HO HO HO and the holidays are quickly surrounding us from Television ads, social media and sorting out family plans. This time of year our practice can face multiple challenges. Whether we travel, have guests in our homes or just host and attend holiday functions, time seems at a premium. What can we do to keep ourselves focused and prevent our practice from just sliding away? Here are some tips that I have used over the years.
- Never let a day go by
Even if you only have a few minutes go to the place where you usually sit and acknowledge the challenge for the day and renew your intention to practice the next day. You keep your practice in front of you this way and reset your commitment. Intention is how we set our will and will is how we move to action.
- Practice while traveling.
You may need to get creative when you travel. You don’t have your regular space and your schedule may not be in your control. I have used a couple of methods. The most important point is to set it up ahead of time with your traveling partner. Let them know you need a bit of time at the start of the day. They can stay in bed longer, or take the first shower or go out for coffee while you practice. Another way is to practice during rest time (usually in the afternoon). You can even do this while resting in bed if you don’t fall asleep. Another way is to do it is at night after the day is done. Perhaps your companion could read while you practice. There are always options but setting it up ahead provides the space for practice.
- Keep your priorities in front of you
During the busy holidays things just seem to slide. I have sometimes used reminders to keep this from happening. You can use a post-it note on your bathroom mirror or set up a practice appointment in your calendar. I put a note on my vitamin and med container. The coffee pot or tea kettle also works well. Be creative and look at your habits to find a place where you will notice the reminder. Of course you can still choose to ignore it but I find a gentle tug at my heart when I see my good intentions out there.
- Working around guests
Guests present new problems. They may be sleeping in that extra room you use for practice or it may simply be you feel the pressure to get up and take care of breakfast instead of practicing. This is a great time to work with our compulsions and our needs to take care of everything. Set up for the morning the night before. Get the coffee ready to go and let guests know they can help themselves until you get there. Yes, you will be distracted. Work with those distractions by noticing their coming and going in moment to moment experience. Use whatever is arising and when you get lost just keep gently move yourself back to attention. This is not the time to tackle a new practice or to work deeply with core emotional material. Just keep it simple and practice staying with that moment to moment experience. Just let things arise and dissipate. The distractions are not a problem unless we attach to them.
- Working with expectations
This is often a time when we can get a good feel for the expectations we are carrying around. Expectations for the kind of experience we should have with formal practice. Expectations for how we should be handling stress and busyness. Expectations for what thoughts should be arising. Expectations for how compassionate we should act and feel. Watch for these expectations to arise and notice how much pressure they create . See if you can feel them in your body. Notice how much energy they drain away. It’s a good time to remind yourself that all of these expectations are just empty thoughts that come and go like the wind.
- Familial patterns
My final comments are about the family patterns that are often a part of the holidays. We often slip unconsciously back into those familiar family dynamics such as the sibling who knows perfectly how to push your buttons, or the child that can continually break your heart with one comment. Family patterns are very deeply rooted and it’s unlikely they will get resolved in the crush of the holidays. It is however, an excellent time to notice these patterns and how they are triggered. This is the first step toward reducing their power in your life. If you notice them as they arise, you have the option to not act upon them and to disable their cycle. Once you know them experientially you can begin to work with them in practice.
I hope this information helps to keep your practice alive during these busy days. May you all find peace, balance and joy over the holidays and for the coming New Year.