by a Guest Blogger (and client of Incendo)
One of Justin’s clients sent him an email today with an article she’d written about the unique challenge of practising mindfulness during the festive season; she offered it to Incendo as a Guest Blogger and Justin was delighted to accept!
Here’s the thing – I think that I like planning for Christmas more than the actual event. I usually start thinking about what unusual and unique things I can buy for friends and family around September time, start buying small things here and there as I think of them, and then squirrel them away at the bottom of the wardrobe for later wrapping. The Christmas shopping experience for most of us – me included – is probably 99% online now, and I don’t miss the rush of queueing in traffic, fighting for a parking space that’s too small to squeeze my 4×4 into, the ‘holiday shuffle’ pace of other shoppers wandering about, blocking aisles and banging their overly-packed shopping bags into your legs…
I don’t even mind staying up until midnight on 6th December to ensure that I book a slot for my grocery delivery at some point vaguely near the 24th December, to save me from having to do the dreaded supermarket food shop in person (which I used to do at 3am – I kid you not – in an attempt to avoid the hordes of people). The wrapping of Christmas presents always presents me with a surprise. This year’s was that I’d over-bought for certain people and massively under-bought for others, and this was a bit of a blow to my sense of smugness about my organisational and planning abilities. I ended up having to brave the great British public after all, buying last-minute, random and ‘off-grid’ things for my mother and friends.
The best bit of being a planner at this time of year is the ability to look shocked and astounded when people announce that they haven’t finished their Christmas shopping yet or (even better!) haven’t started buying. ‘Goodness me! What led to you leaving it this late?’ I exclaim, while inwardly smirking but outwardly looking concerned and making random suggestions about how they could get themselves better organised next year! ‘Maybe a planning app?’ I suggest. The realisation hit me this week that all of this busy-ness, ticking things off lists, being ahead of the game and so forth is just a trap that I have created for myself, like countless others, in an attempt to feel an element of being in control and reducing stress.
Because Christmas, for adults, is generally stressful.
For example, there’s the stress that’s caused by making sure that you buy your children enough fun presents balanced with some educational ones, keeping up with their ever-changing list to Santa that inevitably changes on Christmas Eve after they’ve seen another essential toy they must have on some children’s TV advert designed to torture parents. What about the challenge of making sure that you haven’t bought them too many presents, turning them into satanic, consumerist a**holes (which is frankly worse than not buying them enough presents)? Then there’s the stress of ensuring that you buy everyone’s favourite food for the Christmas week, for visitors with food intolerances and special diets (Paleo-friendly and Slimming World safe in our house), not to mention wheat intolerances, one child’s hatred of all forms of potato and one who won’t eat anything circular.
What about wrapping your oddly-shaped presents perfectly, adding bows that keep falling off when you put them in the Christmas bags for delivery? Not to mention having to hide them from excited eyes and searching hands, and forgetting what was in the parcels when the label falls off and having to open and re-wrap them (probably in non-matching paper because that roll ran out, so you now have your perfection ruined by having 10 presents for one family group wrapped in beautiful red foil paper and one in the ratty end of last year’s wrapping roll because you just can’t face going back to M&S this late and fighting for a parking space and your sanity in the throng of desperate last minute shoppers who should have been as well-planned and smug as you). But you’re not that smug any more and have spotted the weakness in your own approach…and you vow to never, ever be this disorganised again. There’s always that one last child that you forgot to buy for, the one that pops into your memory at the exact time that their mother rings the doorbell with a massive bag of beautifully wrapped perfect presents for your children, whilst you stand there, sobbing and clutching the door frame, wondering if she’s seen you through the window and if it’s too late to crawl commando-style out of sight into the kitchen.
Yes, Christmas is definitely stressful for adults. It’s not yet Christmas Day and I’m already feeling that sense of anti-climax. Months of preparing… and already you want it to be over, to be back on the healthy eating routine, to get the Christmas tree and other glittery clutter out of the house and restore it to the clean, tidy and non-flashing light state.
It might not be obvious from reading this, but I have recently started practising mindfulness, having learnt it from one of Incendo’s 12-week ‘Developing Mindfulness At Work’ training programmes; I am only part way through the course and I am learning loads. At the moment, I am practising mindfulness somewhat selectively – I guess I still hold the view that mindfulness is a ‘thing’ I do and the conditions have to be just right otherwise it doesn’t meet my expectation and the anticipated level of wellness that I ought to derive from it. Justin at Incendo taught us that one of the core assumptions of mindfulness is to accept whatever comes up with a curiosity and openness – he described this attitude of acceptance as ‘non-striving’, not aiming for the perfect mindfulness session with a predetermined outcome. Let’s just say that this particular part is a work in progress for me! In fact, the possibilities of applying mindfulness to the messier, more stressful and mundane aspects of my life – such as the preparation for Christmas – would probably bring huge benefits to me and reduce the stress levels that ‘Christmas perfectionism’ generates.
This will be my starting point: being mindful in the moment and just noticing what’s going on and my emotional state, and being curious about what it means, whether I could choose to do and feel something else more resourceful and helpful. I’m implementing this today, Thursday 22nd December 2016. I can still turn this around and look forward to Christmas Day and – if I’m being honest – survive the relative visits, if not totally enjoy them. I know that on Christmas morning, even if it is inhumanely early, I will experience true joy at watching the children open their presents, amazed that Santa did hear their quietly-whispered requests; and Christmas dinner is my favourite dinner of all and I’m not cooking it this year so it’ll taste even better. There will be plenty of opportunities to practise mindful eating!
So… noticing, accepting, being curious and letting go of the stress around things ‘being perfect’ is my Christmas wish for myself this year – and I wish it for you, too.