Christmas Tree Reflections

I.   Childhood (1950s)

The arrival of the tree

was almost as exciting

as Christmas Day itself.


The long wait

trips to the front door

interspersed with hopeful gazes

at the prepared bucket

on shiny linoleum.


The agonising wait

broken by the flurry

of heavy footsteps

and the thrusting

of a trunk into dirt.


A pungent prickly pine

that made me sneeze

stolen from the river bank

had found a new home

for the last days

of its life.


We watched

as older sisters

dressed it in decorations

we’d made

from silver foil bottle-tops

and cardboard ~

and those exquisite paper lanterns

my mother found on sale years earlier.


Christmas wrapping

covered the bucket

twisted red and green streamers


from lightshade to walls.


The tree

and the wood-panelled room

smiled with colour.


I smiled too:

it was just two days

until Santa’s visit

when we would leave

Christmas cake and drink

to send him on his way.


We’d wake

and ‘look, but not touch’

until Mass and breakfast were over

then presents would be handed

one by one and we’d watch

each treasure unwrapped.


Home-made second-hand

sometimes bargain-purchased


left in Santa’s name

filled our home with joy.


II.   Marriage (1970s)

In the fourth year of my marriage

when our second-born was not yet two


silver leaves on spiked branches

reached out in cold glare

I perched the ‘tree’

on metal tripod ~

soon replaced

by a bucket of dirt

for stability

and in an attempt

to hold on to childhood. 


I added balls and bells

and colourful tinsel

overseen by a gold angel

with glittering skirt

flowing almost to the floor

then sprinkled flashing lights

for effect

and in an attempt

to let go of my childhood.


Grand and sparkling

loaded with presents

for twelve years to come

this Christmas tree echoed

an artificial life:


A façade of all that is good

on the outside

empty     devoid of warmth

and crying out for recognition

on the inside.


III.  New Beginnings (1990s)

The cypress pine

in an earth-filled pot

grows taller

each year.


When too big

to retrieve from its verandah home

for the Festive Season

I’ll find a niche

in the garden

return it to nature.


The purchase of a new

potted evergreen

for future Christmases

will complete the cycle


a sound philosophy



at age six     the tree

is wilting     gasping

from days left without water

and being knocked sideways

by gusty winds

to lie flat on cement


a reflection of myself

tired and reeling

from traumatic events

piled      one on another

and another…


sapping energy

despite steady periods

in between.


It’s time

to cut the dead wood

plant the roots

in nourishing soil


feed and water tendrils

spreading in earth.


It’s time

to expel toxins

allow expansion

and growth


nurture myself     and

take control of my life


to pot

a new cypress     and

tend it with care.


c. Kathryn Coughran ~ 1994


Writing Exercise #25

Clearing The Mind ~ B

Glass Jar Exercise:

  • Sit in a comfortable position, back straight, hands in lap
  • Close your eyes
  • Take a slow breath in and release it
  • Take five more such breaths, feeling your body relax a little more with each one
  • Turn your attention to any thoughts or images that come into your mind… just notice them… What are they about? … What are they like?
  • Now imagine that you put all these thoughts and images into a glass jar and watch them…
  • Turn the jar over, so you can see the thoughts and images from various perspectives… Are they different shapes and colours? … What do they do as you watch them? …
  • As more thoughts and images come into your mind, put them into the jar too, and see what you can learn about them…
  • Now take the jar and pour out the thoughts and images…
  • Watch as they pour out and disappear, leaving the jar empty…
  • Return your attention to your breathing, and count your breaths backwards from 10 to 1.
  • Slowly become aware of your surroundings… outside noises, sounds in the room, where you’re sitting in relation to the furniture and other people in the room…
  • When you’re ready, open your eyes

This Writing Exercise relates to my Blogs ~ The Writing Zone and ~ Mindful Writing, Writing Exercise #24 ~ Clearing The Mind and Writing Tip #23.

Mindful Writing

My last blog discussed mindfulness and how to get into the writing zone, where we’re able to write without the distraction of what has been before or what is likely to happen in the future.

This time I’ll highlight other ways we can apply mindfulness in our writing lives.

