"If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your presence." -- Thich Nhat Hanh
The holidays are coming, and many of us are working frantically to make all the necessary preparations. We're working on decorations, accommodations for guests, and finding the ideal gifts for loved ones. And in the process, we're getting all stressed out.
We figure that once the holidays are over, then we'll be able to relax. What we may not realize is that the stress won't end simply because the holidays are over. When the new year begins, then we have to get back to our normally busy schedules.
When searching for gifts for loved ones, we generally think in terms of something they need or want, such as a bicycle, piece of clothing, or maybe even a car. There's nothing inherently wrong with these types of gifts, as long as they really need them. However, we may be overlooking what our loved ones need the most -- our presence.
Sure, we may be present physically. But, are we truly present mentally and emotionally? Can our loved ones have our full attention, without us being preoccupied with work or holiday preparations? If not, then they may be disappointed.
Usually, our loved ones will get over not having the ideal holidays. However, if lack of presence is the norm in our family, it can have long-term negative consequences. I have worked with drug addicts and alcoholics for over 30 years, and the one thing they all have in common is that their parents were unavailable to them when they were growing up.
There are various reasons why parents are unavailable to their children. Maybe they're too busy working, or they themselves are dysfunctional. But whatever the reason, the children suffer the consequences.
Why We Have Difficulty Being Present
Very often, the reason why parents are not available to their children is because their mind is always agitated. There are four main sources of mental agitation: 1) too many activities, 2) background noise, 3) worrying, and 4) unresolved issues.
Too many activities. We all want to be productive, and to provide our family with the things they need. We also want to make their lives more comfortable, so that they don't have to struggle like we did when growing up. In the process, we fill our lives with too many activities and commitments, and don't give ourselves time to relax and take care of ourselves.
Background noise. Many of us are uncomfortable with silence. We are uncomfortable because of the constant chatter in our mind. So, we try and drown it out with music, television, or conversation. However, this only perpetuates the problem. The background noise doesn't allow our mind to settle down. Instead, it agitates our mind even further.
Worrying. If our happiness depends on outside circumstances, chances are we worry a lot. We worry because we need everything to be a certain way in order for us and our family to be happy. The problem with this type of thinking is that everything is always changing. No matter how close to perfection we get our situation, it is just a short time before it changes, and then we begin feeling like we're losing control.
Unresolved issues. Some of us have unresolved issues in the back of our mind that we don't want to think about because they stir up uncomfortable emotions. So we try our best not to think about them. However, if we're constantly dealing with people who remind us of these unresolved issues, then we may find ourselves constantly running from them and ourselves, and not fully present for our loved ones.
Bringing Yourself Back to the Present Moment
If you have trouble with being fully present, there is some good news. Being present is not that difficult if you know how to do it. The mindfulness meditation practice has some simple tools that can help, such as meditation, deep listening, and mindful speech.
Meditation is much easier than many people think. Sure there are some advanced techniques, but in its basic form, meditation is simply giving your mind a rest from the constant mental stimulation, and allowing it to settle down naturally. All you have to do is sit quietly for a few minutes and follow your breath. When your mind gets distracted, just bring it back to your breath.
You don't have to meditate for hours to benefit from meditation. You can realize significant peace of mind from as little as 10-15 minutes a day. You'll be amazed at how much your racing mind will slow down after just a few minutes of meditation. And if you can meditate longer, even better.
Deep listening is a tool that can significantly improve your relationships, and bring about a tremendous amount of healing to your children. When you truly listen to people when they're speaking, you send a clear signal to them that you value what they have to say, and therefore, value them as a person. Imagine what this can do for your child's self-esteem.
So, next time you're in a conversation with someone, pay close attention to what he's saying. Look into his eyes and resist the temptation to let your attention wander off, or to interject with your opinion. Sometimes, you'll see people just light up when they realize you're truly listening to them.
Mindful speech is another tool that can improve your relationships. We often just say the first thing that pops into our mind, without thinking of the impact our words will have. Our words can have one of three possible outcomes: 1) improve the situation, 2) have little effect, or 3) have a negative effect. Of the three, which is preferable? So, think a little bit before you speak. Choose words that are kind, loving, and insightful. And remember, it isn't always necessary to give your opinion. Sometimes silence is the best choice.
We all want to be there for our loved ones, but we cannot be there if our mind is somewhere else. If we want to be available to them, then we need to learn how to live in the present moment, instead of just letting our mind wander off to some other place. It's not as difficult as you might think, once you know how.
These simple suggestions can go a long way toward improving your relationships, and bringing you inner peace. They can also help heal the wounds from the past for you and your family. So, make this a memorable holiday season, and give your family the greatest gift you can give them -- the gift of your presence.