The Christmas after our divorce, back in 1992, was a time I, and I am sure all of us, dreaded. My father had died that year, the boys were with their Dad, and I was waking up on Christmas Day alone for the first time in my whole life, aged 42. I was seeing family for lunch but Christmas morning had always been a time surrounded by family – my parents and siblings for the first 21 years of my life and then husband, kids and Christmas stockings in adulthood. I wondered how I would sustain myself that morning on my own.
In the end it turned out to be a rather mystical experience. I made a good breakfast for myself and then took myself into the sitting room and sat beneath my beautiful Christmas tree, with Vivaldi’s Gloria playing on the CD player. I just sat there for a while, quietly listening to the music and letting my eyes go into gentle focus on the tree and its lights. Everything seemed to become a little magical and I felt held by the tree, the music, and the presents I then opened from my friends. I have never forgotten how a moment I dreaded actually became one of the most spiritual experiences of my life, where I felt connected and at one with everything.
It makes me think about how life can surprise us sometimes, and how, in these lockdown days of Coronavirus, we need to find ways to take ourselves out of the worry and into the now, to music, to nature, to the beauty all around us that we so often take for granted. I still occasionally pretend I am a tourist visiting London for the first time and am always delighted and taken aback with its architecture and elegance, the parks, gardens, landmarks. Wherever you are, this can be an uplifting experience and you can also take in the trees, birds, the crunch of the leaves on the pavements, the joy of children jumping in puddles as children have over the generations. Watch children come out of school at the end of a day, sense their excitement about Christmas or a tooth fairy: it’s infectious.
It’s about opening our eyes to the richness of those things around us. It can be fun to walk about our home in a similar way – not as if we are seeing it for the first time but that we are remembering where we bought a painting, where we read a book, when we bought a piece of furniture, with whom. It’s about remembering the fun and treasured memories of our life, the pottery a son made when he was 8, a letter a daughter wrote to you aged 5, a picture painted by a grandchild. It’s about taking time to stop, remember, appreciate yourself and all those experiences.
When we are alone, or feeling down, it’s too easy to forget all the things one has achieved, small or large, in one’s life. In our creative writing course we are encouraged to take a piece of paper and spend 10 minutes writing down things we feel proud of, or happy memories, or places we have seen. And the friends and family who have been and may hopefully remain a part of our lives.
Music is so important, I find. Listening to Portuguese Fado makes me cry – that’s helpful, as I don’t find it easy to cry and it can spark off the tears that needed to flow about something. Listening to country and western makes me smile and dance – probably me at my happiest! I don’t think my sister will mind me sharing that she listens to the Beatles and it reminds her of the happy times of her life with a friend in Paris, then with her late husband, Leo, those carefree moments of youth, and she feels younger, more agile, the years of age slip away. The delightful thing is my daughter-in-law shares this enjoyment and I have just handed over to her a suitcase full of my Beatles memorabilia (I was a Beatle-maniac!). Lovely to have it appreciated!
Some spiritual teachers might say this kind of practice feeds the ego but I think we need a little ego, just not too much. Nothing would get done in the world without some ego. It’s easy to sit on a mountain top and meditate away one’s ego, far harder to do so in the real world! In the real world we have to earn money, find something fulfilling to do, make our lives meaningful in some way, and still do the chores. But we do have to manage our egos, that’s for sure. It doesn’t help the world if we all become boastful, like President Trump!
And so, I believe we can find a place inside us where that ego feels in harmony with oneself and the world outside, where it is quiet but steady, with a feeling of contentment and a feeling that we belong in this world around us and feel at one with it, which was the state I reached sitting under my Christmas tree that morning back in 1992.
I feel our spiritual leaders have been woefully silent during this coronavirus pandemic. They could have given people so many words of comfort but I have heard few. They could have reminded people about gratitude, which helps us so much to notice what we can appreciate in our lives, who does sustain us, who is there for us. They could have reminded people about forgiveness, as resentment only eats away at the person holding the resentment when the person who did the deed might be living a life blissfully unaware of the hurt they caused. They could have reminded us of kindness, and how when we carry out an act of kindness we are also being kind to ourselves. They could have reminded us of trust, trust that “this too will pass” and, where we have little control, then to do what we can but trust that life has good times and bad, always has and always will, and hopefully good times will return.
So whether you are about to spend Christmas alone, or in a different way this year, or are perhaps someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas but does, nonetheless, usually get together with family or friends over this holiday period, slow down your senses, open your eyes to the outside beauty of the world and, at the same time, connect with that quiet inner self deep within and find some peace and sustenance.
Wishing you well…