When you're faced with a socially distant Christmas

Naomi Crain

Well, it's Christmas week, covid style.

I know many people are facing Christmas without the normal traditions and celebrations. And that's hard.

Here in Sydney we are suddenly facing the potential of a truly socially distant Christmas, as lockdowns are enforced in a rush to contain the latest outbreak.


It's easy to get despondant. 

But, as is my tendency, I thought about how the drizzly, chilly weather lent itself to a cozy feel, and I might enjoy some bonus peaceful downtime.

Yes, I shall be serene and well rested after this weekend.


And then I stubbed a metaphorical toe on the furniture leg of my own stillness resistance.

My thinking went like this: 
So much time - I should sew that hem I've been meaning to; or maybe I could watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I love getting lost in another world like that; or maybe I could bake some Christmas cookies and decorate them; or maybe I should do a good, long online yoga class; or maybe do some songwriting, haven't done that in a long time; or I could finally tidy up my office space, goodness knows it needs it; or...or...or...

It went on for a while. 

Why is it so hard to get still and enjoy it?

There's two things that I think stop us from sinking into stillness and reaping the rich rewards.

1. We've been running at the speed of "crazy busy" for so long, we don't know how to stop.

I think there's truth in this point for almost everyone. When we have a quiet minute, we fill it with social scrolling and checking the news. We leave the TV on to fill the silence. We are well trained to see time as something to fill with action rather than enjoy with inaction. So when we suddenly have cause to stop, the mind is still in spin mode and just comes up with  different bunch of options.

This is addressed in a great book I've started reading called Rushing Women's Syndrome, by Dr Libby Weaver. Dr Weaver unpacks how all this busyness, of mind and body, is affecting our health. Not new news to me, but great to read someone else's work in this area. All activity (whether physical or on screens or listening to news etc) creates stress in the body. Too much stress for too long = burnout, physically, mentally and emotionally, and I would add, spiritually.

Learning to slow down is a really important skill for our health and our ability to love living. It's a daily practice of choosing to use some time to do (what feels like) nothing. But that nothing, like watching a sunset, sitting in quietness and deep breathing, lying down and resting, trains the body to turn off stress responses and start the processes that keep us healthy, like repairing, reproducing, connecting and finding deeper meaning.

That's where loving living starts.

2. We have beliefs that say we shouldn't, can't or it's bad to stop doing.

Our society loves action, pushing, achieving, building, doing doing doing. Many of us have families that taught us to keep doing - parents can be forgiven for always trying to keep kids occupied and busy! But what few of us ever learned is how to rest, how to just enjoy time, alone or together, without doing doing doing. 

I have a friend who loves to have people over. And I love being there, the food is always good. The hard thing is that when she has people over, she simply doesn't relax. She is hardly seated at the table, too busy fussing around, serving everyone, getting drinks, offering seconds, clearing plates, washing up while we remain at the table. Knowing her family of origin, I see that the women were expected to cater to everyone or they were seen as lazy, selfish or horrible hostesses. To relax would be to fail, to be judged and to be socially punished. She holds deep, unquestioned beliefs that she has to. She is pushing herself to avoid the feeling worthless, rejected and bad - not that she's aware of it. She's just never questioned why she pushes so hard.

It's no surprise that by middle age, this friend has had numerous, quite serious health issues, driven by stress and the fact that, to relax, she drinks too much and uses social media while TV watching. 

Her example is not uncommon. Most of us learn some version of this, perhaps with different specifics. Beliefs like 'I must succeed at my job to be OK' or 'I must have an income of $X or I'm not OK' or 'To achieve nothing, even on a day off, is not OK'. 

Where are you being driven by a fear of not being OK? What would you feel if you really did sit and do nothing for a while?

The quiet, socially distant Christmas plan

I hope to use the extra time I have over the next week, to face these fears and do nothing anyway.

Daily time to stop, in silence, and feel into my body - what am I feeling? Is anywhere hurting? Is anywhere stiff, cold, uncomfortable, tense? Is my body tired?

Then feel deeper, into my emotions - how am I feeling today? How am I feeling about Chritmas? About specific relationships? How am I feeling (not thinking, feeling) about the year we've had and the year to come? (note any fear, then see what's beneath it - what are you really afraid of and if that happened, how would you feel? Are you really afraid of the thing happening or the feeling you think you'll feel if it happens?)

Finally, deeper still, lies peace. Feel the feelings, cry, punch a pillow, shake out the fear. Then feel the peace. Remember, we generally only feel a strong emotion for 90 seconds, and after that, our brains give us a break. That's where peace lives.

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