If ever there was a time of year to practice being present, the holidays are it. And if ever there was a more difficult time to practice being present...the holidays are still it! With the emphasis on such triggers as religion and family, not to mention the colder, darker days in conjunction with the hectic schedules and rampant materialism, it's no wonder so many of us feel that this is a time of year that we "just need to get through!" I think the real kicker; however, is the expectation of the season: that we are supposed to be happy and enjoy our numerous warm and close relationships with friends and family. It can leave a lot of us feeling left-out, as if we are somehow failing at being successful human beings.
I think it's important to remember that materialism is ultimately devoid of true peace, joy and connection. And materialism can be applied to not just objects, but to relationships (e.g. having lots of friends, or having a significant other), status, morality, achievements, and even spirituality (e.g. collecting a cache of transcendent experiences that we then use to bolster our ego). What rarely gets promoted this time of year is taking some quiet time to be with ourselves so that we can re-ground and again feel our bodies, minds, and hearts. From this place we see that we don't have do anything, but that love, compassion, clarity, energy and strength already exist in the core of our being. We may be doing all sorts of nice things for others, like buying gifts, cleaning our homes, and cooking meals, but if we are not in connection with our own hearts, we are missing-out on what is the one truly beautiful aspect of this season: the invitation to be in love, where love is a space within ourselves that we can be in (some would take this further and say love is what we are, but that might be a blog for a different time). When we are in love, our actions are naturally loving. We don't even have to act, just our presence has a beneficial effect.
But how do you treat yourself to some non-achievement time in the midst of such a busy time? A casual walk, reading in your favorite chair, partaking in your favorite art, or just staring at the ceiling are great ideas, but who has time?! Here's a suggestion: you can also be present while doing things, from exercising to doing the dishes. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "wash the dishes to wash the dishes." This means, really have an experience of washing dishes, not just to get dishes done so you can go do something else. It helps to slow down. It may take you a little longer, but it will be many fold more enjoyable. In this way, everyday chores, and perhaps eventually your whole life, becomes a sacred experience.
Remember, you are not going to feel present or in love all the time, not even close! So, be kind with whatever is going on with you! Would you chastise or reject your best friend for being distracted, irritable, or inauthentic? No, you'd love them anyway. You'd strive to understand and be there for them. You know at their core they are a loving, well-intended person. Be a best friend to yourself.
Wishing you all peace, love, and strength.