Presence = Presents

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Oh, the hustle and the bustle! Gifts to buy, trees to trim, cookies to make, gifts to wrap, friends to see, family to host, and meals to prepare. The plethora of holiday traditions and niceties fill our list that is already overflowing with deadlines at work, year-end planning, relationship conflict, financial challenges, grieving loss, health concerns, and house repairs.

Anxiety and stress can bring that unsettling feeling that never seems to stop flowing in the pit of our gut. It is easy to long for the holidays to be over so we can get back to our “normal” to do list without all the extras. Yet, as I look back over my life searching for the highlights, Christmas traditions bring a flood of happy emotions. I think about my kids sitting around our breakfast bar years ago decorating gingerbread houses as the Christmas music filled the air, the slumber parties in the living room the week between Christmas & New Year, and random beautiful moments when my husband would help me wrap gifts. A lot of joy fills my heart as I bring to mind those moments and remember the connection, laughter, and love I felt in them.

It is interesting that it is harder to locate the memories of the many arguments during gingerbread decorating, the mess that was made, the constant noise, or the many times I sat sulking, wrapping gifts alone. While I know the memories are there, they are vague, foggy, and faded parts of my past. They aren’t nearly as clear as the Norman Rockwell-esque moments, those waiting gifts in the crevices of my heart and mind, bringing happy emotions I can recall and treasure any time I desire.

I recognize that what created these presents I get to keep opening forever are the occasions I breathed in the moment, set my internal chaos aside, embraced who was in front of me for exactly who they were, was open to the mess, got honest about what I needed, and made requests. I was present in those moments, and they are now a forever gift that can’t be taken away.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to be nowhere but where you are at all times? When we are present, we create these eternal presents. But, why does it seem so hard sometimes to shut off the internal chatter as we experience disappointment, exhaustion, busyness, and this anxiety inside of us that is as close as our best friend at times?

I know, for myself, one of the biggest reasons I avoid being present is I don’t naturally like to take responsibility. It is way more fun to be a victim and blame everyone else. When I choose to be responsible, it means I actually need to slow down, own my thoughts, get honest, be vulnerable, risk, and choose happiness. While those things produce priceless present treasures that live with me forever, in the moment, I am easily tempted to settle for the momentary feel-good and sacrifice the long-term gain and the deepest desires of my heart.

Let me share with you four steps that, in a matter of minutes, can help me get present and experience the presents I really want with my loved ones.

Step 1: Be in the moment

This can start with something as simple as a cleansing breath that helps me take in the sounds, smells, sights, senses, and everything that is right there inside and outside of me in that moment. When I do that, I sometimes notice things that are getting in the way of me being present. I will use a recent example in my life to illustrate this step.

  • The busyness of holidays and work was creating a tension and anxiety that I hadn’t really paid attention to until I was in an argument with my husband and realized there was something deeper going on. As I chose to be in the moment and get present with myself, I noticed the tightness in my chest, the stories in my head, and the fears of what I might not get to experience seemed to suffocate me. The more I took account, the more I knew that I was upset about missing an annual shopping trip with my husband, an annual tradition that I hold very dear. We stay overnight in a big city nearby and celebrate the season and shop for gifts. This year, a tighter budget and time schedule made us say "no" to this outing.

Step 2: Own what is

Once I have located what is there, I choose to be with it. Owning it means I do not wish it could be different, deny it, or hope it is magically going to change. It is what is, and only when I choose to be with it can I begin to make choices. This is what "owning what is" looked like for me as I continue with my experience.

  • I knew that our decision to not take this trip was the “right” thing to do, but it didn’t make my desire go away. Owning what is meant I needed to own what I felt about it. I was sad, disappointed, afraid I wouldn’t get to experience it again, and mad that we were on a budget.

Step 3: Honesty

With the awareness of what is, I can now choose to get honest. What is it that I am really wanting or needing? Without judgment of myself or someone else, I simply get honest with what is occurring for me. Continuing with the above example, here is what that looked like.

  • As I gave each one of those feelings space to be, I started wondering what it was that I actually got from this tradition. When I removed all the surface things like holding hands, picking out gifts, drinking hot chocolate, and having a night away, what was under the experience that I was really longing for? I realized it was the connection. It is a special way my husband and I connect that I was afraid I wouldn’t get if we didn’t do the trip.

Step 4: Make a request

Honesty opens up so much clarity, and now I have the opportunity to risk my ego that wants to make me right about whatever I think I am right about. Making a request requires humility. I may not get the response I like, my weaknesses may be exposed, and I may not appear as superhuman as I prefer. That looked like this.

  • I shared my heart with my husband, expressed how grateful I was for what we had experienced in the past, and asked him if we could find a new way to connect this year. Much to my surprise, he heard my heart and said he wanted to figure out a way to make that happen. What followed over the next week still shocks me! Both of our daughters, separately, got invited to sleepovers at friends’ houses on the same night. All of a sudden, my husband and I were going to have the house to ourselves. I made another request and asked if we could sleep in front of the fireplace. Again, I was surprised by his willingness to honor my request. We had the most beautiful time eating at home, dreaming about our future, and making new traditions. Interestingly enough, one of the most connected parts of our time together was the way we worked through a really difficult conversation that came up that evening. As I took it all in the next day, I realized that, when we had created that expensive tradition years ago, our relationship was struggling. We didn't know how to work through difficult conversations or connect on deep levels, so we found a connection through exterior things. But, the connection we experienced this week went far beyond anything we had ever experienced on one of those much more expensive overnight Christmas shopping trips because this connection was heart and soul.

As I embraced presence in this one moment when I noticed I was stressed and anxious, the present I received has continued to bring such a sense of peace and joy as I make my way through my very long To Do List. There is a lightheartedness and calm that I almost completely missed by wanting to run from my internal suffering. I am so grateful I applied these four steps.

What about you? What is distracting you from the gift of the people you love? Would you consider that taking a minute to be present with yourself and apply these steps which can allow you to get out of your own way, so you can bring about the desires of your heart?