A look at how to be spiritual this Advent
Whether you'll be celebrating the Winter Solstice on the 21st, or Christmas on the 25th, the countdown to the celebrations begins this month. The run up to festivities is called 'advent', which means 'the approach', as preparations are now made for this spiritual time of year. Although advent is traditionally a Christian concept, people of all faiths, or none, can use this transitional period to think about how spirituality fits into their lives.
Advent is about the connection between memory and hope: your memories of the year past and your hopes for the year yet to come. But the spiritual message of this time of year can get lost in the rush to buy presents, send cards, and prepare for the arrival of family and friends. The meaning of the festival can get lost amidst the overwhelming urge to spend, eat, drink and generally indulge our materialistic side. Instead, power up your spiritual side in the lead up to the season of goodwill and enjoy a more spiritual end to the year. Here's how.
Try these spiritual ideas to put joy and hope into your December
1) Enjoy the festive season. Make merry by all means. But don't overindulge in anything: food, drink, spending. The spirit of Christmas is joy and goodwill, not hangovers and debts - you'll only have to address the damage come January. So save yourself the hassle by enjoying treats in moderation.
2) Encourage a spirit of togetherness among your family by giving everyone a task to perform in the run up to festivities, so people have to work together. For instance, ask grandma to help the children decorate the tree, while your partner helps you prepare the meal. Make sure tasks are shared out fairly so nobody gets lumbered with the bulk of the work.
3) Write down 12 positive words - one for each of the 12 days of Christmas. For example: joy; hope; laughter; peace; compassion; fairness; love; kindness; giving; memories; creativity; spiritual. Choose one word per day and make sure you perform at least one act that describes your word on that day. So for 'giving' you could donate your time or some food to a charity; for 'laughter', make someone laugh that day; or for 'memories', think back about your achievements over the past year and how you can build upon them next year.
4) Can you help out your community? There are many charities who need extra volunteers during this busy season - offer your time. Donate unwanted items to charity rather than throwing them away. Do ensure the charity is properly registered and approved before you give, though.
5) Be kind and polite to everyone you meet - it doesn't cost you anything and it will make you feel good. If someone is rude to you, don't respond in kind, walk away if you can or change the subject if you can't.
6) Set yourself a goal during advent. Make it something fairly simple and achievable - then do it! You could decide: to start and finish reading that novel, to set aside spiritual time each day, to clear out that messy cupboard, to learn how to cook a new recipe, to eat more healthily; to exercise, or to pay a compliment to your partner or friend.
7) It is traditional to light candles at Advent. Choose four candles in different colours - one for each week of Advent. As you light one candle at the beginning of each week in December, dedicate each with a meaning: peace, love, hope and joy. Meditate on this word in front of the lit flame. Visualise the candle radiating the meaning of this word out into the world in a coloured light that is the same shade as your candle. Imagine this coloured light gently enveloping the world. In this way, you can send out goodwill to the world. Note: never leave the flame unattended.
8) Practise gratitude during Advent. Of course your life is not perfect - whose is? But take this month think about all the good things you do have. Give thanks and appreciation, in your mind, out to the universe or to your god, for all the blessings you have received.
9) Begin your Advent days with a moment of stillness. Quieten your mind for 10 minutes and breathe deeply and slowly. Imagine a bright, white strand of light running through the centre of your body and out through the top of your head. The light balances and calms you. Take this sense of calmness out in to the world as you go about your daily tasks.
10) Could you spare an hour or two on Christmas day? Visiting people who are alone, especially the elderly, or the bereaved is a spiritual and kind act. You could bring a small, inexpensive gift and a couple of mince pies to share. But it is your conversation and time that will matter the most. Make sure you pre-arrange the visit through a charity or with the person directly so you're not turning up unexpectedly, though!
11) Don't forget your pets. Spend time teaching your children that all creatures are sacred and precious - not just the human variety. Remind your children - and yourself - that animals must be treated with respect and love. Feed the ducks and birds in the cold winter months and leave milk and food out for hedgehogs. If you are a meat eater choose high-welfare meat products; be prepared to eat less meat and buy more expensive types so you can be assured that you are not contributing to misery and suffering.
12) Do yourself a favour by releasing any resentment you are holding onto towards others. Christmas is the perfect time to put old quarrels to bed and agree to forgive each other and move forward. Forgiveness will improve your physical, emotional and spiritual health.
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