At the last monthly practice support meeting held in Newcastle at the County Hotel, we explored how the lead up to Christmas can be a valuable and rich basis for our practice to support us amidst the increased pressures we may experience at this time of year.
Where I live, which is in quite a remote area of the Northumberland National Park, we have already had snow lying before Christmas, and have been snowed in at the bottom of our track. It means we leave the car at the top of the track, and ferry everything we need up and down to the house. Sometimes in the absolute dark, we need a torch to cross the cattle grids and it can feel like something of an expedition, hearing only the crunch of the snow on the verges as we pick our way carefully down hill, sometimes catching sheeps’ eyes gleaming in the dark as we pass, and the glimpse of a thin moon hanging above the birch trees. Everything remains frozen at the moment – the fields are coated in thick white frost, the burn in the woods is a wonderland of frozen pools and hanging icicles, and the whole landscape is penetrated by a cold charge of deep stillness. It is midwinter and nature is moving towards its greatest point of contraction as we head towards the solstice.
Despite this natural slowing down in the natural world, and the moving towards a time of focussed gathering, giving and celebration, it is a time of year when we can experience the speediness and commercial drive of society, greater pressures on our time and energies, and the stress of expectations from ourselves and others to conform to perceived norms of socialising that we may not feel wholly comfortable with. It may also be a time of increased loneliness and difficulty, depending on our individual circumstances. As we hurtle towards the darkest point of the year, we also seem to hurtle forwards into a brightly glittering and artificially illuminated world. How then, do we balance these internal and external factors, and keep close to the core of our being and what we most value?
Although in times of increased business and pressure, the “no time” mind set is easily activated, mindful awareness itself is always within us and brings the possibility of countless moments of leaning in to just whatever situation we are in. Here right in the heart of the Christmas rush is the gift of practice itself. At the core of our being the opening is already there. The very nature of the season in all its manifestations serves as a reminder of how valuable it is to start just where we are in the present moment. Instead of being pulled out of connection by the glitter of external distractions, we can compassionately find the shape of whatever moment we are in, and let this be an opportunity to soften and open to this very place.
In our meeting we reflected together how practice, very simply, allows a perspective and grounded-ness that shines a way helpfully forward, moment by moment. As we feel our way in making countless choices and decisions, it becomes possible to find the ground in just the next moment, and trust the sufficiency of our own awareness and resources, one step at a time. And so we find our way home, in repeated moments, rather like discovering the sufficiency of the natural light from the moon, creeping down a snowy track in the dark of a winter’s night, and finding the path that is already there. In the midst of the glitter and the chaos, we can remember to shift gears in to a moment of awareness and grounded presence and the kindness of possibility that shines from this. Instead of feeling far away from the gates of our practice, we discover it right there under our feet. Even the process of taking a simple breath reminds us of what is most significant and meaningful in its bare simplicity.
Monthly mindfulness practice support meetings are held at The County Hotel, Neville Street, Newcastle upon Tyne on a Thursday evening, from 6.30-8pm. They are open to anyone who has completed an 8 week MBSR/MBCT course. Please see the Course Dates listing for future meeting dates.