Thursday, December 4, 2008

December 4th

It’s my birthday ! 43 years ago today, my mom and I met for the first time. I get a wonderful picture when I think of that image ! In any case, I happen to love birthdays. Please don’t misunderstand: I have rarely had perfect birthdays. Several milestones were spent alone in my dorm rooms. I was very ill for another. My husband, who is a truly good man, is simply missing the “holiday gene” in his personality. But, despite rotten days, and disappointments, I still get giddy over the fact that December 4th has rolled around again. I think that, even on the forgotten years, it’s still given me an opportunity to think “I’m here ! I’m alive !” with a new sense of appreciation at the blessing of life itself. It breaks my heart that birthdays are the one of the leading days to commit suicide, second only to Christmas. I truly believe that, no matter what, we have been gifted with the honor of our very selves, and to be able to internally appreciate that, is the biggest blessing a birthday can bring. Yes, it’s nice to receive a card or some flowers, and it’s definitely a joy to not have to cook for an evening. I do like to feel appreciated, of course. But, waking up this morning, knowing that I’d completed 43 years on this planet gave me a sense of awe and thankfulness to just be ‘here’, right now. Being alone on a birthday isn’t the worst thing in the world. Not “being” at all would be far worse.

I look at birthdays the way many people feel on New Year’s: as a chance to begin again, to start fresh, to release bad habits and pick up new ones. I think it’s much more fitting, on a birthday, to begin anew because, after all, it’s our own personal ‘new year’. Every December 4th, I take stock in what I’ve done well in the past year…and honestly look at where I’ve made mistakes. I try to look back without judgment and figure out ways in which I can improve. This reflection may include everything from keeping track of finances to organization to the vast amounts of coffee I consume. And, while this year, my level of organization doesn’t seem to have improved, and my coffee habit seems to be worse, I can look at the methods I tried and remind myself not to repeat them. Thomas Edison once wrote “I haven’t failed. I’ve simply found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” I love that philosophy, and I am inspired by that sentiment. I can look at different ways to try to achieve my goals, and stop wasting time berating myself over not having done so sooner. By taking time to reflect on what I’ve done well, and where I can improve, I can make my birthday not only meaningful to myself, but to those I live with, as well. I try to take time out of my day to build a bridge, mentally, between my past year, and the year ahead, setting my goals as I go.

An excellent Yoga asana along these lines is Bridge Pose. Bridge brings you up onto your shoulders, placing all your weight balanced between your feet and shoulders. Bridge is excellent for clearing the mind and maintaining focus. It also happens to be a fantastic shoulder strengthener. I offer Bridge Pose in my classes towards the end of the class, after we’ve worked very hard, but before our relaxation time. Metaphorically, the asana offers yoginis time to reflect and allow their bodies and minds to wind down. Physically, it has many of the same attributes. When I teach my Restorative Yoga class this evening, I’ll be inviting my students to use this asana to help slow down the breath, quiet the mind, and gain strength in both.

While I wish I could offer pearls of wisdom on being 43 years old, I can only offer up my own confusion that I simply don’t feel like a grown up yet. I realize how very much I have yet to learn, to do and to experience. I also realize how incredibly blessed I’ve been…not only in the good things that have happened along the way, but in the lessons I’ve learned from the trying times most of all. We don’t learn in ease, but in overcoming adversity, according to Helen Keller. I hope that I have many years in which to learn !

And, just one final tip: send your mom flowers your birthday. Thank her for getting you here safely !

"Man's main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality. " Erich Fromm

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Present Presents

The holiday rush is upon us. I am amazed at the sales and deals to be had this holiday season. It seems as if almost every television commercial, radio ad, or flyer in the mail has to do with slashing prices on gifts for the whole family. I have talked to a number of people who got up as early as 4 am to be at the sales when the store doors opened on “Black Friday”. In this troubled economy, it’s not surprising that even more people than usual hit these ‘door busters’ the day after Thanksgiving. Our budget, like many, is stretched to the limit, and finding ways to save money on gifts is definitely important to me. However, whether we’re living in “bull” or “bear” markets, buying Christmas presents can tend to take on a life of its own. We get enticed by quantity over quality, and a great deal, rather than a great match. In our fear of ‘ruining Christmas’, we overspend, we overextend our stress levels and we buy too many things. Package after package comes home, and we don’t even realize that these impulse buys have taken on a life of their own. My worst habit is buying gifts early, when I see something that’s ‘perfect’, but then forgetting I have it stocked away, only to buy another item. Christmas can easily go overload…even for the best of bargain hunters and least materialistic, we can find ourselves surrounding by ‘stuff’. Yet, the ‘stuff’ doesn’t necessarily mean the perfect gift.

So, what is the perfect gift for someone ? Does such a thing even exist ? Or, is it a myth ? I do believe that presents we buy or we make with great intention are far more meaningful than throwing yet another thing onto the cart in the check out aisle. Being present in your purchasing (or in your creating) can make a phenomenal difference in how you ‘do’ the holidays. Instead of being so focused on ‘getting it now’, take some time to really analyze the person you’re gifting. Think of their loves, their tastes, their passions, their sense of humor and their dreams. Try to take your own ego out of the equation. There may well be a gift you think is hilarious or just amazing, but if it doesn’t fit that loved one’s OWN sense of self, then who is the gift really for ? Is it for you…to make you feel good, or is it meant to be meaningful for someone else. All too often we let our egos and our own personalities dictate what other people receive. This isn’t a crime, but it does show a lack of thoughtfulness because it means that our taste is “right”. It’s not about the other person. It’s about us. So, in honoring your giftees, think about them, and what makes them tick. Quite literally imagine yourself in their skin…how do you feel? Be fully aware and fully present in each decision you make about gifts. Don’t shop impulsively, and try not to do too much all at once.

Frenzied shopping is rarely thoughtful. Mountains of gifts can be daunting, and yet, that one simple gift, that shows our love and deep connection with another person, can mean a great deal to them. One year, I made my friend, Tammie, chocolate covered strawberries. I have never felt so blessed by anyone’s response to a present. I truly thought of her, what she would like, and tried to imagine her reaction. This was not an expensive gift to make, but as I made them, I remembered our conversations about her love of these treats, and I felt honored that her reaction was so heartfelt and real. Because of that experience, I have tried to truly imagine how another person feels when I pick out a gift for them. I remember memories we’ve shared and think of ideas that really seem to ‘click’. This isn’t to say I hit the mark every time! But, by being fully cognizant, less rushed and more thoughtful, we can truly make a difference in the way our presents are received.

In Yoga, we call to mind living in the present moment and honoring those around us. At the conclusion of every yoga class I teach, I wish my students “Namaste”, which loosely translated means “I honor the light within you”. I encourage my students to honor one another with this same greeting. Like “Aloha” or “Shalom”, it can be said “coming or going”. But, in honoring one another as we leave, we also honor the experience we have just shared and we call to mind being fully present for the rest of our day. Imagine cultivating that kind of thoughtful intention throughout our lives!

And, so as you begin the holiday shopping rush, take time to slow down. Appreciate those you love, and “honor the light within them”. Namaste.

(The wonderful Shiva Rae concluding a class with Namaste...)

The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention. ~ Richard Moss