19 December 2016

Five-easy-tricks-for-surviving-Christmas – plus 2 that take a little effort

The first time I ever made a speech at a family occasion was at Christmas lunch 1975. In January of that year I had been diagnosed with cancer, been through major surgery and given a poor prognosis. 

Just being alive for that first post-cancer Christmas felt wonderful and I felt the urge to share the feeling and the gratitude with my family.

However, not everyone finds Christmas the joyous time we might all hope and wish for. In fact, some find it pretty disappointing; some pretty stressful.

So this week, 5 easy tricks for surviving Christmas – plus 2 that do take a little effort. Maybe these tricks will help make for a more peaceful, content and humorous festive season – something we would wish for everyone, but first

Thought for the day

How vital it is to refrain from the temptation 
To judge ourselves or the teachings
And to be humorously aware of our condition 
And to realize that we are at the moment 
As if many people all living in one person.

And how encouraging it can be 
To accept that from one perspective 
We all have huge problems 
Which we bring to the spiritual path 
And which indeed may have led us to the teachings.

And yet to know from another point of view 
That ultimately our problems 
Are not so real 
Or so solid
Or so insurmountable as we have told ourselves.

Sogyal Rinpoche

Five easy tricks for surviving Christmas
1. Celebrate the family neuroses
Seen Billy Connelly’s wonderful, heartfelt film What we did on our holiday? In it Billy speaks will one of his troubled grandchildren and points out that we are all a little weird. There is the Uncle pre-occupied with money, the Aunt totally domineered, Mum and Dad fight a lot, sister is… and on and on.

We are all a little weird.

So the choice is, do we remain surprised each time the family gets together by the Uncle pre-occupied with money, the Aunt totally domineered, Mum and Dad fighting a lot, sister being… and on and on? Do we wish they were different; and allow ourselves to be resentful when they are not?

Or do you just accept that is how these people are for the time being anyway, celebrate their claims to weirdness and engage with each and everyone in a loving, interested way?

How is the money pile going Uncle? How are you coping Aunty? Recognise Mum and dad do love you, but that they do fight a lot  … and on and on…

Take the pressure off.

The chance of anyone changing quickly is probably quite slim. Might as well celebrate the neuroses, smile and have fun amidst it all.

2. Relax into the presents
Buying presents is also about celebrating those we love and care for. However, buying and wrapping them all could be another cause for stress – or a delightful meditation in action.

When shopping, remind yourself of your motivation. If it is just complete a task? To buy the presents and get it over and done with? Or is there another way?

Here is the trick. Slow down just a little. Maybe even plan ahead a little, remember who you are buying for and why, and on shopping day(s), aim to be mindful, to be present, to be using the opportunity to practice meditation in action.

And if like me you are very fussy, sometimes it is OK to buy a present and ask the beloved to give it to you! HINT – I am getting just the new pen I need this year :).

3. Work out who cooks
Sitting around a table with vegans, vegetarians, rabid carnivores, Paleos, low FODmap eaters, people who eat some seafood not others; all this is possible around one family table these days. The traditional roast is certainly under a lot of pressure ...

So work it out.

Is there one person who can cater for all these choices/preferences? They must be close to being a
cooking saint if they can! So maybe some or all need to bring their own; some need to bend a little…

However you make it work, this one may well require some clear conversations and tolerance, amidst the reality that for some, these choices are very important if they are to feel relaxed and comfortable.

4. Turn off the internet for a while. 
Try a social media fast amidst lots of good food and interesting company.

You know why…

5. Get into the spirit
It is Christmas. Time when we celebrate the birth of the embodiment of unconditional love.

So the trick? Do something meaningful… Like forgiving someone who on one level may not seem to deserve it. Just because you can. And because it may be one of the better presents you will ever give your self.

Two tricks for surviving Christmas that require a little effort
1. Maintain a balance
During times that have the potential to be stressful, it becomes even more important to look after your self. Some tricks…

i) Take time out
If family are staying, it is OK to go for a walk, see someone else for a while – be away from the action for a time.

 ii) Make time to meditate daily.

 iii) Do connect with nature when you can. Be in the garden? Walk in a park? Connect with the great balancer.

2. Contemplate life
It is the end of the year. 2017 will soon be upon us. A great hiatus. A time where it makes great sense to give time to reflecting on the year gone by – what worked for you, what was disappointing, what you might have preferred to be different.

But then to consider, what choices might I make for 2017 that will work well for me, those I love and care for? And how will I make sure I follow through …

As 2016 does draw towards its conclusion, one of the things I have noticed this year of great value is the power of learning and practicing contemplation.

Contemplation has come into the retreats Ruth and I present more and more, and the feedback from those who do actually use it is that it gives a greater clarity to life, decision making becomes easier and more effective, and that a deeper understanding of life coupled with a greater sense of meaning flows out of this practice.

Happily, contemplation will be the focus of our pre-Easter retreat in the Yarra Valley next year in April.

But for now, may the true spirit of Christmas – the celebration and practice of unconditional love – touch you and all those that you do love, and on behalf or Ruth and myself, may 2017 be a year filled with good health, much contentment and quite a few good belly laughs.


Meditation in the Forest
The annual Pre-Easter retreat amidst the natural peace and tranquility of the Upper Yarra Valley.

Looking for meaning, clarity and purpose in life?

Need a break? Some time to stand back from the busyness of life, to re-assess, to regenerate, to regain some balance once more? A new clarity...

This year, as well as taking time out to deepen our experience of the stillness of meditation, we will practise together simple yet profound methods of contemplation - the direct path to a calm and clear mind that provides the real prospect of major insights...

Dates           4 pm Friday 7th April until 2 pm Thursday 13th April 2017.
Venue          The Yarra Valley Living Centre, 55 Rayner Court, Yarra Junction, Victoria, Australia 
Bookings     The Gawler Foundation: +61 (3) 5967 1730 

For more details and to book CLICK HERE


  1. What an exceptional brilliant well timed Blog ,much love to you both for a safe healthy and happy Christmas :)

  2. Fabulous suggestions Ian. On it and thank you.

  3. Thank you Ian for your suggestions, they will be very useful. Merry Christmas to you and Ruth. Thank you again for a wonderful week at Mana, definitely the highlight of our year. Wishing you both happiness and love for 2017. Xx Kristen and Jarrod.

  4. Excellent! Happy Christmas to you two as well :)