On the surface, the winter holidays are a joyous celebration. The crackle of a fire, the warmth of a thick sweater, and the love of family all come together to bring a feeling of contentment and serenity. As presents are opened and houses are decorated, it's almost impossible not to get into the holiday spirit!
That is, until the extended family comes to town. After two hours or so, that same family togetherness that brings so much peace to the holiday season reduces it to a war zone. Siblings turn into enemies, cousins into rivals, families into factions. And as all of this rages around us, many of us are left wondering if there is any way to find peace during these moments of all-out conflict.
As it turns out, there might be. In the moments where the holiday cheer turns into rage, well-practiced meditation can give you the skills to find at least some inner peace, even while everyone else is reduced to acting savagely.
What is meditation? Compared to its historical practice, many meditative techniques have developed, each with their own methods of achieving a sense of inner peace and mindfulness. A common technique is focusing for 20 minutes on some rhythmic process, like breathing, to clear your mind. Given time and practice, even a complete novice should develop mindfulness towards their surroundings and emotions. The goal is not to completely erase your thoughts and emotions, but being able to achieve a state in which you are unbothered by them, and eventually control them.
How does this help us with holiday conflict? Meditation does not claim to completely eliminate conflict, but rather to help us respond better to it. Meditation has been shown to decrease anxiety and depressive symptoms, while increasing focus. Thus, when we’re faced with racist comments from Cousin Billy at the dinner table, we can respond to them in a cool and collected manner. The more we increase control of our thoughts and emotions through mindfulness, the better at managing conflict we will be.