Christmas is a time of joy and celebration but is also not without its difficulties and challenges. In this three-part series, we ask senior Plum Village Dharma teachers about how to mindfully navigate some of those challenges.
At Christmas there can be lots of temptation to eat too much, to drink alcohol, and to watch lots of television. Also, people often feel the need to consume more than we would like to in order to show our friends and family our love and care with presents. How can we moderate our consumption over Christmas?
I would like to start by asking, how do we consume also the rest of the year? Christmas is family time, it’s where the whole family gets together, and what does a family do when you get together? Eat! With Christmas, we have special food and we eat a lot, but it’s good to be aware of consumption throughout a whole year, with eating, drinking and also watching television, and presents. So to how moderate it over Christmas, I would say, look at our consumption over the whole year. Look at Christmas in the context of what is not Christmas time. When you look at it in the light of the rest of the year, we see better what we do. Maybe that helps us to sense or feel or realized sooner, “all right, now I’m going into overconsumption”.
We often consume, whether it is drinking or eating or television, to numb a feeling. So it’s very good to be aware of how we feel around Christmas time. Is there anything we’re trying to drown? Is anything we’d rather not feel, not see? So it would be good, before Christmas, to look and to say, “All right, is there anything that I’m not looking at? Why am I not looking at something in myself? What am I running away from a little bit of?” What is it I don’t want to face?”
I like to read, so I’ve noticed and then I drown myself in books or I like to go for walks, so I drown myself in walks. The walks are very healthy and the books are very interesting, but is there something I’m running away from? And what is it? If it’s anxiety, I try to be with the anxiety. I like to feel in my body how it expresses itself in my body and to breathe with the physical sensation. That is much easier than observing it in the mind because the mind gets immediately caught in the story and I don’t want to get caught in the story. My experience is, if I stay with the physical sensation, I sometimes get all of a sudden aha’ Later, I come back to it to see, “OK, well, what was it that I saw? What was it? And then look a little bit deeper into it again.”
[Interviewer: Should we allow ourselves to overindulge a little bit a Christmas time?]
Yes, I agree, totally! We need to celebrate. Maybe we have one little chocolate, or maybe three! When we don’t feel so well because we had too much over Christmas, then say, “Well, yes, but I enjoyed it when I was eating, so I have to pay something for it.” Then we may do something to calm and soothe our body again.
Why not be fully aware of the temptation of wanting another piece of cake or another piece of Christmas pudding or but let me enjoy it when I eat it. Then, I will not get angry or in a bad mood because I have a little bit of an uneasy time with my liver I would say, “ok this is the consequences of the enjoyment I had before.”
My experience of taking the extra piece of Christmas pudding (because I really like it) brought me to savoring every bite. I realized I enjoy it so much that I eat it quite fast. I’ve eaten one piece, and it’s gone so quickly that I want to have more enjoyment so I take another piece and maybe another piece. But if I really enjoy every bite, every mouthful, savor it, I notice I may have two pieces instead of three and then I can have another piece the next day. So I spread out my pieces a little bit and enjoy them longer, and the after-effects are less disastrous. It’s a real practice but to indulge from time to time is OK, is what happens.
In our community, we don’t drink alcohol, but in other situations, it is considered to be part of socializing. In my younger years, I had some wine and things at Christmas. Then later at home when I said that I don’t drink alcohol anymore, my mother bought some red grape juice and white grape juice, it looks like wine but it’s nonalcoholic. That was accepted quite easily. I found it very pleasant, I felt that part of what’s happening and I’m happy. I can be merry also, to a certain extent, with the juice but my happiness and my merriment didn’t depend on alcohol. So there are alternatives and if we can replace alcohol as a couple or as a family, that’s very supportive.
But if we avoid alcohol, as one member of the family and there are other members who are drinking, then it is very important to be aware of how we look at others. Even if the other maybe has had too many we should watch our minds, because the judging mind is not very beneficial for ourselves and for others. If we can look with a compassionate mind and also remember “OK, someone has had a little bit too much, maybe I have another time had a little bit too much” or even if not “I have done other things. I’m not perfect.” The more I can accept my own imperfection, the more I can be with my own weaknesses and really embrace them, the more open I am for someone else and not so judgmental. Judgment is not good for our heart and for our mind and definitely not good for relationships. And around Christmas, we definitely do want to have good relationships.
We can be moderate, but as I have said, we don’t need to be too strict towards ourselves because the strictness is going to harm is us more than moderation.
The easiest way to moderate our consumption over Christmas is with our energy of mindfulness. When eating or drinking, I say to myself, “right now I am eating…..this……; and right now I am drinking this with full awareness. If we can practice this before Christmas, even a few days before the event and the gathering of family and friends, then that is very good. We have established our determination and our volition to eat and drink in moderation.
To those who want to give us more food, or fill our glass with more to drink, we can smile and water their flower by appreciating and thanking them, and then politely refuse to eat or drink more. “What a beautiful and delicious cake, thank you, but I won’t have more,” or “I will enjoy more later”. Something like that.
If you are aware that you have succumbed to an environment of overconsumption, the energy of consuming too much, don’t feel guilty. Just find a way to remove yourself temporarily from this energy field. You can say, “I need a breath of fresh air. Would anyone like to take a walk with me outside for a few minutes?” Or go and play with the children in the house, or take the dog for a walk.
The 5th Mindfulness Training helps us understand that the roots of overconsumption may be found in our wish to escape feelings of loneliness, sadness, anxiety, and fear. So we will practice to recognize and embrace any emotions that come up at this time, with our tenderness and acceptance, and find healthy ways to create happiness and peace.
Sister Thuận Nghiêm
Mindfulness is the key for Christmas consumption. We need to sit and contemplate how we spend Christmas with our loved ones. Cook enough so you don’t overeat, buy enough liquor so you don’t over-drink. Select a few good movies or tv shows to watch and not glue your eyes to the screen late at night. Do some sport or exercise with some family members. Have a long walk in nature instead of surfing your phone. Divorce your phone for a period of time so you can have quality time with people you love or live with.
In terms of presents, you can observe your loved ones’ favorite things to achieve or realize then encourage them to pursue their dream. For those who like to learn, you can offer them their enrollment in courses or classes. Those who like to write, present them with interesting topics or stories. These kinds of gifts are more valuable than material gifts. Your loved ones will be so happy to see your love and encouragement.