Be mindful to make writing part of every day. Like a pianist practising scales or an athlete training each day, it is advisable for writers to make writing part of their daily activities. Even if you’re unable to actually engage in the practise of writing for some reason, find some other way to advance your work. You might do research online, conduct an interview, brainstorm an idea or simply write down your thoughts.

Mindfully choose when and where to write. Many writers use Free Writing to clear their minds and help them open up to what is to come. This is sometimes called Stream of Consciousness Writing or Internal Monologue, and instructions for one such exercise can be found in my Writing Exercise – Free Writing Beyond Your Desk. Free Writing is often considered devoid of parameters, and the writing itself can be, however each time we settle to Free Write, we choose the place, subject, perspective, starting point and how long we’ll write. Hence it is within the framework of mindfulness and can benefit from the writer being fully focussed when making these decisions.

Clarify your intention before you begin. What is it you want to write? For whom? Ask yourself what the story/poem is about and jot down a broad answer in just one sentence. Then ask yourself what it is really about… what are the themes/issues that run through the story? The answer here will just be a few words, for example ‘trauma, isolation and courage’. Consider what message in relation to these themes you want to leave with the reader.

By the time you’ve clarified the answers to these questions you’ll have the essence of your intended work, and will also be able to identify the demographic of your intended readership.

This information will assist you to mindfully plan and structure your story/narrative in the most productive way.

Make mindful decisions in relation to research. Doing research isn’t just about numbers and quotes to verify what you write. There is a need to explore further than this… to question yourself about your method. Begin with a clear, focussed mind and ask yourself what research you need to undertake for your project. What research has already been done? What has been written on your subject? Who do you need to interview? What questions will you need to ask? What is the most productive way to collate and compile the results? What connections can you make and what conclusions can be drawn? And so on…

Mindfulness can enrich and expand every aspect of the writing process. Some examples are:

  • Characterisation – The clear mind and deeper creative ability that come with mindfulness will enable you to develop authentic characters, appropriate for the role they will play in your story. By asking questions of/about your characters, you will get to know them intimately.
  • Writing through the senses – Everything we experience comes through our senses and becomes connected to memory. How often have you been transported to an earlier time/place when you caught a whiff of something or heard a voice behind you? Or… perhaps you saw a pair of aqua jeans the same as you wore when you were seventeen, or you may have seen an advertisement for BEX powders on a run-down building that was once a corner store, and automatically swallowed at the memory of the taste… Tune into the sensations/responses your characters feel – what they hear, smell, taste, see, feel (touch) – through your own sensations/responses and memories surrounding them.
  • Dramatisation – Dramatised writing is that which shows the reader what is happening, rather than telling them. Its purpose is to evoke sensations in the reader and make the imagery in your writing more vivid. In the words of Anton Chekov, ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.’
  • Dialogue – is a major factor in both characterisation and dramatisation. Be mindful of who your characters are in the particular world you’re writing, so you can step into their shoes and write realistic dialogue. This will allow readers to get to know individual characters and understand their approach to life in given situations. It will also bring your story alive by deepening and expanding scenes.
  • Attention to detail – There is great power in precision, especially when it can be utilised to give a sense of place, the ethos of the times and the reactions of characters. The caution here is to use detail sparingly, appropriately and to best advantage. For example, landscape poetry can be boring if it is merely a series of details, but it becomes interesting and experiential if you hold back on straight detail and add other elements such as changing light, seasons, moods, weather, a sense of history, the narrator’s connection to – and/or experience of – it. Sometimes a word, small phrase or one sentence is enough to give a sense of place, the times and the reaction of characters. This line from my forthcoming memoir could have read, ‘I was in the laundry doing the washing when I heard his voice.’ Instead, I added some time-specific details and it became, ‘When I heard his voice at the front door, I was wringing nappies through the rollers on the blue and white Pope washing machine Dad bought from a travelling salesman.’ The image this gives is far more comprehensive and draws the reader into the scene.

Mindfulness is the state of being fully focussed in the present, with full attention on your in-the-moment actions.

Whenever your activities are writing-orientated, consider doing mindfulness exercises before you begin. Techniques such as closed eye processes, attention to breath, and guided imagery can transform your writing.

This Blog relates to my Blog ~ The Writing Zone, Writing Exercise #24 ~ Clearing The Mind, Writing Exercise #25 ~ Clearing The Mind – B and Writing Tip #23.

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