This last month of the year can be very busy but with many families celebrating the holidays it's also a time full of opportunities to reflect on what brings true happiness and to practice and share universal values with our children.
Unfortunately, this time of year can also turn into one of feverish consumerism and endless to-do lists. Not exactly a set up for acting with calm, conscious awareness!
But if we step back and ask "why," we can begin to see that behind all this activity and busy-ness, we are often motivated by core values like generosity, kindness and gratitude. Traditions like giving gifts, making meals or spending time with loved ones are meant to bring happiness, to help us to connect with these higher qualities and an expanded sense of self. It's a time when, collectively, we tend to become more aware of the needs of others.
Of course, it can be easy to forget all this in the midst of busy schedules and constant activity. Luckily there are also many opportunities, with a slight shift in our awareness and attention, to bring these values to life through our day to day activities with our children. As with most things, children are constantly learning from our words and actions what matters most and how to relate to the world around them. It’s a great time to pause and ask, “What am I paying attention to? What am I emphasizing this time of year?”
Sometimes all it takes is incorporating some meaningful questions or a small comment to shift the attention away from "I, me, mine" toward thinking of others. For example, while food shopping for a big meal, find ways to engage the heart and reflect on the preferences of your visitors or those you’re cooking for. "Grandma loves sweet potatoes. Can you help pick the best ones for our dish?"
When a child sees a toy or item they want (a seemingly inevitable occurrence this time of year) acknowledge their desire and then help them to expand their awareness asking something like, "Wow it would be great to have that! What would you do if you got 10 of those? Who else do you know who would love to have that?"
Whether you plan to buy gifts for others or not, you can even make a game of it while shopping to find 10 things that they think a particular friend or relative might like as you walk around the store. Older kids might enjoy playing a version of "The Price is Right," trying to find a pretend gift that is the closest to a pretend budget without going over. Can you find 3 gifts under $20?
Traditions Teach Values
I recently came across this fun story that serves as a great example of how ordinary traditions, like buying, decorating, caring for and disposing of a Christmas tree, can actually become a wonderful way to engage the heart, cultivate willpower and connect with nature.
In a recent edition of Country Living magazine, author Jo Piazza shares about their family tradition of bringing their Christmas trees to be eaten by goats. More than just a nice way to recycle their Christmas tree, it's a simple, joyful way to help the kids to be more expansive throughout the season.
Right from the start the children, who love goats, choose their Christmas tree asking, "Do you think the goats will like this one?" Jo comments on engaging them in the responsibility of keeping the tree watered (normally not a favorite chore) by reminding them it will be tastier for the goats. Then at the end of the season, often when it's easy to simply throw all the wrapping paper in the trash and move on to the next thing, the celebration and giving continues.
A few weeks after Christmas, they make a big pancake breakfast while they take everything off their tree. Then they jump in the car and drive 20 minutes to the goats where families wait their turn to enter and feed the goats their tree. The happiness that the tree brought to their family is multiplied by the happiness of sharing with the goats. Even something as mundane as disposing of a tree can become a meaningful tradition, full of life lessons, shared in an engaging way, that brings our values to life.
Make Time for Stillness
Of course, if we want to celebrate the holiday season with greater calmness and consciousness, remember that your energy and attention is the key factor. If nothing else, make time for a centering practice of some sort. Whether it's quiet journaling, a silent cup of tea to start or end the day, a movement or a guided meditation, make time to be still.
While it can seem counterintuitive, it's even more important to slow down and make time for stillness and reflection when we're feeling overwhelmed and busy. As the old Zen saying goes, "You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour." So give yourself permission to pause and reset. Take this time to reflect and return to what really matters most.
If you're looking for more support or guidance in establishing a regular centering practice check out the Ananda Course in Meditation which starts January 5th!