Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Season of Gift Giving

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it appears that the season of shopping has begun. For many, this may signify spending extended hours at the mall searching for those “perfect” gifts. Crowds, noise, traffic, and multi-level sensory distractions of flickering lights and non-stop music can create physical and mental symptoms such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, and a weakened immune system. Grabbing quick meals on the go can further aggravate health and contribute to a variety of stress-related illnesses. Are you on this yearly cycle? If so, consider making a few of the following changes to your shopping experience.
Offer gifts of the heart. The gifts of forgiveness and gratitude are timeless. Create a hand-written note to take the first step in patching up a squabble or pen a thank you note of deep appreciation to someone who brings special light into your life. Regardless of the reasons, a heartfelt letter is cathartic for the writer and uniquely special for the receiver. Wrap the letter in a box and place it under the tree or mail it in a specially selected card. Is there an experience that you and a loved one shared this year that had been captured in a photo? Frame the picture and attach a letter letting the person know why sharing that moment was so special. Let us all take the time to let those we love know how we feel about them.
Give the gift of time. Is there someone you have wanted to spend some quality time with, but obligations have gotten in the way? Select an event that you both could share (a show, a concert, a dinner, a breakfast) and then enjoy the special moments and memories.
Honor your loved one with a donation in his/her name. Is there a cause that your loved one is passionate about (environmental, children, health, women, food)? Find an organization that represents the values of that special person and share that value with those who urgently need it in the world.
Reconnect with loved ones, friends, and acquaintances. An e-mail or text is easier, but a conversation by phone has a way of making connections more meaningful. Remember one person a day and make those connections during the month of December. Is there a cousin, nephew, or friend that you have been meaning to call? Now is the time.
Does someone you know need encouragement? Make a wish jar. Include pieces of colorful paper, each with a special wish for that person for the coming year. Love, peace, tranquillity, hope, and faith are just some of the wish tokens that could be included in the jar.
Offer the gift of listening and a comforting hand. This year’s holidays may not be easy for some people. Do you know someone who has experienced a family death, personal hardship or is alone this year? A thinking of you note or baking a banana bread and sharing a cup of tea may be the greatest gift that you could offer this year.
Take the time to breathe. Your breath is your anchor. Honor it with gratitude. Take care of yourself by pausing frequently throughout the season and returning to a quieter place. Offer yourself a sense of calmness.
The best gifts are not found at the mall or the outlet stores. They are found in the openness of our hearts, the peace in our minds, and the warmth of our hands.

Monday, November 22, 2010


When I think about what I am grateful for, the first things that quickly come to mind are my health, my family, and my friends. I have been blessed with many wonderful people and things in my life and for that, I am happy. Recently, however, I have been ruminating on the following question: is it only possible to be grateful when my life seems to be going well and I am surrounded by the people and things that I love? What will happen when these people and things leave or change as they may in the course of a lived life? Will it not be possible to feel grateful any longer? Life transitions are inevitable. If I say that I am grateful for my health, my family, and my friends and one day they are no longer there, do I suddenly shift into feeling ungrateful?
The practice of gratitude can be a transformational life experience. It is especially potent when there appears to be nothing to be grateful for and life is taking us down “one of those roads” again. Or when we forget that the best things are sometimes the smallest. We have all traveled down those paths. Yet, it is at precisely those kinds of moments that the practice of gratitude is essential, and even critical. When the obvious is no longer visible, can we begin to see with microscopic lenses? What are the littlest, most minute things that we may appreciate in the course of a day? The practice then becomes to take a seemingly negative experience and convert it to an object of gratitude. Allow me to share some of my reflections of today.
My little dog is not feeling well and today she is going to the vet. I am worried and upset that she is not well, but through a shift in perspective, focus my attention on the fact that she is being seen by a doctor today. And suddenly I feel grateful. I begin to focus on the less evident appreciations of the day and inevitably, my list begins to grow: a comforting mug of hot tea, colorful socks that put a smile on my face when I put them on, the crunch of leaves beneath my feet, the sunshine of today’s November day, a genuine compliment from a stranger, the trust of a friend, last night’s full moon, a hot, morning shower, the ability to drive and take myself where I need/want to go, witnessing an “aha” moment on a student’s face today, coming home from work while it is still light out. It doesn’t matter that some things really did not work out well today. And they didn’t. But, when I stop to re-read the little moments of joy I experienced today, a small smile quietly appears on my face where there was a frown a moment ago. And that is it. Gratitude is an attitude and if I change mine, suddenly the world appears different and the possibility of a grateful day is…well… possible.
The practice of gratitude can be a momentary pause in meditation at the end of the day or the observation of appreciations in a little gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is simply that- a “noticing” at the end of the day of those things that made our lives positive. Some days we may find that there are fifty things on our list. Other days, we may have really had to dig deep to find only one. The practice of gratitude has been shown to relieve stress and boost immunity. And simply help us feel good. Why not begin a gratitude journal today?
I wish you all a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving. And may you find the little joys that have made your day a good one today.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I recently read that instructions for living through the next few months should be simple. Winter is approaching and nature tells us that it is natural to slow down and become quiet and introspective. Yet, as we approach the holiday season, it seems that for many of us, the exact opposite becomes true. Our daily to-do lists begin to become filled with frenetic shopping for holiday foods and gifts, rushing to meet deadlines, overextending our social commitments, skipping regular meals, and perhaps taking in those extra cups of coffee just to keep up the pace. It is no wonder that by the time the holidays do arrive, we are drained, tired, and cranky. We have overworked ourselves into such a state that we have lost our opportunity to enjoy and relax into the quiet and tranquil season of winter.
As the season of winter approaches, please join me in initiating a to-do list makeover. Allow your body, mind, and spirit to naturally follow the inclinations of their natural winter states. Here are a few suggestions that may get you started on resetting your winter buttons:

