The holidays may be "the most wonderful time of the year" and "the hap-happiest season of all," but sometimes all the marshmallow toasting and parties for hosting and excessive snow-blowing leave us ... less than glowing.
We officially launch the holiday season this week -- Thanksgiving, Black Fri-Thursday?, gay happy meetings, and lots of good eatings. What if we made it the Most Mindful Time of the Year? We could ALL be of good cheer! Even with those crazy loved ones so near!
So I offer you this simple list, with mindful practices for kids from 1 to 92. They can be done many times, many ways... and I wish a very mindful Thanksgiving to you!
1. Practice Lovingkindness
Your family may have a traditional prayer or grace that you say before dinner, but if you don't, you could do a brief lovingkindness meditation. With kids we sometimes call this practice "sending kind thoughts." The traditional lovingkindness phrases are:
"May we be safe,
May we be happy,
May we be healthy,
May we live with ease."
You could also ask your children if there are friends or other family members that they want to send kind thoughts to. One person can read the phrases aloud and everyone else silently repeats them in their heads.
2. Eat Mindfully
If your family is anything like mine, you put in LOTS and LOTS of time in the kitchen, only to have the entire meal consumed in under 20 minutes (coincidentally, that's the length of half time. Hmmm...)
Take a moment to smell the food and see the beauty of the colors. Take your first few bites in complete silence to truly taste and savor the food. Express gratitude for those who made the meal, as well as the farmers who grew the food, and the earth from which the food came.
This food reveals our connection to the earth. Each bite contains the life of the sun and the earth.... We can see and taste the whole universe in a piece of bread! Contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating, and eating in mindfulness, can bring us much happiness. -- Thich Nhat Hanh
3. Talk -- and Listen -- Mindfully
Whatever the conversation turns to over dinner, listen mindfully to the person speaking. Really hear what they are saying, instead of assuming you already know how the story's going to end. Truly listen, instead of figuring out what you are going to say next or how you can tell an even better story when they're done speaking. Be aware of the tendencies of the mind to hear what it wants to hear, rather than what is actually being said.
4. Practice Gratitude
Have everyone share one thing they're thankful for from the last year. Or a person they're thankful for. Or their favorite Thanksgiving memory. Soon you'll be sharing the stories and tales of the glories of holidays long, long ago...
5. Make a Kindness List
When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was often the occasion for making the famous Christmas List. What if we had our kids make a Kindness List, too? What toys can they donate? What goodies from the Black Friday ads would they like to give to the local toy drive? What could they do to help people in their community? How can they spread good cheer to those who are near?
6. Explore Your Senses
Thanksgiving is a sensory delight! The smells, the tastes, the noises... What a great time to practice being mindful of our senses! This is a great activity to do with your kids -- ask them what they can see, smell, hear, taste, and feel as you gather for dinner. It's a great way to teach kids to pay attention to all that their bodies can detect in their surroundings.
7. Take Time for Self Care
Give yourself some much needed down time before the rush of December. Savor your morning coffee. Read a good book. Take a long nap. Sit in the quiet of the living room after the kids go to bed and admire the beauty of the holiday lights and decorations (and don't stress if they're not up yet, Griswold!). Go to bed early.
8. Clean Mindfully
Even if you're not hosting, you're probably doing some cleaning over the long weekend. Taking care of your home can be a lovely mindfulness practice. When you vacuum, just vacuum. When you clean the kitchen, just clean the kitchen. Allow your busy mind to take a break and focus your awareness on the sights and sounds of your home and the movements of your body. Be thankful for what you have. Honor this way of caring for your family.
9. Cook Mindfully
If you ARE making the big meal, it can be done mindfully. In fact, it's probably best done if it's the ONLY thing we're focusing on in that moment! The wonderful Thich Nhat Hanh writes the following words about making breakfast, but I think it can apply to the Thanksgiving tofurkey, too:
We can be really alive, fully present, and very happy during breakfast making. We can see making breakfast as mundane work or as a privilege -- it just depends on our way of looking. The cold water is available. The hot water is available.... The kettle is available. The fire is available. The food is available. Everything is there to make our happiness a possibility. --Thich Nhat Hanh
Whether you're hosting or toasting, I hope you have a joyful and mindful Thanksgiving!