happy-holidaysIt’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yes, it is. And it can also be the most stressful time of the year. Yes, it can!

The holidays just amplify what already exists in our daily lives, which is primarily love with expectations and generosity with obligations. Let’s look at this paradox closely.

First of all, the holidays extend to us the presence and opportunity to spend special quality time to be with family and loved ones in a most intimate way, without the distraction of work and responsibilities. What a delight and opportunity to freely offer our loving presence!

Then, there are the other ‘presents’ or holiday gifts. This factor can be a joyful exchange or can be a stressful comparison or expectation. Joyful exchange means that we purchase (or make) something for a special person in our life. We offer it from the heart, with no expectations or demands. Sounds simple enough, but to be honest, we are not taught how to give like this. Most of our gift-giving has entanglements. Even obligations.

So, to be aware of this without feeling guilty, since this is an ingrained part of our gift-giving society (not personal), we can then make a change. When you purchase a gift, take a moment and imagine that person enjoying it. Feel the joy you receive from their joy. And, with love in your heart, buy it. Try it!

I personally know all about obligations!  I’m a Christmas Eve baby. Not the best time to have a birthday, as you can imagine, especially for a Jewish girl! So, whenever the holidays came along, I would literally order my friends and family to give me two gifts, in order to differentiate between MY day and the holiday. In my favor, I wasn’t expecting expensive gifts, per se, just two! And, when a well-meaning friend gave me a combination gift, I would smile on the outside, but feel angry and upset on the inside.

Whatever the story is, whenever there are expectations and demands made on either the giver or the receiver, the exchange is no longer a heart-to-heart blessing. It becomes a pawn in the never ending game of chess that we call life. I’ve recently published an article on the “Yin Yang of Receiving Giving” that addresses this very concept: http://wendysuenoah.com/my-published-article-in-whole-person-magazine/

Now, let’s go beyond gift-giving here to discuss the best gift of all, the gift of PRESENCE.  Being present can mean being physically there, even if your mind and heart is not. In this case, we are present while sitting in traffic, while waiting in a queue, while watching TV, right? Yet, for this special holiday season, let’s consider another kind of presence.

Buddhist flower

There is being present as in “living in the moment with full awareness.” All the world’s major religions recommend this definition of presence, especially Zen Buddhism, which is known for its emphasis on “now-ness.” Hindu, Taoist, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and other teachers urge us to make the most of every day as an opportunity that will not come to us again.

With that in mind, let’s go back to the gift-giving from the heart. As we discussed above, we can train ourselves to let go of expectations and demands and offer the gift with love. Same thing with our presence! When we are sipping our eggnog beside the warm fireplace or before speaking to a loved one, take a deep breath. And in this breath, feel the love you have for that person (or people). Let it saturate your mind and heart. Then, open your mouth and notice the difference in your tone of voice and what it is you communicate with this person (people).

Since our society does not teach us this very simple and powerful way to be present with loved ones, we may want to control a loved one, or maybe we call it something different, like, “since I care for you, I want you to have a better life, so therefore, you should do what I say is best for you…”

Is that really love?

So, instead of being present with demands, expectations, and even worse, judgments, we really can be present with love. It just takes some mindful practice.

Think back to your own childhood. Do you remember how you felt when Auntie or Grandpa or mom or dad would tell you how you should be, what you should strive for, when all you wanted was to feel loved?

We all desire acceptance.  It starts with self-acceptance. From there, it spreads to your loved ones. No one is perfect. Everyone has their own lessons and sufferings to grow into the person they are meant to be.

Why not take the Divine opportunity of the priceless holidays, and transform it into an unconditional love fest?!

For these holidays, and for every holiday and day that we are blessed to celebrate with loved ones, let’s do so from the inside out – with love and joy and full-on presence!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!