This is an expanded version of a popular 1999 article I wrote on Holiday Stress.
May 2002 be your favorite year!
Presence is more than just being there.”
~ Malcolm S. Forbes
The end of a year can bring on tremendous stress, between meeting calendar year business objectives and the rush of the holidays. How is your year winding down? Do all those holiday “to do’s” feel like obligations or delightful opportunities? Make the conscious choice today to be present this holiday season in all that you do. We sometimes feel burdened by all that we “have” to do, forgetting that we “get” to do things like spend time with friends, hear joyous music, see our communities decorated, make our homes welcoming, eat too much great food and perhaps give or receive a gift or two.
When you see a friend or family member at a gathering, consider by-passing some of the usual small talk in favor of telling that person why he or she is a gift in your life. Find out how that person’s year has been, both the triumphs and the hardships. Ask them what they’re hoping for and encourage them in pursuing possibility. Share from the heart what’s going on with you. Connect. Even though there may be twenty people at a party that you feel the need to say “hi” to, make sure you truly connect with at least one. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself what’s most important in terms of your core values, and what you may have taken on that’s merely a “should.” If this were your last December ever, what would you focus on? Goals are important magnets to pull us forward, but the calendar year is often an arbitrary deadline – don’t let it rule you to the point of losing perspective on enjoying the present. The time you spend with people right now, and the beauty of the season won’t be here in January – lots of the other things on your list will be.
What if every day between now and December 31 you took two minutes to focus completely on five things for which you’re immensely grateful? You’d have 80 thoughts of gratitude about your life just as it is – a nice present for yourself, and powerful, too. Try this upon waking, or right before going to sleep. Watch how it shifts your attitude from stress about the future to peace about the present. Notice how you become more aware of all the gifts in your life. As you become more centered and present with others, observe how contagious it is. Be one of the 80 grateful thoughts that someone in your life has.
It seems that as we get more responsibility in our personal lives and careers, our capacity for true wonderment gets a little lost. We know so much that there are few things that truly put us in awe. I’m not talking about things like special effects in movies, but rather the wonderment of simple things that escape our notice and appreciation because of the pace of our lives.
The holidays are a great time to experience wonderment again. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, there are plenty of opportunities to remember how to smile, like a kid, at simple joys. Consider letting go of the complexity of coordinating end-of-year business, social scheduling, family contacts, holiday cards, gifts and parties, and having things look a certain way. Try having a conversation with a friend or two about the following fun exercise.
As you look back over 2001, make a list of your “Top Five” memorable events of wonder. Here’s mine, for an example:
- My new puppy, Rory, trying to pounce on each snowflake during his first snowfall. Funny!
- Mesa Verde’s holiday open house, where they light one of the cliff dwellings, and the path down to it, with luminarias.
- The meteor shower this fall – I saw more shooting stars than I could count in a half hour – unlimited wishes!
- Hearing the elk’s footsteps crunching in the snow around my home, and their bugling back and forth to each other at midnight.
- Hearing a friend’s 12-year old son coo at my old Samoyed, Magellan, as he buried his face in Magellan’s soft coat, loving that simple pleasure.
Once you start your brain working on it, I bet you’ll come up with more than five. And I bet you’ll have at least five more over the holidays – make a decision to be fully present for them!
Enjoy yourself. Slow down. Be gentle. Sing. Dance. Hug. Laugh. Celebrate.
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