Presence for Presents

Pile of gorgeous gifts

Pile of gorgeous gifts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love the holidays.  I love anything that brings people together and nurtures connection with each other.  Unfortunately, a by-product of all this connection is the much dreaded gift exchanges and holiday purchases that sometimes overshadow the spirit of the season. This post is created in the spirit of including some presence in the presents of the season.  🙂

Here’s the deal.  The best presents for people are rarely advertised on the front of a store ad.  There are not “limited quantities” of an honest expression of love and gratitude.  Yes, you can put objects in a package and tie a pretty bow around them, but when you are truly celebrating another person it is less like a chore and more like an opportunity.  An opportunity to express yourself and the meaning of your relationship and an opportunity to engage in a delightful experience of kindness.

The catch is that it may take more than a few minutes of late night online shopping to find a true reflection of all these things.  This is where the idea of presence comes in.  I’m not suggesting you spend hours in meditation to figure out the perfect gift.  But maybe spend a few minutes figuring out what each person likes, what words represent their personality, what activities do they enjoy, or what dream have they ever expressed to you?  Sometimes if you can just write down the person’s name and jot down the first 6-10 descriptors that come to mind when you think of that person…it could be helpful in you figuring out something that would truly celebrate who they are.

Another exploration of your presence is to reflect on something that you really want to share with people this holiday season.  What has inspired you lately?  What has made your heart sing?  Is there a way to share that with the people in your life?

Consider this an invitation for all of us to include a sense of presence for the presents we all buy/make and distribute this year.  This comes naturally to some people and not so naturally for others.  If you are needing a little inspiration to get your creative ideas flowing consider these strategies to incorporate presence this season:

-Gift an experience instead of just a ‘thing’.  This could be in the form of movie passes, a coupon for a painting class or workshop, or tickets to a musical concert.  Depending on the experience, maybe you can even share the experience with them!

-Gift positivity.  Create affirmations for your friends.  There are a ton of sites that include affirmations for all sorts of categories ranging from love, friendships, workplace, and spirituality.

-Gift inspiration (in the form of famous quotes, calendars, or photography).  Take your own photo and frame it or type up your favorite quote on cardstock.

-Gift music.  Burn a CD with your favorite songs from this year or something they may not normally listen to.

-Gift gratitude.  Make a gratitude jar/container.  Label it and create a starter kit for them.  If you are feeling particularly grateful, include notes of gratitude from you to them and place them in the jar for them to read later.

-Gift silly.  Create coupons for ‘night off from cooking/cleaning the kitchen.’ or “all day pass to watch sports on tv without complaint.’

-Gift practical.  If you know someone writes a lot, gift them notebooks and pens.  If you know someone who drinks tea every day, pick up a variety pack of flavors for them.

-Gift connection.  If you are missing someone, gift them cards with envelopes and stamps so you can stay connected.

-Gift your gifts.  If you make the best oatmeal raisin cookies ever…gift them to people along with your secret recipe.  This works for any food item that is your claim to fame.  🙂  Include an uplifting movie and you have a family gift ready to share.

Whatever you do….make it fun.  Make it goofy.  Make it real.  And make it personal.  Those are the things that make it meaningful.  Not only do I believe that is the true spirit of the holidays, but I believe it is the core of our spirit each and every day.

Wishing you peace, love, and good health this holiday season.

 

Advertisements

Holiday check-up

Holiday Lights

Holiday Lights (Photo credit: ImageMD)

Who is ready for the holidays?!  If you just responded with an exasperated sigh or cringed as you read those words, this may be a good post for you.

This time is mentally and physically exhausting all by itself, so why not consider doing a quick mental health check-up before you find yourself wanting to call in sick to your next holiday event?

 

Here are some areas to consider:

1)      First, you may want to check your emotional temperature.  Are you running hot lately?  Noticing a tendency to respond in anger?  If so, ask yourself what is underlying the anger?  Maybe you’re sad, maybe you are feeling insecure about something, or maybe you are just overwhelmed.  Irritability can be an indicator of all sorts of things, both emotional and physical.  Spend a few minutes thinking about the last few things that have gotten you really upset.  Notice if there is a theme or common thread.  Then create a plan to unwind or unplug each day and create a space of calm.  If you are able to meditate (or what I sometimes do,  which is simply sit still for a few minutes)…it has been show to decrease feelings of irritability and anger greatly. It’s amazing how even 60 seconds of stillness positively impacts our emotional well-being.

