Being Present is the best Present!

began writing this piece early in Oct.

Alina, Nora and Adam

Once again, I am astounded by the early interruption of fall and its beautiful foliage with the premature invasion of holiday commercials.  I blogged last year about the fact that Halloween costumes and Christmas ornaments would be vying for space on shelves this year- and they were.  Went to Target and saw one display that had Halloween candy (as it was being moved) and Christmas ornaments (as they were being added) end to end. Read my Christmas Schmismas blog from last year (

And while my children don’t always agree with my perspective of the holidays, I am standing firm once again to keep true to myself and what it all means to me.

The holidays are a time to remember the love that fills my life- God’s love and the love of my family and friends and sharing that love and my blessings.

It’s a time to investigate new ways to use my blessings to help others.

It’s a time to remember that I can give gifts from the heart, some handmade and some purchased, with meaning and gratitude.

It’s a reminder that there is much suffering in the world, and that I must always do my best to help those in need.

Choose to be present…

My friend Sara and I were talking about the holidays and the fact that most people barely get through them unscathed- that all of our “obligations” make the holidays a time of errands and deadlines.  That some shoppers run around disgruntled and tired and frustrated and hardly have time to reflect on the season’s true meaning.

We came to the conclusion that the best gift of the season should be the gift of learning to be present and I welcome and challenge you to join us!

Before we can learn to be present this holiday season, we’ll need to start by creating lists. No, not another shopping list, but a list of holiday traditions and events.  First make a list of the things which bring joy this time of year.  Call this list “Joys”.

Then create a list of obligations that occur this time of year.  Review this list carefully and consider what can be removed.  Call this list “Obligations”.  Obligations are things that might be important to the people we love, but may not be meaningful to us. What is important to us is that we show the people we love that if this event holds value to them, we can honor their wishes.

So, dressing like an elf and taking a picture with your mom may not be on the top of your Joy list, but it may bring you joy, if it brings your mom joy.

Look carefully over the list of obligations. Is there anything that can be removed this year? Is there an alternative suggestion for an obligation that you simply prefer to avoid?

Example 1: Obligation- Sending holiday cards

The kids want to send out holidays cards.  Postage is expensive.  You aren’t sure why you send cards to people you are close to and see over the holidays.  Can holiday cards be made as a family project?  Perhaps make and send cards to friends and family members who haven’t been seen all year? Take the time to sends cards to those you miss and include a picture as well.

Evaluate each obligation with these questions:

Is this event really important to me for the holidays? 

Is this really important to those I love for the holidays?

Focus on a few family traditions and enjoy them. Do less and appreciate more.

Once a commitment has been made to an obligation, be present and grateful. Focus. Listen.  Breathe.  Participate.  Be gentle with yourself and know that it isn’t always easy to be present and that we will fail again and again.

Practice being present…

Learning to be PRESENT is not easy.  It means that the past is behind us and out of control.  It means that the future and the worries that come with it, is also out of our control.  NOW is all that is certain and should be celebrated.

You will still think about the past and the future, but when you do, try to center again, take a deep breath, and put things into perspective.

If we spend too much time worry about the past or the future, we miss the present and the blessings of that particular time.

So, for the gift of being PRESENT, try the tips below.

Do one thing at a time!

We are trained to multi task and some of us do it very well, but during the holiday season, do one thing at a time and celebrate that moment.  Turn off all electronic devices (cell phones, computers, video games, tv ) and return to the simplicity of life before such luxuries (and invasions) occupied your time.

If it’s making cookies that have meaning to you, do this while avoiding the modern day invasions and connect to those you love. If it’s cutting down your own Christmas tree, make it a family event and allow each person to have an important role in that tradition.

Delight in simplicity!

Gifts don’t need to be expensive or wrapped; they can be from the heart and equally beautiful.  Find a craft that’s appealing and fun and spend time with your family creating gifts.  Children, especially, will love this idea.

One of my favorite gifts is an ornament my husband made for me.  Every year I ask for peace on Earth for my birthday and Christmas gifts (I was born on Christmas!). A few years ago, that’s exactly what my husband gave me:  Peas on Earth.  He took a clear round ornament and painted the Earth on it, then glued peas all over it!  Clever and special and a keepsake! Priceless.

We aren’t all crafty.  There are many other ways to give homemade gifts.

Making breads or cookies is another way to spend quality time with your family while making holiday gifts.  And there is no long line necessary to make your purchase!

Donations in honor of or in memory of loved ones is another way to express gratitude and appreciation.  Making a donation is a great way to give a gift while allowing others to give as well.

Nothing is less complex or expensive than volunteering your time.  Many soup kitchens need additional help when the weather gets cold.  Stores and organizations typically collect gifts for those in need.  Involve children in this giving by having them help pick out the gift and contribute some of their piggy bank money to the cause. Children should learn that gifts are much more than wrapped toys and that giving can feel much better than receiving.

It may be the first time your child goes to Toys R Us and returns with a gift for someone else!

Bring yourself back!

It’s impossible (unless you are the Dalai Lama) to be present all of the time. You will get bent out of shape, discouraged and anxious plenty of times. Find a quote that helps to bring you back to a place of peacefulness when tough times arise.    You can also use a healing stone or a serene picture as a guiding tool if needed. If you have the time and place, sit quietly with your eyes shut to regroup and replenish.

Stop and take deep breaths before you speak or do (count to 10)! 

The holidays can be noisy, busy and chaotic.  It’s easy to get impatient.  Stop and take a deep breath and exhale the stress before responding to anything which causes anxiety. The ten second rule with avoid causing a scene when that fifth shopper butts in line!

Read and learn from our great teachers.

Late professor and psychologist, Abraham Maslow said, “The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

This is much easier said than done, but with good intention and practice, we can celebrate the holidays with more love and joy than commitments and stress.

There are a number of great books about living in the present:

Power of Now, What About Now?, The Book of Awakening, Mindful Moments

Buy and read them.

Eckhart Tolle (author of The Power of Now, and A New Earth) talks about being present in his books.

“…the foundation for greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment instead of pursuing the idea of greatness.” p 266, A New Earth © 2005 “…the foundation for greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment instead of pursuing the idea of greatness.” p 266, A New Earth © 2005

Cherish the small things that can bring great joy (a child’s delight in the box that big toy came in, hot chocolate with marshmallows, the hug from Grammy when she receives your famous banana bread) and flow with that joy as long as possible. 

Go to the River!

I like to concentrate on the river metaphor when I am stressed over my holiday obligations.  Think of a river- it is only made up of water and yet, it is made up of layers, just as we are.

On the surface of the river there is turbulence, but below that turbulence, the water is still.

Being present means to reside in the stillness of the water, the stillness in you. Regardless of the turbulence of life around you, practice being still and calm among the turbulent waters.

No matter what the season, acknowledging life’s blessings and celebrating them with gratitude is an important step towards living in the present.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Anon