For many, the experience of the holiday season can be an intense mixture of the pleasant and unpleasant. Competing for our attention are the near constant jingle jangle of consumerism and the joy of gift-giving, the warmth and the complexity of family connection, the demands and the blessings of spiritual practices – it can be easy to feel disconnected and adrift. The practices of mindfulness and gratitude can reconnect us to what’s firm and real and enduring. They can bring us home.
With mindfulness, we can ground ourselves in our home in the moment. This moment. The only place where things are in fact real. And our present home is available anytime: two feet on the ground and a slow breath will bring us there. This is not to “escape from” the swirl of activity and emotions, but rather to not get carried too far away by them.
With mindfulness, we can avoid making the unpleasant things worse. We remember that while the noise and the demands are real, we can choose to not add additional suffering with stories about them. In the wisdom of our own home, we can choose not to throw the second (and third) dart.
With mindfulness, we can choose where to place our attention, we can return home to what nourishes us. Our breath. The friends and family members who support and love us. The things we are grateful for.
Gratitude connects us to meaning outside of our ego-selves, reminds us that our true home is not the house that ego built. The practice of gratitude also has been shown to have very similar benefits to the practice of mindfulness, two of which are very apt for the holiday season: reduced stress and anxiety, and the lessening of depression.
Here are two ways to practice gratitude. One is creating a gratitude list and then referring to it whenever you need a nourishment break from the overwhelm. A second involves cultivating an attitude of gratitude. A willingness to meet and greet whatever shows up in our lives knowing, as Rumi puts it, that “each has been sent as a gift from beyond.”
Gratitude advocate Br. David Steindl-Rast suggests that we can cultivate a deep attitude of gratefulness for everything in our lives, seeing, as Rumi puts it, that “each has been sent as a gift from beyond.” We’ve posted our favorite teaching of Br. David’s put to music and images by the film maker Louie Schwartzberg HEREand Br. David’s Gratefulness.org website is a cornucopia of resources.
The Greater Good Science Foundation has a wonderful section on gratitude science and practice, which they call a “key to well-being” and don’t miss their wonderful lab of practices “Greater Good in Action”
Have a mindful, grateful holiday season everyone!
The Guest House, by Rumi
This being human is like a guest house,
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.