2)      Second, how is your appetite?   Are you eating your feelings?  Have you been reaching for extra servings of carbs and sweets?  Think about what is it that you may be trying to compensate for.  Another thought is to really consider what makes you feel “full”.  Are you seeking out activities that inspire you and fill your heart with joy?  Think about something that you can set some time aside for that truly fills you up (without all the extra calories).

3)      How is your energy level?  Are you waking up only to wish for another hour of snooze time?  And more importantly, are you pushing through the day feeling like you slept on a bed of rocks?  Getting enough sleep impacts everything from our mental sharpness, our emotional responses, and ability to problem solve. Energy level is also impacted by what we put in our bodies and if we are not eating enough balanced nutrition and taking in enough water….our whole system suffers.  Also consider what kind of energy is surrounding you.  If you are rubbing elbows with negative people all day, that’s gonna run you down.  Sometimes you can’t escape a cranky co-worker, but maybe you can take extra steps to limit contact and be ready to respond with extra kindness and positivity.  It may be as simple as repeating a positive affirmation or even faking a smile until it feels real.  Yes, that does work.  Try it right now if you don’t believe me.

4)      Now, let’s talk about your flexibility.   Nope, this isn’t about being about to touch your toes (though it is important)!  It’s about being open to a new experiences and rolling with the flow.  Are you hearing yourself explain why you can’t do something, or why something automatically won’t work?  Rigid thinking leads us to experience higher level of stress and releases all those hormones that contribute to feeling fatigued, irritable, and generally uninspired.  Start stretching yourself.  Try to resist the impulse to immediately think why something won’t work and think about how you are willing to try.  If you are going through a lot of changes, give yourself permission to feel a bundle of emotions but work on identifying what type of support you need while you’re going through the change.  Do you need someone to hear you and validate you? Or maybe you just need to acknowledge that the change is scary as hell and you’re feeling scared or fearful.  It’s okay to feel all those things.  There is something powerful about acknowledging and owning feelings of vulnerability.  Again, this about increasing awareness.  There may not be a quick fix or solution…but a higher sense of awareness can serve you well.

5)      And finally, when’s the last time you checked your vision for yourself?  How far are you able to see in the future?  I’m not talking about a psychic hotline kind of stuff, I’m referring to feeling hopeful and goal-oriented.  Have you reviewed your goals for yourself lately  or even better, have you set some new ones?  Don’t wait until a new year’s resolution party….write down a couple of things that you would like to do now and create a plan of action to go along with it.  Include the people who you need support from and a timeline.  One of the most powerful ways to instill hope is to create a goal.  When you create goals, you acknowledge that something IS possible.  That is the crux of what hope is, believing in a possibility.  It doesn’t have to be an elaborate 5 year plan.  It can be something as simple as listing off the chores you want to accomplish by the end your weekend.  Next time someone asks you why you are writing out a ‘to do’ list, just tell them that you are engaging in an act of hope.

 

Yes, the holidays are coming whether we are ready or not.  So why not take a few minutes and think about your emotional health and where you are today before taking on a whole new set of worries, tasks, and responsibilities.   Who knows, maybe if you take the time to increase your awareness and possibly incorporate some strategies now; you may not end up screaming at your in-laws at the next family dinner or flipping out about the lack of adequate parking at the local shopping mall. Okay, maybe that last point was a stretch, but never underestimate the power of positive thinking.  🙂

Letting go

Letting Go

The hardest thing I may never truly master in my life is the art of letting go.  I have this idea that letting go is simple yet when the moment comes, I can be at a total loss. If I wrote out all of the things in my life I have chosen to let go of it would be an incredibly brief list.

I have to laugh at myself because it is kind of ridiculous.  Letting go of things that do not serve purpose in my life should be easy so why is it so damn hard?  I hang on to things that are not helpful, not inspiring, not even rationale at times.  I wonder how long I can hold on to these familiar emotions and continue to let them saturate my heart with sadness and frustration.  I witness other people’s struggles and can easily identify the things they could let go…and often think “why do they continue to have the same struggle within themselves, can’t they see it gets them nowhere?”  Yet, I often fail to remember or maybe even comprehend the same magnitude of power for my own struggles.

I know that I only need to let go of things that have no value for me.  When I’m sitting in the car stuck in traffic, I can let go of my frustration or I can sit there and hold it in and express it through various explicit salutations and exasperation.  When a family member demonstrates their inability to consider an alternative viewpoint I can choose to let go of my expectation that they will gain a new perspective or stay stuck in that place of irritation and disgust that their values conflict with my own.  Yes, I can choose to let go of these things yet I often choose to stay in that space of anxiety or pain.

