How to make this Christmas more meaningful

This quote from the Dalai Lama is especially appropriate for this time of the year. Christmas, whether you are religious or not is meant to be a time for family and friends. It's supposed to be the one time of the year that we get to just be with those we love and care about. Yet statistics show that many of us find the festive season a struggle. I certainly feel stressed trying to think of something original to buy my family and friends.



We have bigger houses, but smaller families; more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge but less judgements; more experts, but more problems; more medicines, but less healthiness.

We've been all the way to the moon and back but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour.

We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever but less communication.

We have become long on quantity, but short on quality.

These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;

Tall man but short character;

Steep profits but shallow relationships.

It is a time when there is much in the window but nothing in the room

Remember what it used to be like

I know it's not very mindful to focus on the past but in this instance, it could be helpful to remember what Christmas used to be like. Remembering what it was like before we allowed technology take over. Before the constant distraction of our mobile phones and repeated beeping of social media notifications. 

What would happen if we just spent a few hours or a whole day with our mobile phones on silent? What if we stopped looking down at the screen and looked up at our loved ones? What would we notice if we actually paid attention?

Mindfulness is a love affair with life. You see the beauty in everybody and in everything - Jon Kabat-Zinn

Staying in the Moment

We spend so much time in preparation for the "big day" that we are future focusing, missing the moments in between. We are stressed about the Christmas meal, the presents, the plans for the day and then when the day comes we are too exhausted to enjoy it. 

If the traditions and rituals of Christmas do not mean anything to you, there is still the opportunity to make this time of the year meaningful. This is still an opportunity to really just let go of the craziness of everyday life and take time out to be, to stop doing and just be present.

Remembering to enjoy the little things like wrapping up presents, putting up decorations or maybe just having the time to reflect on life.

Managing Our Expectations

I guess the biggest challenge is how to manage our expectations. We build up a picture of how we want our Christmas to be and what we would love to give or receive from our loved one's, often this very anticipation creates a sense of "let down" or disappointment. And after so much planning, how do we cope with the come down after it's all over?

We have to learn how to manage the emotions that arise after Christmas. It's no coincidence that depression, divorce and stress spike in January. 

If you don't get what you want for Christmas, if you couldn't buy your children the biggest and best present possible, if the food wasn't as fantastic as you dreamed it would be, if your partner buys you a present that you don't like, can you let it go or will you carry it forward? 

Can we just accept a gift without judgement? Can we give a gift without expectation? 

Mindfulness Tips for the festive season:

  • Pay attention to your thoughts and catch them before you react
  • Every morning sit for a few moments and ask yourself this questions "What is the meaning of Christmas to me?" - see what comes up and how you feel. This will help you to remember what is important to you rather than getting lost in all the busyness and craziness.
  • Notice what triggers your negative feelings and thoughts. When you begin to notice, you can do something about it before you get lost in them.
  • Remember to be grateful for the things and people in your life. Gratitude is a powerful attitude.
  • Plan family and friend activities, things you can do together. And maybe dare to go technology free for a while.
  • And make sure you get fresh air, get out even if it's just for a while. A little freshair can make all the difference.
Don't sweat the small stuff - it's all small stuff! - Richard Carlson

Remember that having time to be with our family and friends is enough. We don't get meaning from things, so perhaps this year have the courage to do it a little differently. 


Mindfulness is not a quick fix

I’ve had a few interesting conversations recently about mindfulness. Some people are comparing mindfulness to the multi billion dollar self improvement industry which is a misinterpretation of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not a quick fix.

Mindfulness is a practice that dates back centuries, it has the backing of some of the most prestigious universities in the world and has scientific evidence to prove it’s effectiveness on mental health and well being.

To become a mindfulness practitioner, to fully embody mindfulness takes hard internal work, it does not happen over night. Mindfulness does not pretend to mend you, it teaches self acceptance, self compassion and far more than I can cover in this short space.

Why is there an increase in stress, anxiety and depression, when there is so much self improvement advice available?

