Do you find you 'keep going and going' like the Energiser Bunny as the Christmas break nears?
When there's too much to do in too little time, I've found that leaning a little less on human planning and a little more on spiritual intuition can be a calming and energising influence.
So here are some spiritual gifts you might want to give yourself this Christmas - to help smooth the way to happier and healthier holidays.
1. Start with stillness. It helps if we can start each day by making time to shut out the drumbeat of demands and simply be still. Gaining a sense of spiritual poise might be the best gift you can share with family, friends and colleagues. To paraphrase Gandhi: "Be the calm you want to see!"
2. Let love govern your lives. Nineteenth century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: "We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end." Why not make it a daily priority to spot opportunities to fulfil the original Christmas promise of spreading peace and goodwill? Viewing love as a governing principle and reordering priorities accordingly can surprisingly help, rather than hinder, the ability to get everything done.
3. Don't squander your peace of mind on anger. Scientific research has shown kindness is good for your health and anger unhealthy. So turn the other cheek when you're cut off on the road or someone nabs your parking space - for the sake of your health as well as your safety. Essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson advised: "For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind."
4. Be unconditionally grateful. Scientists are accumulating evidence which verifies what spiritual thinkers have long affirmed: that a gratitude attitude can reduce the blues which the holiday season sometimes exacerbates. A friend's depression turned around when, during a moment of spiritual clarity, she began appreciating the everyday things of life. She felt impelled to make this a practice until, slowly but surely, she saw more significant things to appreciate. Finally, the permanent lifting of the depression itself became a cause for heartfelt gratitude.
5. Embrace the spiritual ideas at the heart of the holidays. "Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light", Frank Sinatra famously sung. But the composer of "Have yourself a merry little Christmas" later rewrote the popular standard as a gospel song in which Christmas went from merry to blessed and "the shining star upon the highest bough" gave place to "hosannas, hymns, and hallelujahs". Our holidays can include both. Beyond that festive spirit in your hearts, why not let the Christmas or Chanukah stories of divine light lift your hope even higher to ponder the wonders of the divine spirit?
6. 'Love your neighbour as yourself'. The season of goodwill seems to bring out the worst in some people's lives. So take to heart this be- a-good-neighbour-guidance from Jesus and you may be surprised how much of a mutual blessing it can be. The Bible message of the coming of Christ is that the divine's love is always present with everyone. We can strive to bring more of that love to light by finding sincere ways to express it to others. As we do so, we shouldn't feel surprised to feel how divinely loved we are, too. And there's icing on the cake. Research shows expressing altruism is good for the giver's health too.
7. Forgive even if you can't forget. The recently mourned and much-lauded South African leader Nelson Mandela warned: "Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies." In contrast, it's amazing how long we sometimes let petty feuds and hurt feelings persist with family members and friends. Christmas offers us an opportunity to review and revise our mental list of grievances before they ruin our holiday break or, worse, our health. As the Mayo Clinic once put it: "If you don't practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being."
Entertaining a spiritual outlook is not just for Christmas. It is Christmas, any time of the year. President Calvin Coolidge said: "Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas."
This Christmas "state of mind" can help free us from stress during the holiday season. And it can do so throughout the other eleven months, too.
So here's an idea for a Christmas gift that will keep on giving. Why not quietly make a commitment to yourself to bring out more of these divine elements in your daily life next year? It could be the key to a happier and healthier 2014.
Tony Lobl is a Christian Science practitioner