The problem with letting go is that if I let something go there is this fear of “what will fill that space?”  I am only now realizing that when I let things go that have no importance in my life, it is quickly filled with something much more powerful and amazing.  It is replaced with hope.  Because then I am hopeful that the space that was holding on to all of that useless emotion and energy will be replaced with inspiration and love and even acceptance.  And let’s face it, those things simply feel better than anger, frustration, worry, and stress.   Through letting go, I can release this need to control things/events and how people respond to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I like control.  Control makes me feel safe.  Control makes me feel powerful.  The problem with all that control is that it takes up way too much time trying organize things, maintain order, and such.  In turn, when I am holding on to things I am unable to be in the present moment for what it is.  When I let go I am actually being more thoughtful and present in my life than any other time I choose to ‘stay stuck’ in all that negative space. I am able to see the beauty in something or open my heart to an experience that would have otherwise been shut down.

I value being present in my life, I value experiencing hope and love, and I value seeing the good in people.  Next time I find myself wrapped up in an inner struggle that I could choose to let go, I will simply remind myself of what it is I value and let anything that doesn’t match up with those values simply go.  The best thing that I can remember, and anyone for that matter, is that letting go is a practice.  And sometimes our practice will be awesome and sometimes our practice will have lots of room for improvement.  I do believe that as long as we are willing to engage in a practice, we will grow no matter how difficult it may feel or awkward it may be.  As long as I’m growing, regardless of the pace, all will be okay.  In retrospect, maybe this isn’t something that I need to master after all; I simply need to practice and keep practicing until the art of letting go no longer feels like a struggle and instead feels like an amazing opportunity for peace within myself.

Take good care of yourself…be kind

I have a job that tends to have an endless source of vicarious trauma.  I work with vulnerable youth and bear witness to their joy, pain, and sorrow.  And I am often reminded of the stories that we all hold.   The pure resilience of the human spirit is never lost on me.  Most days I leave work feeling inspired to be a better person, a better clinician, and just better.  Some days…well some days just kick me in the teeth. This is when I need my self-care more than ever.

Today happen to be one of those days and I knew I was going to need to pay attention to my regimen of self-care.   It started with my favorite P!nk CD at the maximum volume on the way home, led to a walk with the dog at the park, and may wrap up with some mindless television watching after a thoughtful spurt of writing.  Is today a model of good self-care?  Maybe.  I guess it depends on who you ask.  See, I will be the first to tell my friends to take good care after days like this.  I will ask them, “What is something fun you can do tonight?  Something relaxing?”  The problem with this approach is that fun and relaxing activities are great, but they don’t often release my heart of the burden that I absorbed that day.  When you are truly present for someone in a time of need and bear witness to their pain and allow them a space to release their energy; a simple activity is not going to erase a memory that was etched in your heart.  Sure, I feel better on the short-term.  I lower my blood pressure back down and give my heart a healthy boost through my structured activity. But the pain has not dissolved, not completely.

So I’m trying something new.  Well, maybe not new…but I am adding something to my usual ‘go to’ strategies.  I am exploring this idea of more purposeful kindness.  Not only to myself, but to others.  I am finding that the more kind I am to others and to myself, the more I heal that vicarious trauma and ultimately the more I can give in those moments that I am called upon. I am doing this a variety of ways.  First of all, I’m not criticizing myself for not knowing what to say in a tense moment, instead I’m practicing self-compassion and giving myself permission to simply not know how to respond.  I also am being proactive with kindness and taking opportunities to smile at people more and say ‘good morning’.  I am reaching out to people I haven’t spoken to in a while just to say hi and that I was thinking of them.  I am taking many deep breaths on my commute home and remembering that everyone wants to get home just as much as I do and that if I let one car merge over (even though they don’t have a blinker on), I’m not hurting myself with this act of kindness and actually improving my own well-being in this process.  The easiest way I’m practicing is by asking myself “what is the most kind response I can offer with this particular situation?”   And the most beautiful part of this process is the more I increase my own awareness, the more opportunities I am realizing each day.

It’s not that being kind keeps me from experiencing pain or prevents the sadness from hurting my heart some days, but I can tell you that it has insulated my heart and soul to a point that makes it easier to recover from these hard times.  I still need to do the fun things and relax my body and mind. It’s just that adding kindness to this regimen provides a thicker layer of insulation from the harsh impact of trauma and pain.  So today I am going to practice kindness to those around me.  I’m not sure what that will look like just yet, but I’m sure it will come to me soon.  That’s the beautiful part of life….if you want an opportunity to practice something all you have to do is open your eyes to see what is present in front of you.

Be Kind Photo