During the holiday season the thought of presents makes many think about the material desires that have gone unfulfilled throughout the year coming to fruition.
So much so that you or someone you know are very likely running ragged amidst the chaos of the season, spending money you don't have to ensure that holiday feasts, trees, decorations, accessories and gift giving tops everyone else's.
I don't know how many countless Facebook statuses I have seen this season that read something like, "Going to see if I can do a month's worth of Christmas shopping in 3 hours with almost no money... should be a piece of f****** cake!" This obsession very easily sends the message that love and joy is attached to the gifts we give and receive during this one time of year.
In addition, the distractions of running ourselves ragged trying to outdo our gift giving, showing up at the right holiday parties, and completing the year at work and in our personal lives often leads to a lack of full engagement and connection.
Stop for a moment and consider some of the moments in which you experienced the most joy and love during the holidays. For me, when I go into my memory I can smell homegrown jarred tomatoes being boiled for pasta sauce in the kitchen of my grandmother's 1930's two family home in the abundantly Italian immigrant Brooklyn neighborhood, Bensonhurst.
As the day progressed relatives would show up and passionately greet one another in what became a language hybrid of "Brooklynese and Italian" and plant a kiss on each cheek. Slowly everyone would gather around the table speaking with impassioned Italian accents as my grandmother began to serve a delicious multi-course authentic Italian holiday meal (God, do I really miss those meals).
Around midnight on Christmas Eve my brothers, cousins and I would beg to open up just one present (Pleeeaase, can we please, just one?!?) and we would usually get our way! But I don't really remember the presents. What I do remember was the presence of the people, especially my grandmother, and the warmth, joy, and love that was delivered through their presence. That is what stays with me long after she has left this planet, the generosity of the joy, love, and well, the Italian food that showed up wherever she went.
I am suggesting an alternative for this holiday season that you can choose all year long. You can make the choice to participate in the obligatory consumer materialism of the season or choose to focus on what is real: love, joy, and the generosity of your presence with loved ones. Cara Barker did an informal study recently asking children what they really wanted from their parents. Take a look at the article and you will notice common themes, such as more time, and more presence.
Here are some tips on how to be generous with your presence this holiday:
Really listen to your loved ones, let them know that you are there for them simply by listening. In this day and age people are constantly moving so fast that we barely listen to one another. A profound gift would be to simply stop, and listen, which significantly illustrates your love and compassion.
One way to take your attention off of the sense of obligation felt during the holiday season and instead to give the generosity of your presence is to volunteer to support those in need. There are many opportunities to volunteer in love and compassion doing things like delivering toys to needy children, feeding the homeless. This Christmas I will be volunteering.
When you are with your family and loved ones (and any other moment on any day) bring your awareness fully to where you are and what you are doing at any given moment. First, bring your awareness to your breath. Literally say to yourself, "breathe in, breathe out" as you inhale and exhale. You will start to feel centered, peaceful and relaxed. Bring your awareness to smells, colors, feelings, and sensuality (the water on your hands while washing dishes). This is an excellent way to support yourself in navigating the sometimes stressful holiday gatherings we feel obligated to attend.
Manage Negative Self-Talk
Manage negative self-talk by intercepting negative judgments. Start talking to yourself like you are your best friend. For example, at some point during the holidays you may have the thought, "Wow, that gift he got is so much better than the one I gave him." If you are aware of having the thought, acknowledge it, and change it. Changing it might sound like, "My loving essence defines me" (not my gift giving).
Share love and appreciation
Although any time of year is a perfect time to share your love and appreciation the holidays are a particularly poignant season in which you can choose to verbalize your love and appreciation rather than feeling obligated or expecting others to participate in money-based gift exchanges.
Is there someone to whom you have been meaning to express your love and appreciation, but have been putting it off? This holiday, sit them down, look them in the eyes, and tell them how much you love and appreciate who they are and the role they have played in your life. Trust me, not only will this bring joy to the individual, but it will also generate the experience of you overflowing in love, compassion, and gratitude. I am profoundly grateful that I can say I did this with my mom, dad, and grandparents long before I knew they were dying.
Acknowledge the subtle gifts
Gifts don't have to come in big wrapped packages on which tons of money was spent. For instance, if you or someone you love is cooking a scrumptious holiday meal where heart and soul is a key ingredient, this in itself is a beautiful gift. My aunt never fails to put so much energy into creating Christmas Eve meals that you remember them forever. Does she have tons of money to spoil everyone with lavish presents? No. But I know that the meal she creates is an expression of her love for us.
Practice compassion in stressful situations where you might hastily judge one another. Bring your awareness to your breath, notice your judgments, and although it may be challenging, allow yourself to consider that that person's life is as important to them as yours is to you. Also, remind yourself that love is the essence of who we are as human beings, regardless of what we perceive as hurtful actions. This moves you into your center and the recognition that we all emanate from the same source. There may be a challenge to deal with. However, you can maintain the love and harmony of the holiday when you move beyond your ego, and into compassion.
Focusing on your true presence being the gift this holilday season will help move you into connection with your loving essence and the loving essence of the holidays. It shifts you to being fully present in each moment where you dwell in love, peace, and harmony, from which place you can offer the greatest gift you have - yourself.
Have happy, joyous loving holidays, and may your new decade be filled with the same!