ‘stuff’ we accumulate over the Christmas period do we actually need? We have written on here about looking at our rituals and making a decision to change. No more three for two gift sets, over indulgence and post Christmas strain on relationships – and perhaps creating new ways to celebrate the things that are important to us.

This time of year should be reflective, a time to take stock, but we have to admit that major changes  to seasonal celebrations are best planned rather earlier than mid-December when many of our presents are bought and paid for and meals planned etc. So, take a look at what Miranda writes below, and have a think about how we can appreciate the things we have already. Then perhaps we can take steps this year to enhance our Christmases to come.

Scanning the weekend newspaper supplements, I find so many articles and advertisements telling us how we could (should?) change: How to get fitter, thinner, look younger; give your garden a makeover, re-design your interiors. Revitalize your love life, spice up your cookery and your sex life (because you’re worth it). There is no end of things that we could change for “the better”. And of course, change is supposed to be good for us; after all, we wouldn’t want to be bored or get stale, or allow ourselves to get into a rut, would we? We “deserve” more, we “have a right” to more. We should seek out new excitements, discover new thrills, acquire new things, visit new places, meet new people.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in ourAnd there’s nothing wrong with any of this, except, perhaps, the overall message. Which seems to be that, if things were different, in terms of our looks, our possessions, or our experiences, we’d be happier. That there’s a better place to be, a better way to be, than where we are right now. And that surely breeds dissatisfaction. It’s all too easy to get caught up in disgruntled thoughts, and end up not noticing what we’ve actually got.

When we practice Mindfulness, we explore being with whatever is, without immediately trying to change anything. Sitting with our sensory experiences alone, and allowing them to be exactly as they are, while letting go of thoughts and desires for things to be different. We begin to realize that often it’s not so much what is actually happening that is the problem, but rather the thoughts about it. Realizing that the mutterings of “I don’t want it to be like this”, “It’s not fair”, and “I deserve more” breed discontent.

Letting go is not the same as giving in. It’s not a state of hopeless resignation. But it gives us the space to fully appreciate what we already have. It can help us to discover what really does need changing, and teaches us to develop a different relationship with what we have no control over.

The art of contentment and well-being is being good at noticing what you have, and wanting what you’ve already got. In the words of Guillaume Apollinaire: “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy”.

Miranda is offering more taster sessions and courses in the new year. See our ‘What’s On’ page for further details.

 

‘Re-charging’ the Christmas ritual….

images (3)As the days of December rush past, leaving us little time to pack in all the annual rituals – present buying, writing and sending cards, attending the work Christmas ‘do’- as well as trying to keep the non-Christmas side of our lives under control, it is all too easy to succumb to a bug, or feel oneself become overwhelmed with the stress and anxiety of it all. Here at The Terrace we like to gather together some tips to help survive the second half of December and on into the new year.

For many of us the rituals are all part of the season and fill us with a sense of nostalgia. For others, the rituals seem stale, lowering and unnecessary, washed away in a sea of consumer madness, bright lights and bad tempers. Money is tight, the shops are filled with things we can’t afford and don’t need. It can be difficult to cope.

If you fall into the latter category – or if Christmas holds darker memories and is a time when you battle depression-  rather than avoiding it altogether, you might want to create your own ritual, one that is personal and connects you to who you are rather than joining the ‘Christmas Mad Rush’. So why not consider the following:

  • Pay particular attention to what is important to you; seeing special friend(s) or spending time with one or two members of your family rather than all of them.
  • Prepare a meal you enjoy, rather than feeling obliged to have turkey with all the trimmings, or create your own spiritual practise – meditation and or quiet time.
  • Take time to read a book, or watch a film that interests you.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into an arrangement which you know is not going to work for you. If you cannot say ‘No’ outright, say you would like some time to think about it and let the other party know a time when you will get back to them.
  • Never feel guilty about saying you need to spend time alone if that is what you really want.
  • Try to build an understanding of what is important and getting it right for you. When a ritual has become dead for one person it normally has for others too – naming it can be a relief and stimulate new ideas. You might be concerned about upsetting other people’s routine – but they may just be waiting for someone to take that step for them!

In getting the festive season right for you, it often gets it right for others too.

More mindfulness practice: On eating that Christmas raisin……

a-mindful-christmasWe are in December now, and here at The Terrace we are keen to promote ways to ensure our well-being is protected in what is a busy, festive month. We have written many times on mindfulness, and have started a new series of posts on the subject. Our expert practitioner Miranda Bevis offers regular and popular taster sessions and courses here, to those interested in finding out more. Here, Miranda discusses an exercise that some of you may already have heard of, and perhaps even dismissed. After all – how useful can eating one raisin be? Read on and find out. Perhaps, as you eat your rich Christmas cake or pudding this year you can give it a try…..

“The first exercise we do in the Mindfulness course is to eat a raisin. It seems a bit crazy. Never mind. Just do it. Notice. What does it look like? How does it smell? What happens when you put it in your mouth? As best you can, try not put the experience into words, but just allow yourself the bare experience.

If the mind wanders, which it probably will, gently guide it back to the exploration of this small object. Let go of any thoughts or judgments.

The whole thing takes about 5 minutes. People are always surprised and I regularly hear comments such as  “I didn’t know I could get so absorbed in such a small and insignificant thing”, “I can’t believe how intense it tasted”, “I didn’t think I even liked raisins, but that was really enjoyable”; and there’ is always someone who says, “It’s really strange, but I feel so much more relaxed”.

This exercise is far from crazy, and should not be dismissed. It demonstrates a number of things, including how, a lot of the time, we don’t really notice what we are doing, but are functioning automatically. Now, that’s not always a bad thing to do. For example when we react to real danger, or the mechanics of driving. In this complicated world, there are many times when we have to multi-task.

But if we function without awareness, we miss out on much of our experience. How many meals do we not even taste because we are in such a hurry?

And sometimes it’s downright unhelpful, and can actually make things worse. Reaching for the biscuits or the bottle when we get stressed, or kicking the cat because we are feeling irritable – perhaps if we were more aware of our actions, we might act in ways that were kinder to ourselves, and to others.

raisinFinally, the person who noticed she became more relaxed whilst eating the raisin had touched on something of great importance. I never used the “relax” word, never say ‘chill out’. I just said, really, really notice what you are doing. So what we discover is that, just by becoming fully absorbed in a very mundane activity, the body relaxes.

Why not give it a try? For a few mouthfuls every day, switch off the radio, don’t read or talk. And just eat. And notice…”

Miranda Bevis is offering mindfulness taster sessions and a new 8-week course in January 2015. See our ‘What’s On’ page for more details.