I’ve read every self development book published, starting from Anthony Robbins to Napoleon Hill and attended too many workshops and seminars to remember. There is no doubt that developing the ability to see things from a brighter perspective is better than always seeing things negatively.

However this constant high, always living in a state of positiveness is unsustainable because it is unnatural. Unfortunately life is made up of good, bad and ugly. The sooner we can come to terms with that the better it is for us.

Self improvement is always forward thinking:

“When I look better or get that better job or find that perfect person, life will be great!!”

So let’s improve our appearance because right now, right this minute I’m not good enough.

Yes let’s work hard to get that better job because the one we have right now is not enough.

Oh and when I meet that Mr or Mrs Perfect, life will be perfect because right now, being me and being with me is not good enough.

Always looking forward to when things get better or looking backwards to all the things we did wrong.

Until one day you break because you get what you thought would make you happy and yet it’s still not good enough. Or you keep aiming for something that is unobtainable until you just run out of life.

Hence the emotional sickness going around today.

To a degree the self improvement industry is to blame because it tells us to think positively, to turn negative inot positive, to think positive so that we attract positive things.

What do we do when things don’t go our way? How do we live with that?

Life doesn’t happen in the future or in the past. Life only happens in the now and before you even grasp that it’s gone.

So why is it so difficult for us to accept that now is good enough?

What would happen if we suddenly woke up to our life, today and said “hello, life is great right now!”

What would happen if we could embrace everything, the good, the bad and the ugly and just learn from every experience?

But what if life isn’t great right now?

I’d be naive if I didn’t acknowledge that of course some people’s lives are not great, some are barely living a life at all. Poverty, war, hunger, crime and horrific acts against humanity going on everywhere. But what does living in a state of anger, uneasiness and anxiety do to elevate any of this?

Perhaps instead of moaning about the state of the world and the way some people are forced to live, we lived our lives to the full and where possible we actually do something to help. Is that not more beneficial?

So if you are looking for a quick fix in life be warned, mindfulness is not going to fix you it’s going to wake you up to who you are. If that’s too hard to face, then perhaps come back to mindfulness when you are ready.

Compassion in action

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a Compassion in Action workshop at Samye Ling in Scotland. I had anticipated a lot of useful teaching but actually got much more than I had imagined.

“Compassion is kindness without judgment”

Sometimes I wonder why we find the most simple things in life so difficult to grasp and to apply in our lives. Mindfulness the practice of stillness, living in the present moment and developing a state of constant awareness, sounds easy but in reality it is challenging for most of us.

Compassion is kindness without expectations and conditions. It’s our natural state, we see that from watching babies and young children. They do not discriminate who they show love and kindness too, they don’t see colour, race, religion, gender and whatever else we use as a preference, they come with pure compassion built in. Over time we lose the capacity to be kind for the sake of it without a condition or judgement. Society, upbringing and all the other “stuff” fill us up so we are no longer able to just be compassionate without expecting something back.

Compassion – The only antidote to anger and aggression.

For centuries we have used aggression to fight aggression even though it only escalates the problem. We insist on sending armies in to other countries to fight and kill rather than deal with aggression with compassion in a peaceful way. What would really happen if we used compassion rather than aggression? Would we really be in more danger?

What can I do to change the world?

Sometimes we can get lost and overwhelmed when we hear news of tragedy and suffering like the current refugee crisis. We may feel a disconnect with society and lose hope, we can get into that state of seeing things as negative all around us.

The question is, who benefits from us becoming cynical and hopeless? It certainly doesn’t help those suffering. Moaning about a situation only fuels the negativity in us and others, it doesn’t change the situation.

Even the smallest act, whatever that might be will have a ripple affect. Our responsibility is to work on us, be the best person we can be, share our love, compassion and empathy. Help others regardless of who they are, judge less, moan less and act more. If we all did this, the world would be a much better place.

This video is a perfect example of compassion in action, it’s power is far greater than any act of violence and aggression.