It may be the most wonderful time of the year for some people, but for many of us it is stressful. We have to deal with family, money issues, buying gifts, and the never-ending busyness. Whether you celebrate the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or HumanLight day, it can be a stressful and busy time of the year. I want to give you three tools to help you through it.
First, we can always return to our breath. It is everywhere we go. It is a ready help in time of need. In following our breath, we are not thinking about the breath, we are feeling the breath. You can do this either at the nose, or the diaphragm. You want to feel the sensation of the breath as it enters and exits, or as the stomach rises and falls. Really focus your attention on it.
Now as you breathe in, say in your mind the word “open.” As you breathe out, say in your mind “relax.” You will notice as you breathe in, your lungs expand and open to allow the air in. In the same way, as you breathe in, and say the word “open” in your mind, you are aiming to open your mind, and open your heart. Open to the world around you, just take it in.
As you breathe out, you will notice that your lungs relax as the air leaves it. At the same time as you breathe out, you want to relax your body. Just let your arms, legs, and body drop all tension, all stress, and contraction. Just let go.
You will want to open and relax, as you breathe in and out. This will open you to reality and relax you into mindfulness. Mindfulness naturally arises in a mind that is relaxed. You can’t force your mind to calm down, you have to calm your mind by relaxing your body. You will discover that thoughts create tension in the body, release the tension, and the thoughts lose their grip.
Another tool you can use to help you cope with holiday stress and busyness is to do a body scan. In this practice, you want to sit down, or lay down, and get comfortable. Then you want to begin scanning your body for any areas of tension. Start with you feet and work your way up to your head. Go slowly, making sure you scan every part of your body. Then you will want to rescan your body, this time going from your head to your feet, looking for residual tension.
It is amazing how subtle tension can be. There are times that I thought I was relaxed, but when I scanned my body, I found that my shoulders were tense. At other times, I have noticed that I am holding my stomach tight. Other people find they store stress in their neck or back. Everyone is unique, so you will have to discover your stress storage spots on your own.
One last tool I want to give you is dealing with people. Yes, the people we most love and care about can stress us out the most. How can we deal with them this holiday season? By using the loving-kindness meditation practice.
So let’s say Aunt Judy is driving you crazy. She is always complaining and nothing is ever good enough for her. Rather than get yourself stressed out, take a moment to send loving-kindness her way. It is really simple. In your mind, or under your breath, say these words, “May Aunt Judy be safe. May Aunt Judy be happy. May Aunt Judy be healthy. May Aunt Judy be content.” And continue to repeat them until they begin to allow you some openness of heart.
See, the truth is, Aunt Judy is suffering. That is why she is so hard to get along with. She is trying to find happiness, but is lost in her own confusion and dissatisfaction. It is not that she means to be so difficult, it is just that she doesn’t know any better.
Now it may not be an “Aunt Judy” for you. It may be your mother, father, son, daughter, or another relative. It doesn’t matter, just send them wishes of loving-kindness. These wishes are simply training your mind to look passed the faults and see reality as it truly is. With compassion in our heart, we can better deal with the stress people can bring.
So there you have it. Three tools to help you get through this holiday season without losing your mind. Remember to return to your breath, breathing in and thinking “open,” and breathing out and thinking “relax.” And when you get a chance, sit down and do a body scan, relaxing the day’s tension. And finally, with compassion in your heart send loving-kindness to all those annoying relative you have to heal with. May you have a stress-free and happy holiday.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.