On Christmas Haste.

light flooding darkness


*Edit: I am excited to announce that a slightly altered version of this post was published on http://www.everyday-mindfulness.org :)

December really is the ideal month to observe yourself mindfully when undergoing stress. All those deadlines and important birthdays and do not get me started on Christmas preparations. Think about it. When does the white noise of constant pressure-chatter start? When you open your eyes after too short a night of restless sleep? When you leave the incredibly soft warmth of the amazingness called bed and head for the shower on autopilot?

Being me, I get so caught up in my confined box of shoulds and to-dos that this is eventually all there is. Finishing this paper, preparing the next and organizing that surprise birthday trip all the while taking care of a coughing husband, hosting girls’ nights and fusing heavenly smelling home-made cosmetics for Christmas gifts in our steamy kitchen on the third floor of an illuminated Berlin apartment. In intense times, this becomes all I am concerned with, and even just a year ago, this sort program would have made my head leave my body for good, spinning in its own world of everything that still has to be done. No time for pleasure, for slow eats or attentive listening to the murmur of a radiator heating up. No time for pausing, even just a minute, alone, in stillness, with friendliness and a curious eye towards the self. Pausing doesn’t even really occur to me anymore once I am in that sphere.

And oh, the speed with which I power through the tasks! Any task, really — because everything becomes a task. Have you ever paid attention to how we do everything as quickly as possible? I mean, we don’t take our time vacuuming. Why would we — after all, it’s cleaning, so why waste time on it. It’s better to get it over with so we can get to the real things, like buying gifts and stuff (which in turn we are also happy to be finished with as early as possible). Similarly, we “just quickly” do the dishes, we force down our lunch to “have more” of our break, we race across streets and on subways to catch the next connection because the next connection is better than the one after that, even if we are actually not in a hurry. Why “waste time” waiting?

It’s almost like we expect God to stand there timing us for the amount of seconds we waste doing things that we consider unproductive. Once you start paying attention to it, you will catch yourself hurrying through many things for really not that good of a reason at all, except that you will be done three minutes earlier. Three minutes. But are they worth the price we pay?

What happened if we were actually present for our boring everyday lives, even during stressful times? What do we really feel if we choose to stay for all those annoying, routinized “tasks” that we only do to get them done? What happens if we actually show up with friendliness and curiosity for that same shower we take, that same breakfast, that same “love you” sent after a loved one before we or they leave for work, and that same meal we cook at night despite the looming tasks and to-dos? What happens if, every time our mind wanders, we acknowledge that urge to do so but then gently bring it back to what truly is instead of all the things that really aren’t right now?

When I manage to consciously bring my attention back to the moment and resolve to marvel, joy immediately floods my veins with warmth and life. It is so reassuring to return to my body and suddenly realize the world in all its saturated heaviness and goodness is still there. I take pleasure in closing my eyes and listening to the curious sizzling of melting butter in a pan. How simple is beauty? Washing the dishes my hands slowly absorb the water’s heat, I hear the cheerful bubbling and splattering, and it reminds me of my childhood. It makes me chuckle. Waiting for the subway, I feel my breath, one long stream of air filling my nostrils, being pulled through my nose and down my throat, filling my chest, my belly, almost down to my feet. How curious that I am so directly and physically connected to the outside world with every breath I take. I am not my own hermetically sealed universe. And have you ever looked at a slice of a carrot under your kitchen light? I did it the other day and I was humbled. How come I have never taken the two seconds to see, truly see, carrots? There, in its center, is a peculiar star, almost like an orange snow flake. How appropriate.

So. This is what I have been doing the past few weeks. I used to power through stressful times because I believed that that is the only choice I have to get it all done as efficiently as possible. Yet it turns out that these same extra three minutes it costs to stay present when I prepare my sandwich for the day are the exact three minutes that give me back my life. Those three minutes it costs to take the next subway because I would have to run for the first when honestly, I could as well stroll joyfully with open eyes and a still heart, those are the three minutes that give me calmness, peace, and a sense of how the world will not end in the face of the three extra minutes of space I occupy in it.

Approaching Christmas steadily, I know I will work until late at night on the 23rd. I know that that night I will still have to pack and the next day I will step on a plane to arrive in my hometown just in time to swiftly have Christmas dinner and hand everyone the gifts I have made and eat the food that has been prepared by my grandmother’s loving hands. Around the world people are spending similarly tight-scheduled holidays, traveling about the globe, attending family dinners and visiting long-unseen relatives. Undoubtedly, in globalized high-speed 21st century societies such as ours, it is so easy to do things to get them over with. The sheer prospect of upcoming things can overwhelm a human soul, especially when it is a highly sensitive one.

But if it were one Christmas wish that I was granted, it would be that we get to actually be there for it. For all of it. That we can flood the ubiquitous darkness of automated routine with mindful light. I mean, after all, we — you and me — are going through so much trouble for it! Why not reap the benefits? Imagine that we get to cherish not just Christmas, but everything leading up to it. That we don’t just buy gifts to have bought them, but that we take three minutes longer to stroll through stores, marvel, and perhaps even treat ourselves to a hot chocolate — NOT to go. Imagine we wrap our finds not to get them wrapped, but to immerse ourselves in the happy crackling of wrapping paper and colors and creative possibilities and in the anticipation of glowing faces. And then imagine we don’t just get on a plane or a bus or in our car to get somewhere, but that instead we enjoy the ride like we did when we were small. That we treat ourselves nicely, prepare ourselves some yummy food for along the way, that we have our warm socks ready and something nice to read or listen to. And then imagine that we don’t just attend that Christmas dinner because that’s what we do in our family. Imagine showing up for the meal, being aware who made it, all the hands and soils that helped grow what is on the table, tasting all the things there are to taste, truly seeing those carrot snow flakes, and listening to what hearts are really saying. And that if we feel melancholy, joy, or even anger, we let ourselves feel it, because this is what is. Imagine!

Well I think that’s worth three extra minutes. And with that, I wish you all a blissfully marvelous Christmas. <3

PS: Check it out — Marvelline was given an awesome Christmas gift — the other day the post about my out-of-body stress experience was published on Everyday Mindfulness.