The Spirit of Christmas by Alison Batley
This article is taken directly from YOGA MAGAZINE (November/December Issue)
Christmas. It returns with unerring regularity and, when we’re honest, many of us don’t welcome it. It’s a stressful, expensive time, which takes us out of our regular routine. Armed with lists of presents to buy, cards to write and food to provide, it’s hard to get away from the hectic commercial celebration it has become. Eating into our time and drawing us away from our practice until January rolls around once more and we breathe a sigh of relief that it is all over for another year. But it doesn’t have to be like that. The true spirit of Christmas isn’t as far removed from yogic ideals as it often appears today. Returning to the roots of the Christian festival, the real meaning of Christmas is about finding and sharing with others peace and joy. Goodwill to all men doesn’t have to be just lines from a popular carol.
Perhaps we’re in danger of missing the real meaning of Christmas caught up in its 21st century trappings-but step back from what it has become and discover the festival has a lot in common with the aims of yoga as a celebration of love, peace and happiness. The Sutra of contentment reads, ‘ From contentment and benevolence of conciousness comes supreme happiness.’ Christmas provides the perfect opportunity to practise this teaching by seeking true happiness beyond the fleeting, superficial or worldly forms found in abundance at this time of year, such as fine food, alcohol or material goods, and looking to that which cannot be diminished. It is about cultivating acceptance of both people and things, as they are, not wishing for greater material gain or that your relatives would behave differently. This will keep the mind calm in all situations, even when faced with the most challenging of festive family gatherings. This Sutra suggests finding lasting happiness by serving others, not what results in short-term sensory pleasure or gratification of the ego. Could there be a better opportunity to practice this than this festive season? It’s time to take our Yoga off the mat and discover what it means to live yoga’s ideals. How about keeping patience and compassion when out on in the crowded shops and long queues? Or taking Athimsa, non-harming, into your choice of gifts by buying ethically?
Christmas is also called the feast of Love. Love is the most magical, exciting and beautiful feeling that we can experience. It’s where we all come from and this is our deepest yearning-to give love and feel loved.
Christmas can also be loaded with expectation, often it is the disappointment when we fail to fulfil these desires that causes the most challenging times over the festive season, this is where we should take the path beyond the mat. Sometimes events don’t follow our ‘plans’. The more mindfulness we bring to life the more we see that everything in us and around us is changing-impermanence. We are part of a bigger system, part of nature, and we are only a small part of it. And rather than that making us feel small, it can help us feel far bigger, because we’re actually much more than we usually think ourselves to be. This also helps with change and unpredictability, because it’s not just about what we want. There’s a bigger system, with a natural order to it, at work- and if we can step back it helps put our individual disappointments of things not going to plan into perspective, and life gets smoother.
So this season accept the challenge of carrying your practice off the mat and look beyond to the real richness of Yoga’s teachings as a whole life system to guide you through this festive season.