A mindful Christmas for music lovers

Posted on: 10th December, 2019

Category: Music Box

Contributor: Gary Hannon

Looking back at 2019, I’m sure we all noticed that there has been a youth-led paradigm shift regarding life on earth. However, the elephant in the room –– with by far the largest carbon footprint – is Christmas. All those unnecessary gifts! It is the most capitalist event of the year, and this year’s is due to be the most expensive since before the crash! It’s meant to be a day for living like a Christ – to be your very best self – but it’s been hijacked by the neoliberal agenda; the very one that has done more to cause climate change than anything else! 

We need to reclaim Christmas! But how? I feel the answer is that basis for what our shared behaviour on Christmas Day should be – to be our best selves! Treat everyone well, (and if you can, continue like that for the rest of your year, your life!) Treat the Earth like it is our Mother, who supports us 100 per cent! Bear in mind that if it were New Year’s Eve in the year life of Mother Earth, humans would have only arrived the day before Christmas Eve! And yet, we would have poisoned her significantly in the most recent 30 minutes of her life (since the industrial revolution)!  

This positive change in our awareness of our actions would have knock-on effects on our behaviour in the run-up to Christmas. If you’re considering purchasing as a gift, always read the label of the item. If it states, ‘made in…a country outside of the EU’, then consider that it may have been made in a sweatshop, that the workers may not be paid a minimum living wage; that they may be children who should be in school. Then consider the carbon footprint of getting that product to you. If it seems too cheap, then it is ‘too cheap’! So don’t buy it. Instead consider buying something that was made locally, something handmade in West Cork. Even better, a present made by you or by one of the friends or family. (What relative says that they wouldn’t like something made by you?)

Some say that mindfulness is an overused word. However true mindfulness is a vastly ‘underused skill’! It brings all of life to ‘life’! Being mindful — being truly, fully present—when making decisions, will positively enhance your experiences: of Christmas Day, of event participation, of music playing and so on.

There is a practice in the Zen Buddhism tradition of Plum Village where they ring a mindfulness bell at intervals throughout the day. When hearing it, everyone stops what they’re doing, no matter what — even stopping half-way through a sentence – takes three slow, mindful breaths, and then continues what they were doing in a more mindful way. You don’t have to go to Plum Village in France to practice this, simply download the Mindfulness Bell app to your laptop/phone and every 15 minutes, a bell will sound/signal, reminding you to be present. Remember that anything can act as your mindfulness trigger: a red traffic light, a queue, the Angeles, every time you see an animal, and so on.

I’m getting off track! Back to music! So where does music come into this? You can use music to practice mindfulness. For example, listen to your favourite piece of music on headphones/a good stereo. (My favourite is the 15-minute live version of My Funny Valentine from the same-titled 1964 album by Miles Davis.) Close your eyes. Listen. Concentrate only on that. When you feel that you have discovered all that there is to the obvious/main part of the song, listen to it again, but this time ‘just listen’ to what, for example the pianist/drummer is doing throughout. You will hear it in a different way and the music will reveal itself more. This luxury is free – it only costs time. It’s something we actually can make plenty of over the holidays.

A large study to investigate what kids most want, found that the answer is simple: the presence of their parents (not ‘presents’ from their parents)! For a parent to be truly present with their kid is far more important that any material gift. So remember that this Christmas! Make experiences. Bring them to midnight mass, especially if they’ve never been. Go to the mass with the best choir and the most music. It really is a magical experience! Learn to play your favourite Christmas song — there has to be one — on an instrument. 

Other gift ideas, which can help our community, include: attend (or join) a choir; go to a trad session; visit your favourite venue; buy tickets for your favourite festival (West Cork Chamber Music Festival, Clonakilty International Guitar Festival, etc.); buy an instrument (in Jeffers); book music lessons for someone (maybe from Jim Murray or Justin Grounds); support a local musician by attending their gigs (Lauren Guillery, Brian Deady, Bill Shanley, Fintan McKahey, etc.); buy a vinyl album—they will outlive CDs by decades, if not centuries — (e.g. Man and Myth by Roy Harper). As a special gift to someone, book a session at a local recording studio (Lettercollum Studios). 

Finally, do some charity work – help out at a homeless charity, participate in some carol singing, or drop in toys to The Lodge in Clonakilty, or other Direct Provision centres in your area. And for those who feel that they already have enough, just ask for your loved ones to donate to SVDP/Simon or another charity of your choice on your behalf.

Have a Mindful Christmas!

My gig of the month

The Vespertine Quintet – This Place is a Shelter – w/ Paidraig O Tuama, DeBarras, Thursday, December 12. Doors 9pm. Tickets: €10.

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