As I leant against a wall somewhere on the fourth floor of Liberty, I took a moment and tried to make my head stop spinning.
I was starving (my lunch break was being used to shop, not eat); I was overheating (the scarf wasn’t necessary inside, with seven billion others pushing through narrow doors past perfectly perched bottles of Diptyque); I was hungover (as I have been since around December the 4th); and I was worried – worried about getting back to the office, worried about how much I was spending, worried that I was about to pass out and collapse into a tower of scented candles. Christmas had finally arrived.
Alongside the evils of last-minute shopping, the festive season is a series of high jumps that we are forced to throw ourselves over at the end of each year. First, it’s ensuring you are having the best time ever at countless Christmas drinks. Next comes spending more money than you have on gifts for people you never actually see. And then, of course, comes the highest hurdle of all: spending time (while drinking and eating too much) with family. It’s our annual emotional rollercoster of some really lovely moments (seeing certain friends, the first time you hear Diane Love on the radio) and some not so lovely moments (stuck on the the M25 for two-thirds of Boxing Day, while being reminded of all the things you haven’t achieved this year by well-meaning aunts).
Love it or loathe it, Christmas “contains life at its most extreme"
It is, as mindfulness guru Rohan Gunatillake points out in A Very Mindful Christmas, the season of extremity. Love it or loathe it, Christmas “contains life at its most extreme: extreme happiness, extreme frustration, extreme stress, extreme loneliness”. And therefore it’s not surprising we all get a bit overwhelmed and secretly look forward to getting back to work and encountering a bit of normalcy.
For Gunatillake, his solution is mobile mindfulness. Having once fled Christmas himself to a mediation retreat in Devon, he has since developed techniques for coping without having to run for the hills every December. His 12 tips take some of the pillars of chaos associated with Christmas – shopping, disappointing gifts and/or relatives and panic – and flip them on their head, offering alternative perspectives and ways to be positive and calm about the things that normally drive us all a bit crazy at this time of year.
Undoubtedly, 2015 was the year mindfulness went mainstream. But, whether you are a novice or an expert, I can’t think of a better time of year to try out ways to achieve a bit of inner peace and quiet. Download A Very Mindful Christmas and keep on hand for those moments it all gets a bit much. Gunatlillake admits he can’t make your mother-in-law vanish, but moments of mindfulness can help: “The magic of mindfulness is not somehow converting ourselves into a perfect saintly being – it is simply being honest with what is happening and being interested in making it better.” I feel calmer already.