Regardless of your religious background or which family traditions flank your household during the Holiday Season, there is a ton of gift giving this time of year. First you agonize over which perfect gift to buy in the hope it will be loved, used and valued. Then there’s the mad rush of crazed, last minute shopping, dealing with long lines of generally frustrated cashiers and customers, over-crowded department stores blaring holiday music and of course, spending too much money.
So, we give the present, most often in the midst of a hectic family get together, with way too much food, where wrapping paper is flying, and the actual gift that was exchanged has been overlooked. “Thank you’s” are muttered, and then…it’s on to the next gift. The entire process has flown by in a second, without so much of a pause, a moment of gratitude, or an intentional acknowledgment. Now, I know this scenario may not be true for all of you…and if it’s not – that’s fantastic! But for many of us, this accurately describes the days of get-togethers with family and/or friends during the holidays.
While I know this ubiquitous experience comes with both its positives and negatives, the universal sentiment is that it is often stressful, not relaxing, and sometimes not even enjoyable. The clean-up always seems to have underpinnings of “how can next year not stress me out so much??”
Well, one possible solution is to practice slowing down. Practicing mindfulness is about being present, being intentional and giving pause to the moments in our lives. All too often our daily life parallels those moments of wrapping paper flying and indulging in too much food; it all happens so fast that we aren’t present enough to even remember it. And the next thing you know the day is over and you were so stressed leading up to it, and so distracted during it, that you can’t recall the details to know if you even enjoyed it. The tools of mindfulness allow an antidote to this craziness. It’s about cultivating presence, starting with slowing down, breathing and acknowledging your current moment experience, allowing you to find joy and peace amidst the chaos of daily life.
The pace of our society does not support slowing down and being present. We are so accustomed to moving at an accelerated speed that we are often mentally onto our next task before even completing what we are currently doing. This even shows up in how we communicate – we are anticipating a response, and our response to that response, before the other person is even done talking, taking us completely out of what is actually being said! This failure to be present is not your fault; it’s unfortunately how we’ve been conditioned, and it isn’t benefitting anything or anyone. In fact, it does not help your productivity or your ability to focus; studies show that multitasking in fact decreases our optimal brain functioning. And I truly believe the biggest consequence is to that of our relationships. When we are so crazed, busy, distracted and multitasking, our ability to connect diminishes greatly, which negatively affects ourselves, as well as the other people and relationships in our lives.
So, if you want to become more mindful and more present, then follow these tips:
~ slow down – take a minute and just breathe
~ be present – be here now; look around, take it in, and breathe into the present moment
~ communicate with intention – make eye contact and listen with an open heart, non-judgmentally
~ increase your awareness – notice what is going on around you as well as what is going on inside of you (thoughts, emotions, sensations)
~ stop multitasking – practice giving your attention to what is in front of you, especially when it is close family and friends
~ put away your digital device – that email, text or status update will still be there, even if you don’t check it every two minutes
If you could incorporate these tools into your daily life, coupled with utilizing your breath as an anchor to the present moment, your life will begin to feel more centered and fulfilled. And especially during the hectic holiday season…there are so many moments you can use as an opportunity to be here now. And that quite possibly may be the best gift you could give someone. So forget about stressing about that perfect tie, sweater or picture frame. Allow your presence to be your present. Your friends and family will thank you for it.
If any of the above resonated with you, and it’s a pattern you’d like to change, I can help! The time is NOW to be more present and live your optimal life. (Though remember, it is a practice, and will not happen overnight – it takes time for your brain to learn new habits and patterns, and ways of being.)
Enjoy your holiday season!!
*** This article originally published in the December 2016 issue of Alive magazine