Navigating the holidays with mindfulness

It’s hard to believe, but we’re on the brink of another whirlwind holiday season. We’ve just emerged from Halloween and now there’s no stopping our NW winter weather and the turkey- and tinsel-laden events of the holiday season.  Personally, as I mentioned in a previous post about my own leanings toward eye hunger, I love this time of the year. If I could eat up the orange/gold/rose-colored leaves and autumn-inspired decor, I would – and admittedly, in our food choices, some of us might try.  Eye hunger (or other types of “hunger”) can fool us into believing that we have a bodily or nutritional need that must be filled, and it’s especially easy to be tempted down this path if we’re caught up in frenetic activities of a holiday season.

In the past month, I’ve led several free presentations on Mindful Eating During the Holidays, held at New Seasons stores in the Portland area.  While the holiday season can be joyous, it can also introduce extra stress into our lives or bring up feelings of grief or longing. With the increased prevalence of potlucks, candy dishes, and food-themed celebrations, this season can be the recipe (no pun intended) for “emotional” or out-of-control eating behaviors. But what if there was also a unique opportunity lurking behind all of the busyness and celebration? An invitation to pay attention in an intentional and curious manner to what your experience really is during this holiday season….as it relates to both the food on your plate, and all of those other moments of your life?  The benefits of doing so are numerous: you might gain valuable information about previously unknown needs, wants, or feelings (aka “hunger” of various sorts), which can ultimately reduce stress as you more effectively find ways of meeting those needs. In addition, you might actually become fully present – really show up – during moments you might have previously missed…..the smell of pumpkin pie or cooking bread, the warmth of a wood fire, or an interaction with a loved one.  What if you were able to more fully experience those moments, and to more skillfully navigate the times that were painful or difficult?

I’ve included the image of a snow globe with this post because it illustrates the state of our minds during most hours of the day….filled with lots of mental “stuff” that can obscure the picture of what is actually “real” – our actual raw experience – in any given moment. In a snow globe, the snow flurry can conceal what is hiding beneath, just like our busy minds (often caught up in planning, judgments, or concerns) can obscure our actual present-moment experience – and our true nature – underneath. We are not our caloric intake, our weight, our body size or shape, any more than we are the sum total of our thoughts, dreams, fears, or behaviors. We are all inherently good, worthy of love and respect, despite any shortcomings we might all possess as human beings.  But we can feel like those (often negative or painful) aspects of our experience define us – in entirety – in any given moment, and/or we can become lost in them, in such a way that obscures our true, full experience. When we engage in mindfulness practice, we are “checking in” or discovering what is revealed when we really pay attention in this present moment. It can be as simple as sitting down with a cookie or a piece of fruit, and just….eating. Nothing else. Just eating that item and attending to the act of biting, chewing, and swallowing.  Or standing up, and then sitting down….and noticing what sensations arise in the body as you do so.

So in the coming weeks, see if you can experiment with bringing a little mindfulness into your life. It’s simple, really – with all of the activities which fill our days, you might select an activity to engage in mindfully (being aware of your experience, with curiosity and while withholding judgment), or you might set a reminder timer to go off at least once a day, prompting you to stop and investigate your breath (“What is this body experiencing? And what can I discover about the quality of the breath right now?”). At the very least, doing so might settle the mind a bit, and give you clarity regarding what is true – and perhaps most meaningful – in the midst of this holiday season.