This season of bustle, buying and all-round excess does a handy little number on the psyche. Many of us can pretty much count on our holiday cheer being laced with equal parts stress, sadness, nostalgia and longing. There is, however, a way to ease negative emotions through the wise use of a little Kwanza/Christmas/Hanukkah/solstice mindfulness practice. This begins with an effort to pay attention to what's in front of us, moment by moment, and to receive the season's many gifts, large and small: the joy of children, lights and decorations, sharing meals, that extra bit of willingness people have to greet one another. It takes a bit of mental work, but we can choose to let the excitement and intimacy nourish rather than annoy us.
More profoundly, this time of year invites us to look at our own patterns of giving and receiving. When it comes to the gift ritual, the secret lies in non-attachment. Giving because of a sense of obligation, with resentment or an expectation that the other person will reciprocate, just burdens the psyche.
When you receive deep pleasure and joy from the simple act of giving, with no attachment to getting a particular response from your recipient, you've got it right. You'll feel blessed even if they can't stand what you give them. (Of course, if you're not ready to give up on resentment or duty yet, don't be down on yourself; just watch the drama unfold and consider future options.) Last but not least, if you enjoy giving, you can pass on the pleasure by allowing yourself to really take it in when others give to you.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Giving and receiving are the same. If I'm having a problem receiving, then I'm having the same problem giving, even though I give a lot. Authentic giving means I'm giving what I think is appropriate without any expectation of appreciation or whether or not (the person looks like) he or she will use it. If I'm giving with an expectation of anything in return, I'm not giving - it's a trade. The more I learn to authentically give, the more I open myself to authentically receive. We all ask ourselves the question "Is the universe a friendly place?" Our answer to that question dictates our experience. If the world is a friendly place, I can only give love. If it's not, I can give nothing but fear, no matter how I dress it up or wrap it."
PAUL GOUDSMIT, co-director, Clearmind Toronto
"Everything is always flowing. There is giving and receiving, and they're two sides of one thing. What generally happens in our society is that giving is OK and being a martyr is OK, but somehow receiving is not. When someone tries to give us something and we block it, we stop the flow of life. Especially during this season, we race through it. We don't slow down enough to appreciate and notice its beauty. The appropriate answer when someone gives us something - a compliment, a kind word, a gift - is 'thank you.' If we could learn that, we would win and the other person would win."
REV. BARBARA SCHREINER-TRUDEL, spiritual director, Centre for Conscious Living, Toronto
"We're (all) brought up with a work ethic. It's about working and giving. It's hard to receive. Often, people don't feel worthy. (A sign of that) is not being able to take in what's going on around you. It's a good practice to just sit for 10 or 15 minutes in the morning, breathe and feel connected to some type of healing force. The beginning of receiving is receiving support from something that's bigger than you. That helps put you in the space for receiving during the rest of the day. It might be a simple thing like someone opening the door for you. You (start to) notice things. It's about opening your heart to the possibilities of having love in your life in a bigger way."
RHONA GREENBAUM, psychotherapist, Toronto
"Outwardly we say 'thank you,' but what do we do with a compliment? We think, 'Oh, I don't think the person really meant it' or 'How could that be true?' It only goes in skin-deep. Most of us are not aware of the fact that we're pushing energy away or stopping it. (You can receive) even when you see little children. I always allow little children to touch me, move me emotionally. I take in the miracle that there's another little person who's excited about life, who has a beautiful smile, who's saying something that's comical or giving their version of what's happening. It makes me feel really great when I allow that."
TINA WASSENAAR, energy therapist, graduate, Barbara Brennan School of Healing, Toronto