Letting go of Christmas expectations
Updated: Mar 20
Accepting that Covid is here has always been a challenge, and I’m slowly getting over the shock of being in the new Tier 4 that might go on for months. Like many, our family has its special rituals for Christmas, including spending time with relations. I’m fortunate as I’ve not lost a close family member this year, no one I know well is seriously ill and my salary is fairly secure. I appreciate that others are facing huge and long-lasting challenges and it’s perhaps easier for me to use mindfulness to cope with mild inconveniences, disappointments and fears for the future. My heart goes out to everyone who’s suffering and facing difficulties right now, or who has dreadful prospects for 2021.
However, although my life is pretty fine, I’m often carried away by catastrophising and thoughts that things should be different. (Listening to too much news really is fatal to my mood.) To enjoy the festive season, it’ll help if I can let go of our expectations and traditions. Now in Tier 4, planned time with my wider family is suddenly not going ahead as expected. Strange how what had felt like disappointing plans – only meeting my brothers and their families by going on two separate walks – now seem like they would have been wonderful. Can I let go of all the hopes and expectations, and be open to the possibility of Zoom gatherings being a pleasant surprise? Can I let go of traditions and expectations? I sense the more I can let go of what ‘should’ be happening, the happier Christmas will be. Can I approach Christmas Day with a sense of curiosity, as if I’ve never had such a day before? Which indeed I won’t have had.
Mindfulness toolbox for difficult times
I feel privileged to have our toolbox of mindfulness strategies to help with Christmas. No doubt unpleasant emotions will come to visit, I can’t be with who I want, some people I care about are having a hard time and then there is the general state of the world. (Breathe!)
The confidence I get from mindfulness to deal with what might arise also helps me enjoy positives about the present more. At a time like this, it’s more important than ever to consciously appreciate any positives in our lives, however small, to balance the weight of difficulties.
Letting myself be
People have expressed gratitude to me for running the online mindfulness session on Christmas Eve; to be honest, besides wanting to help others at this challenging time, I know how helpful it is for me personally to meditate with others – to practise letting go of expectations, allowing whatever arises to be there and bringing some kindness to ourselves.
We’re usually kinder and more generous to others than we are to ourselves. Can we also allow ourselves to not be perfect? Just because I know mindfulness approaches that can help with life’s hazards doesn’t mean I always remember to use them! Bringing compassion to myself for the times when I get carried away with negative thoughts, snap at my family or eat too many mince pies, will be so important to help me glide calmly and joyously through the festive season. The only way I can actually change my less skilful side is to allow it to be, so that I can then learn from it. To bring friendship and curiosity to that automatic behaviour.
Mini strategies for stressful moments
I feel grateful for all that I have over Christmas. But when I lose my way, here are some suggestions for things to do at tricky times:
- take three deep breaths, notice the sensations in your body as you breathe, breathe out a bit longer than you breathe in
- bring awareness to something that you’re touching, notice the texture, warmth etc, sensations in my feet (furthest away from our minds!)
- label the emotions that are here (in a kind voice), and take a few more focused breaths
- lean towards the soft edges of what you’re experiencing, perhaps explore what sensations you’re feeling in the body connected to what emotion you’re feeling
- consider doing something nurturing for yourself – cup of tea, ring someone, hot bath, do a meditation, watch something uplifting on TV, write a letter to yourself or someone else, play music, go for a walk or do a few stretches - hugging a tree is apparently uplifting! play music.
Or do something to help someone else.
Putting out the welcome mat
Maybe one of the best gifts I can give to myself for Christmas, and also to those around me, is to put out a welcome mat for whatever arises, befriend it, treat my thoughts and feelings as waves in a possibly rough sea and let them belong. Acceptance doesn’t simply mean resignation, so it’s always important to welcome thoughts of not liking anything to the party too.
The festive season is made up of lots of little moments. My enjoyment of it will probably be a reflection of how well I can stay in the present. If frustrations, fear or sadness occur, can I bring curiosity and explore where I am feeling it in the body?
Letting the waves belong
And if the sea gets particularly rough, I’ll try to remember to let it all belong. Rough waves have a place in the sea as much as the calm ones do. It’s also good to remember that underneath stormy waves, if one goes down deep enough, the sea is always calm.
And the if one goes high enough into the sky above the storms, it is always clear.
Can we see our minds like the deep sea or clear blue sky, with our thoughts and emotions as separate mental events that come and go?
Can I give myself permission to not have a completely happy festive season?
Thinking I ought to be happy and grateful even most of the time is probably not going to help.
May you have peace and a sense of wellbeing whatever difficulties you might be facing.
May you be kind to yourself (as I’m sure you’ll be to others) and be well.
Best wishes to everyone for the festive season, and for a healthy and happy new year.
I’m not going anywhere so do send an email any time if you’d like a chat.