1. Rest more- Although we may feel that we don’t have the time to take brief pauses in our day, rest is imperative. A short, daily cat –nap, 10 minutes of viparita karani (legs up the wall), or stopping to drink a hot, soothing cup of tea are all simple and manageable techniques that can greatly benefit and refuel our energy reserves. It is interesting to note that the idea of a coffee or tea “to go” is relatively unknown in many other countries. Stop, breathe, and enjoy.
2. Prepare and eat warm, nourishing meals- Winter gently reminds us that comforting, warm foods allow our bodies to sustain the cold weather season. Preparing warm oatmeal, hot soups, and stews are wonderful antidotes during the cold and flu season. Making big batches of soups can also free up time during the rest of the week. Set the ambiance. Enjoy selecting fresh ingredients. Play soothing music. Become mindful during food preparation. Notice the chopping, stirring, and aromas. Resist answering/talking on the phone or checking your e-mail while cooking and eating. Eat your meals with a grateful heart.
3. Practice yoga- Sometimes, the colder season makes us feel like not doing much of anything physically. The good news is that winter is yin season which can mean a quieter, softer practice. Poses may be held for longer periods of time and stretches are gentler and more restorative. Continuing to practice our yoga and gentle movements during these long, dark months benefit, not only our bodies, but our states of mind. Breathe and allow the practice of yoga to nurture and sustain your body, mind, and spirit throughout the season.
4. Enjoy winter’s nature- Don’t let the cold keep you indoors for the next few months! Go outside and enjoy the beauty of the season! There are many winter days that are perfect for walks in nature. Have you recently visited Morton’s Bird Sanctuary in Sag Harbor where sweet, little birds will land in the palm of your hand with the promise of a seed? Or the ocean or bay on a sunny afternoon? How about an evening walk with the brilliance of a thousand stars above or a stroll through freshly fallen snow? A connection with nature can reset our winter buttons and freshen our perspective on the season. Practice this regularly to keep your body and soul connected to the earth.
5. Go inward- Winter is often considered the most reflective time of year. Consider getting in touch with feelings and thoughts through the practice of journaling. Or begin to sit for meditation for 5-10 minutes everyday. Why not melt away the day with a warm bath before bed? Noticing our thoughts and feelings and allowing them to pass through us can improve our attitudes and our spirits and allow us to move through this season with a lightness of being and a warm heart.

Re-choosing how to enter this season has become an exploratory exercise in self-inquiry. I am suddenly looking forward to my re-vamped to-do list. So, I ask you, what does your to-do list make-over look like?

Wishing you an abundance of blessings this winter season. Namaste!