|Like Christmas, the Winter solstice celebrates the coming of "light"|
What most of these celebrations have in common is the idea of a new beginning, and the symbolic reception of the gift of “light” or the triumph of light over darkness, represented by the beginning of the new solar cycle, the triumph of good over evil, and the birth and enlightenment of superior beings.
Ritual, symbolism, community, appreciating our gifts, cultivating gratitude, embracing a new beginning, preparing to receive light…we could say the real meaning of Christmas lies somewhere amongst these words although, ironically, these are the very last words we would tend to associate with it.
|Music and ritual: the yin of Christmas|
From November onwards we are officially unleashed into the shopping centres, bars, and restaurants to get into the “Christmas spirit”. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with any of these places, what makes it out of balance is the sheer fury with which we buy, eat, and drink until Christmas day when we have the mother of all feasts and give and receive excessive amounts of objects - some desired, some immediately discarded. With this amount of excess, even the more Yin activities of nourishing ourselves and connecting to others in a meaningful way become a thunderous Yang time-bomb.
|Another day, another feast|
The results of our excess can clearly be seen in the month of January, when feeling heavy and exhausted, and with an empty wallet, we become depressed and despondent and fall susceptible to every bug and allergen. The spring then comes and with its outward energy forces all the toxins out giving us even stronger bugs, allergies, headaches, and skin disorders; amongst other things. Is it really worth it? Some of us may enjoy the relentless partying and overeating so much that are happy to sacrifice a month or two feeling literally “hungover”, but others may feel so ill or depressed that they are unable to function under these circumstances.
The causes of this out-of-sorts feelings could be reduced to:
- a depleted Yin- burned by the excessive activity, little rest, and the heating properties of alcohol and heavy food. Yin energy contributes to our emotional stability, mental activity, and our ability to relax and attain restorative sleep, amongst other things. When deficient, we may notice symptoms such as moodiness, irritability, depression, inability to concentrate or think straight, insomnia, etc.
- a depleted Yang from using more energy than we have and failing to nourish ourselves with foods that are easily digestible and therefore useful to the body. Yang is the fire that fuels the functioning of our whole body so lack of it can be felt as feeling cold and exhausted, and an sluggishness or underfunctioning in any part of the body and the mind.
- increased toxicity in the body from consuming exaggerated amounts alcohol, sugar, fats, refined carbohydrates and little of the foods that help the body get rid of waste products. Swellings, skin rashes, fevers, and headaches are just some of the symptoms that can result from increased toxicity in the body.
Creating festive Balance
This is not about condemning the consumption of alcohol or of any particular foods. In the world of balance there is no such thing as something inherently bad, it all depends on the context and on the extent of the consumption. In fact, partying and sharing food, drink and fun times with our friends and loved ones are excellent ways to relax, maintain a healthy Heart and promote a relaxed and open mind and body. What may cause problems is failing to balance all that binging on alcohol and food, and partying with eating healthier food, drinking cleansing fluids, and resting body and mind.
If we were more inclined towards balance, we would have fun, sing, dance, eat chocolates, have some alcohol and feast on delicious food; but we would have regular breaks from this to cleanse and nourish the body, and get proper rest so that toxicity would not accumulate and our energy would not suffer.
What you can do:
Cultivating balance is not about abstinence but about self-respect. Here are some useful tips:
- Have days off alcohol, and when you’re planning on having a heavy night make sure you’re well hydrated before, during, and after the event.
|Nutritious veg help us get rid of toxins|
- Don’t always eat the same foods; variety is the spice of life: this will avoid overloading your system with the same things.
- Balance heavy foods with plenty of vegetables: vegetables not only provide roughage but a whole load nutrients that your body needs to function properly and to cleanse itself.
- Avoid eating too much red meat and too many carbohydrates in one sitting: You'll probably know already that red meat takes days to go through your body before it gets properly assimilated and its waste products discarded, so in excess it can clog up your digestive system. Too many carbs will do the same and combined with excess meat can result in a build up of undigested food and waste products in your digestive tract that can ferment and give you a host of problems from constipation to joint and skin problems.
- Have a rest: balance your rest and activity, this is one of the keys to good health, and who does not want good health?
- Have quiet times by yourself: the constant exposure to noise, crowds, and stimulating food and drink create a stress response in the body through the permanent sensorial overload. Just like with other types of stress, if we do not counteract this with calm and quiet times, we can do damage to different systems of the body. See my post on stress for more on this.
Let's honour the true spirit of Christmas!
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Melody Beattie
|Most gifts don't come wrapped up in festive paper|
A smile, a kind word, a hug, a readiness to listen and help are all gifts that we give and receive on a daily basis. So is having food on our table, a certain amount of comfort and health, and having people who care for us. We forget that a gift is not only the thing wrapped up in festive paper, but every single thing life has bestowed upon us. Learning to appreciate all our gifts and be grateful for them is the basic ingredient of happiness and the forgotten essence of Christmas and the other celebrations around this time of year.
The culture of always wanting more is clearly not conducive to happiness, we’re forever chasing our tail wondering if that new object, relationship, or job are going to finally bring us the permanent feeling of bliss we’re after. Once we get what we want we may be content for some time until we begin to feel that something is missing and the chase commences again. In the meantime we fail to see what we actually have and often end up losing it as we pursue our aimless hunt. Worst of all, we infect our children with our inability to be happy and not only teach them to expect us to fulfil every one of their whims but at Christmas lavish them with so much stuff that they cannot literally see it all, let alone appreciate it. This is not only failing to prepare children for a life in which clearly not every one of our whims comes true, but plants the seed of unhappiness and depression as we teach them that there is never enough.
Spread the love...
We need to learn to give with love, and receive with gratitude. The giving should not be limited to those near us though: The spirit of Christmas is also about community, and we are often encouraged to help others at this time of year. As the Buddhists say "if you can help others do so, but if you cannot then at least do not harm them ". Along with the growing awareness of the impact of our consumerist society -not just on the environment, but on other people who are working in appalling conditions and living in near-slavery so that we can buy cheap goods (1, 2)- comes growing responsibility.
|Our shopping habits harm people around the world|
Again, it's not about righteousness or making ourselves feel guilty and anguished by trying to achieve unachievable goals. It's about becoming more aware of our choices and doing as much as we can to avoid harming other living beings with them. Hard times have befallen not just us but the whole world, so there is no reason to feel entitled to be wasteful or unconscious just because we think we've had it hard. In fact others may have it harder, and often we have been an indirect cause of it. As much as we can, let's try not to go crazy buying cheap stuff that is going to be immediately discarded. This is likely to have been made by some sweatshop or factory worker who is not paid enough for the effort. We have the power to force shops to sell us goods that are more responsibly sourced, and the power to reduce the amount of unnecessary rubbish going to landfill in this overcrowded world. This is sharing the love with as many people as we can and with the earth that sustains us, what could be more within the real Christmas spirit than that?
Wishing everyone a wonderful, joyful, warm, loving, and heart-felt Christmas!!
With much love and gratitude, Sandra
1. Recent news of one of many awful accidents in an Asian sweatshop, where clothes bought by us in the UK are made: http://en.avaaz.org/1140/is-there-blood-on-your-new-fleece-jacket?utm_source=db_newsletter&utm_medium=blast&utm_content=26112012&utm_campaign=bangladesh&cl=2212941856&v=19524
2. Closer to home, the appalling conditions people work under in the West, courtesy of Walmart (owners of Asda): http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/11/whos-really-to-blame-for-the-wal-mart-strikes-the-american-consumer/265542/