How to be Zen during the holidays


As we enter the middle of the month, many of us find we are short on time, long in line; busy, tired and perhaps hungover. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, December in American culture is a busy, event-filled, sometimes frantic time. The media, consumerism, and social norms (think of the messages in secular Christmas carols) tell us to be joyous of the season, to buy stuff, and to rush around. And amidst all of this, we expect to be happy, peaceful, and generous. This push and pull can knock us off balance.

Zen Buddhism shows us how to maintain balance and harmony during the holidays or other busy, stressful times. Here are some Zen principles and ways to apply them in December and every other month of the year. They are all interrelated and by attending to one, you are very likely doing another.


  1. Do one thing at a time and do it completely.

In other words, do not multitask. If you sit down to eat, stay there. Do not rush around answering the phone, taking something out of the oven, or checking the laundry. Modern science has also shown us that multitasking is not as effective as we would like to think it is. Here is a story from NPR addressing this very issue:

  1. Do less.

Think about what is truly necessary and you might be able to remove some of your thinking around what you feel “must” be accomplished. For example, must you attend every single holiday party you are invited to? Will you stay home if you need down time? Only you know the answers. See if doing less helps you do more.

  1. Develop rituals.

The holidays are already imbued with many rituals. See which ones work for you and your family and incorporate them into your holidays. Create your own. Rituals create stability and opportunities to connect with others.

  1. Think about what is necessary.

When we slow down, we do less. This gives us an opportunity to think about the essentials. How does our current way of doing things contribute to or take away from our quality of life? What do you really need?

For further information about Zen Buddhism, see Alan Watts’ seminal book, entitled “The Way of Zen.” Available here:

Have yourselves a Zen holiday, friends!


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