Yankee swaps, secret Santas, stocking stuffers . . . oh my! It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and everywhere we turn we seem to be saturated by what my father calls “crass commercialism.” The marketing push began well before Black Friday and though we might long to be living free in the “valley of love and delight,” holiday anxiety quickly depletes the sounding joy.
This time of year is one of expectation and anticipation. As a child, I was inevitably sick by Christmas Day, frenzied eagerness and speculation having worn down my immune system. Even as an adult, I often arrive at New Year’s Day completely run down, a slave to “oughts.” I ought to attend the holiday party at work. I ought to show up at the extended family’s gathering. I ought to send holiday cards. I ought to give to each charity that contacts me. I ought to find the perfect gift.
During the holidays, we can easily feel the pressure of so much obligation that we tend to lose perspective and forget that we ought to just be. As Mahatma Gandhi cautioned, “there is more to life than increasing in speed.” Never is this truer than at the holidays, when we desperately want to meet expectations. This year, however, I am devoted to approaching the holidays mindfully, and I am eager to get caught up in the moment.
What does this mean? I have set my intentions on reveling in the spirit of the holidays and resisting the pull of “shoulds” and “oughts.” As the song suggests, I will not be ashamed or self-critical when I need to “bow or bend.” When the holiday rush starts me spinning, I will simply accept it for what it is and keep turning until I “come ’round right.” Practicing mindfulness, I will delight in the joy around me and focus on the gifts of friendship, peace and love, to which we all have access. I will simply give by giving simply.
Are you searching for that simple gift for a loved one? Do you know someone who could benefit from more mindful living (hint: all of us)? One of the greatest gifts we can offer to those friends and family on our list is that of presence. As for more material presents, here are a few suggestions”
Retreat: Who among us couldn’t use a few days stepping back from the daily grind to be mindful? There are many retreat centers around the country and globe, ranging in length and depth. Some are silent and others include music, activity and group participation. A gift certificate towards a retreat can be just the impetus that a loved one needs to carve out the time. Some retreat centers and resources are Inward Bound Mindfulness Education, Kriaplu Center for Yoga and Health, Omega Institute, Insight Meditation Society, Spirit Rock and Vipassana Meditation Centers.
An App for That: A quick internet search will result in a plethora of mindfulness resources. Here are a few mobile apps (most are actually free) to share with that special someone: Stop, Breathe and Think; Headspace; Insight Timer; The Mindfulness Training App; 10% Happier; Smiling Mind; Dharma Seed; Whil; and Calm.
Balance: Often referred to as “moving meditation,” yoga has been shown to benefit the mind and body in significant ways. Give the gift of a yoga class at a local studio. The Mindbody app and Yoga Finder website are good places to start to search for classes. A gift certificate to hot yoga at Bikram Yoga Concord might be just what the doctor ordered during a cold New Hampshire winter! A yoga mat is also a good gift. WAYmat makes a microfiber, machine washable yoga mat that can double as a beach towel should the yoga practice not work out!
Back to School: Mindfulness is indeed a practice and is most easily learned with the help of an instructor. There are many different courses available in a variety of settings and modalities. There are a few at the Center for Health Promotion at Concord Hospital; UMass Medical School Center for Mindfulness; UCLA – Mindful Awareness Research Center; A Course in Mindful Living and eMindful.
Better yet, make it personal. An individual mindfulness coach/teacher can help deepen one’s practice. There are countless organizations and professionals offering these services. In my opinion, Dave Mochel with Applied Attention is one of the best.
Good Reads: There is a growing body of research, reflection and other literature about mindfulness. Give a subscription to Mindful Magazine, or add to your loved one’s library with one of the following titles: The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life by Elisha Goldstein; Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn; Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn; Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman; The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Using Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science by Culadasa (John Yates, Ph.D.); The Mindful Athlete by George Mumford; 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris; The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being by Dan Siegel; and Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat with Sylvia Boorstein by Sylvia Boorstein.
Sit, Don’t Spin: Mindfulness can take many forms, from walking to eating to laughing, anything to keep our mind from spinning. The most common form is sitting meditation, and getting comfortable with good posture can be a challenge. There are many chairs, pillows and other props that can facilitate this practice and make for thoughtful gifts. My favorite is the Back Jack, a simple support, which is also great for reading and relaxing. Other products can be found at sites like bodymindwisdom.com or gaiam.com/meditation-accessories.
A Gift that Keeps on Giving: One the main tenets of mindfulness practice is that of compassion. A simple way to demonstrate compassion is to make a donation in another’s name. From Heifer International to the American Friends Service Committee and the Appalachian Mountain Club to Nature Conservancy, there are countless organizations that do great work in the global community and need support. Want to stay more local? Consider Families in Transition, the Friendly Kitchen, or your town’s library or fire department. You could even give a membership to the New Hampshire Historical Society, Christa McAuliffe Planetarium or New Hampshire Audubon Society.
Spread Kindness: The simplest gift of all is to be kind ,and the possibilities here are endless. If you are looking to share kindness in a more tangible way, check out a fun website with a “kindness registry” for gifts and ideas: sokindregistry.org.