In the face of consumerist culture, marketing overload, and family expectations, how do we focus on what we love and not become overwhelmed with choice and external pressures?
When I was little, my grandfather made decorations out of recycled things to adorn the trees out front of our home. Gifts were from each other rather than Santa, and we celebrated the birth of Jesus by going to church and displaying the Nativity scene on the mantelpiece. Sleighs and snowmen, lights, holly, and reindeer, also captivated my imagination, and the magical story of Santa provided a wonderful fantasy to be excited about!
I have found Christmas enthralling, joyful, fun, heartwarming, and sometimes confusing! I have tried to draw some lines between the heat of our Australian summer, the snowflake decorations that adorn our now indoor pine tree, the birth of Jesus, and flying reindeer! Through my teens and adulthood, I have held various views and beliefs in regards to Christmas and responded in many different ways (from “Scrooge” to fanaticism). Now with husband and children, we are faced with the task of weaving together our family celebration and practice of Christmas. I'm still drawing lines, and some of them are in pencil (literally). I will keep unravelling and recreating our celebrations, each with its own authentic and personal meaning. Here's how I make every holiday work for me and my family, so I can give with love, and figure out what's most important to me so I can be flexible with the rest.
I start by giving myself time and space to notice and accept myself. When I am relaxed, I can focus better and enjoy planning and preparing from a much happier place. I do this by using various mindfulness techniques; many of which I have been doing intuitively since I was a child.
“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment; through a gentle, nurturing lens. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we're sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.” (Definition from Greater Good magazine.)
Finding a comfy place to be still and present really helps. Depending on what the weather is like, and what my family is up to, I might sit in my art studio, outside, or in the living room. Sitting or lying down with a straight back and with my eyes closed, I bring awareness to my breath. I notice my body and how I am feeling, then bring awareness to my surroundings, the smells, the temperature, noises around me, then back to my breath again.
Next, I do some free-flowing writing around the topic of Christmas (or whichever season/holiday I am celebrating).
When doing this writing, allow yourself to write anything! It doesn't have to make sense and it's just for you. There is no right or wrong. The main thing is to keep writing for about one to two A4 pages to see what you might be really thinking about, what lies just below the surface.
It's amazing what I've discovered throughout this process! I've realised how I've felt about things and even written solutions to problems I was feeling stressed about. By writing freely I allowed myself to process things I had been blocking out due to stress.
The next thing I love to do is choose and collect things intuitively that remind me of Christmas. If you do this step, follow your own interest and/or curiosity. Try not to think about it too much. Be aware of your feelings and thoughts as you go. What connects you to the feelings that you associate with Christmas? Walk around your home, your neighbourhood, or preferred location, look through old decorations, magazines, books and/or photo albums. You might like to take photos or collect the objects if you are able to do so. There is no right or wrong in whatever you connect with. You might notice a colour, texture, or shape that connects you to a memory or feeling. If it's not something you want to connect with, allow yourself to breathe through any discomfort, then focus on a different object of interest.
Once I've found objects or images that connect with my memories or ideas about Christmas, I like to set up areas around my home to inspire and remind my family and me what we are celebrating. My family does this too. Sometimes we work on decorating an area together, or sometimes my children make their own areas. You might like to display your findings in some meaningful and aesthetically pleasing way. If you've been taking photos you might like to print them or create a pinboard on Pinterest. I usually set up a space somewhere- a small table or shelf where the objects can be seen and reflected upon. You might choose to add fabrics, candles, or vases to hold the objects, and further express your feelings or create a story.
One year I displayed our little train that lights up and plays Christmas carols with white doilies that look like snow, and created a little village with some special wooden toys. My children loved it! I have found sticks to create dried wreaths, and attached little red felted balls, to remind me of the circle of life and the story of Jesus. We have created nativity scenes with stuffed toys, boxes, and blankets and decorated dolly pegs with luscious Indian fabrics to represent the wise men from the East who came to visit Jesus.
I often find an object to hold or look at intently that speaks deeply to me of something I am contemplating about Christmas. It may be something from nature, a candle, photo, or sentimental toy. Again, there is no right or wrong. Notice what you are being drawn to and allow yourself to follow that intuition. To connect intuitively allows the subconscious, the playful, the suppressed thoughts and feelings some space to be explored and expressed. This allows us to feel more whole, and perhaps to let go of old thoughts and feelings that may have been holding us back. Whilst admiring or observing my chosen object to contemplate, I breathe deeply and notice any feelings, memories, or ideas that emerge, and maybe spend some time allowing them to come, and breathing through them.
Something I've realised about Christmas from my family and others over the years is how much I appreciate the sharing, showing each other that we care, that we have thought of one another, and we have put aside time on this day to be present. So, I ask myself: what am I creating to share? Perhaps a beautiful or fun space to be in, delicious foods, presents, gatherings, or allocating time to just be present with someone.
Christmas is definitely a nostalgic time for me. I have always been delighted by the beauty of ornaments, the smell of pine needles, and warm, salty sea winds. Around mid-November when the “Silly Season” starts, and the warmer weather releases the familiar scents of summer, and the promise of beaches, school break and Christmas are felt, I start to notice and gather what I have to give and what is in abundance around me. Often it is fruit or herbs from our garden, or cookies we have baked. Sometimes it's greeting cards we have made, or little Christmas decorations. We make these things together as a family and it has become a tradition. My children look forward to baking gingerbread now, because it has become a happy memory of their own. They think about what they can create and share with their own friends and family. I'm excited to see their joy and generosity bloom out of this simple coming back to centre, coming back to mindfulness, to meaningfulness, and what is flowing out of that.
It's never too late to be present, to be mindful, and share some love with yourself and others.
Here are some ways I practise mindfulness in my everyday life that I have found very helpful:
The Artist’s Way and The Artist's Way for Parents by Julia Cameron
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Gabby is an Artist, Wife, and a Mother of three, who lives and works in Melbourne, Victoria. Her way of life connects work and family through her mindfulness practice.
Gabby shapes her days with time in nature, with family, yoga, meditation and art. She runs workshops via zoom and in person, and sells her art through exhibitions and her social media platforms. Gabby is continually working on developing good mental health and wellbeing practices, authenticity, environmental sustainability, and community, within a culture of love.
Please feel free to contact Gabby via the following methods if you would like to book a workshop, buy or commission an artwork, collaborate, ask questions or connect.
Facebook: Artist Gabby Willmott