We are now firmly entrenched in the shopping season. Unfortunately, our culture persists in loading one season of the year with this heavy emphasis on stuff. Ubiquitous advertisements bombard and beckon. No matter how resistant we might try to be, it’s all around us and unavoidable. As an additional consideration, there are people whose livelihoods depend on this season. We all know someone in this category making it that much more difficult to completely disengage. Given that this is our reality and that there are really many lovely and positive aspects of the season, it makes sense to be as mindful as possible about our giving and receiving.
Most of us really don’t need any more stuff. Also we all tend to be pretty generous all year long. An article from Yoga Journal by Sally Kempton on practicing generosity says “generosity is natural: We can no more help giving than we can live without the support of everything we receive.” The article goes on to say “The universe is, in fact, a web of giving and receiving” where ” the sun shines and the rain falls” and “the earth supports us without ever demanding thanks”. We may think of ourselves as being independent and self-reliant but we are all dependent on the many elements that keep us alive – air, water, nourishment from the earth and all the other natural elements that contribute to our survival. In addition, there are also many people beyond our immediate view who contribute to our needs on a daily basis.
Still we often take all of these things for granted overlooking our own responsibility for honoring those gifts. This doesn’t just mean being conscious of how we treat the environment or the clerk in the grocery store, but it also means taking care of ourselves. We can’t be generous when we are needy ourselves, which includes illness in the mind or body. Honoring your body is just as important as honoring the earth or the person next to you. Since this is true for all of us, maybe it might be helpful to think about health when puzzling over what to give to others during this season.
An article on the Chopra.com web site gives some ideas along these lines. An important suggestion in the article is giving the gift of time. Instead of giving a gym membership that might never be used, how about offering to accompany the recipient on a weekly walk. Or pledge to drive them to a yoga or Pilates class that you also attend. This could end up being a gift for both of you. Time spent with that person could help you to learn more about them. And your support might help them overcome whatever resistance they’ve built up to avoid doing something that might improve their health. If the person lives far away, perhaps you can give a commitment to a regular telephone check-in. Sometimes just knowing that someone will be asking about one’s progress is enough to motivate a person to stick to their resolve. The article offers other ideas for providing time instead of stuff which could inspire someone begin a healthy habit. Once you’re thinking along these lines, I’m sure all of you can come up with ideas your own.
Then there are those of us who actually enjoy shopping. (Admittedly I’m one of them!) For those in that category, there is nothing more motivating than new equipment or a new outfit to put some fun into your exercise. There are balls of all sizes and price ranges that can be used for massage as well as exercise. If you need help learning how to use them there are DVD’s on every subject and if that’s too much consumerism there is always YouTube, home of instructions for everything. A new yoga mat might encourage the recipient to try that yoga class. These days even footwear is expensive. Often I see people trying to walk or run in shoes that are many years old. Everyone can benefit from a new pair of shoes. It can even improve the experience and encourage more walking. If sizes are a problem, give a gift certificate. A recent Harvard Health Letter confirms that it is never too late to start exercising. So even if your recipient thinks they are too old to begin a movement program, you can print this article out and put it in the card with your gift. It can’t hurt and it might help.
Of course, the holidays are not just about giving. They are also a time of receiving. Most of us are much more adept at giving than we are at receiving. Sometimes we need to be careful not to dishonor a giver by dismissing their gift. Whenever you’re on the receiving end of any gift – including compliments or expressions of appreciation – it is an opportunity to practice thoughtful receiving. As mentioned above, we are all receiving many gifts every day. When there is an opportunity to express gratitude on a personal level, that in itself is a gift.
Throughout the season it’s important to remember that you count, too. You can’t give what you don’t have. In order to be thoughtful in giving and receiving you need be fully present. That requires paying attention to your own well-being. The first suggestion in the Chopra article is to give to yourself first. Be conscientious about your own needs during this very busy season. This is a gift that not only benefits you but will be appreciated by all those around you. A win-win situation all around. There is no better gift than that.