Maleficent in laws, impossible menus, bumper-to-bumper car trips, stress, anxiety, fear… oh my! Sadly, these are the situations and emotions that plague many of us during a holiday that should IDEALLY be marked by gratitude, bonding, serenity, and joy. Mindful living techniques to the rescue! To me, mindful living, being completely, non judgmentally engaged in the present moment, provides me with a type of “lens” through which I can shift my perception of situations that have the potential to unsettle me.
The traditional Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it, is one of those holidays that may provide the perfect opportunity to consciously practice mindful perception, or to perceive through a “mindful lens”. All senses are engaged as stimuli are heightened: there is the preparation, the family engagement, the travel, and of course, the food.
So are you ready for the Thanksgiving Day Mindfulness Challenge??!!
In the Morning
Before you jump out of bed to start the day, take a deep breath, and feel gratitude. This is a simple ritual that I try to practice every day. Be thankful for your body, your breath, and your life. With all of its aches and pains, your body is a gift, and our ability to sense and feel is a blessing we take for granted when we are caught up in thoughts. Then extend the positive emotion with a lovingkindness meditation. This is a Buddhist practice through which you focus intently on love for yourself, then for your loved ones, then to those in your life to whom you feel neutral, out toward those with whom you have conflict (a tough one, I know!) and finally, out to the world at large.
How many times have you driven from A to B without recalling the journey at all? How many times have you blown past your exit because you were so wrapped up in thought? Before discovering mindfulness, this was my daily work commute to a T! Ugh… You know the burning in your face and sickness in your stomach that occurs when people honk their horns or cut you off in traffic? That, my friends, is the fight or flight response. The primal part of our brains translate that type of experience as a mortal threat, and like a deer in headlights, our bodies act accordingly. If this happens to you, recognize the sensation for what it is and find that it passes more quickly. Fully engage yourself in the process of driving. Feel the power and the miracle of the vehicle you are controlling to move at such speeds. Take in the scenery lining the road in front of you. Notice the angle of the sun. Focusing in this way will pull your focus away from worry and anxiety about the visit to come. (Are you flying? Read Mindful Flight.)
This first suggestion may be an easy one for me as I am more of a European football fan (soccer) than one of American football. (Sorry!! Lol) Although I won’t suggest you turn off the TV altogether, do attempt mindful communication with your family members. When people speak to you, look them in they eye. Give them time to complete their thoughts. Note body language. Are they anxious depressed? Consider this when processing what they share. Secondly, don’t forget to focus mindful attention on the kids. See them for the blessing they are, even of they are wreaking havoc and making a mess! Don’t interrupt their play, just watch. And finally, don’t forget our furry friends. Poor pets… They are often the lowest on the totem pole. Pay attention to them! Be mindful that holiday celebrations can be incredibly stressful for animals (noise, break in routine, perceived threats, etc.).
Sitting Down to the Meal
NO PHONES. I repeat, NO PHONES. Rude during ANY meal, this practice takes inconsideracy and mindLESSness to a whole new level during holiday meals. Pay attention to your family and engage in a practice called mindful eating. (NOTE: Mindful eating is a common therapy for people suffering from eating disorders.) As tempting as it may be to gorge yourself (My personal weakness is sweet potato pie. I am actually drooling at the thought!), slow down. Take a moment to smell the food before stuffing it into your mouth. Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing, noticing texture and consistency. How about temperature? Note the difference between hot and cold dishes. LOOK at the food. See the rich, diverse colors; cranberry, greens, and shades of brown. Slowing down will enhance your enjoyment of the meal, and potentially avoid the need for antacids later on!
At the conclusion of your mindful Thanksgiving Day, congratulate yourself for allowing yourself the opportunity to fully embrace life, mindfully. How did the lovingkindness exercise in the morning impact your attitude throughout the day? What miracle of nature did you notice during your mindful travels? What did you learn about someone in your family that you would have missed had you not payed attention? How did the mindful eating turn a gorge-fest into nourishment for the soul?
Holding That Gratitude Throughout the Holiday Season
READ one of the following children’s books. Trust of your Mindful Librarian! One is more beautiful than the next:
Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks (Julie Andrews Collection)
Buy on Amazon