“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!”
Hello, happy spring! In the northern hemisphere, today is officially the first day of this beautiful season, and there is a little something in this time of the year for everyone—even if the weather isn’t feeling different yet. Typically, spring is not too hot, and not too cold. Spring, just like Goldilocks said, “is just right.”
In my essay “Winter: A Time to Go Within,” I spoke about how the wintery season is a perfect time for connecting within to our quiet inner world for warmth and comfort. Now, I suggest that spring is a time for renewal—to pop our heads out and see the world with fresh eyes. Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” Let’s see our lives with new eyes through the lens of spring.
As the days grow longer and the temperatures start to warm up, our friends the trees get the message from Mother Nature that the winter is over and it is time for new growth. But this certainly doesn’t happen overnight. Little by little, the buds break out and the leaves begin to grow.
The tree has a purpose, and all of its efforts are placed on that one task. We can say that a tree in spring has a one-pointed focus. All of its attention—its Focused Attention—is right where it needs to be to live its strong, grand, magnificent life.
In spring, nature calls us to focus our attention on living in the world. The time for retreat is over. Spring is calling us outside so we can shake off the cold of winter. We somehow feel magically rejuvenated and motivated to make our lives and the world a more beautiful place. These changes need not be on the outside to beautify the world; they are about seeing the beauty that is already present in each moment by bringing our attention right where we are: right where we need to be—right here in the now.
With this image of the tree in mind, let us approach the moments of the day as if each step we take is an opportunity to grow our “leaves” of awareness. And know that the more leaves we have, the more we can absorb the light! What a metaphor this is—leaves give the tree the ability to absorb light, and being aware in the present moment gives us the ability to shine our light and be the light!
When we are in the present moment, like the tree, we can pursue our purpose, find meaning, and thrive. Go outside in this new season, this new environment bursting with life, and cultivate and nurture your inner world and feel your heart blossom.
“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”
—Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam
“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
— Calvin Coolidge
As Christmas Day draws near, I cannot help but feel the excitement of the holiday. I had a difficult childhood, which I speak about in the Preface of my book The Practice, but when I was a little girl, Christmas was always a time of joy and excitement for me—and it continues to be so now that I am an adult!
There is something so grand about Christmas Day that has always made me feel deep within that everything is all right with the world. This hopeful and inspiring message “Peace on earth and good will toward all” has a sort of magical quality that, just by saying it, makes it feel true. But it isn’t magic:
Christmas Day is a reminder to me that peace and good will are truly attainable ideals. They exist within each one of us at all times.
For me, the peaceful feeling that permeates Christmastime is accessible every day of the year when I sit in silence. Within me, all is calm and all is bright, and I feel a deep and beautiful sense of comfort, joy, and benevolence. I carry this deep knowing in my heart following my morning meditation as I move through my day. Whether it is a celebratory occasion or just an “ordinary” day, I recognize the glory in each moment and the opportunity to spread feelings of love, hope, peace, and good cheer.
The messages of Christmas Day assure us that although the world outside may not yet reflect the “perfect light” within each of us, we can shine this loving light outward in all our activities and interactions. As we spread our light, more of us will come together to make peace on earth and good will toward all a new and glorious reality.
I invite you to spend the first few moments of Christmas morning sitting in silence and tapping into your wellspring of peace and good will. Open this gift to yourself and hear the sound of joy whisper from your core. Whatever the day ahead has in store for you, may you greet it with the spirit of the holiday in your heart.
I am wishing all who celebrate this wondrous holiday a very Merry Christmas!
“May you be blessed
With the spirit of the season, which is peace,
The gladness of the season, which is hope,
And the heart of the season, which is love.”
— Irish Christmas Blessing
For many of us, December is a busy month. From gift shopping and the kids’ winter break to holiday gatherings, party planning, family celebrations, travel arrangements, and end-of-year deadlines—so much of what we do this month feels out of the ordinary for our usual routines. And everyday routines are often very busy to begin with! As joyous as the holidays are, the truth is, they do add more stress into our December days. So here are my 10 tips for keeping your holiday stress more manageable and our days more memorable and happy.
- Keep a gratitude journal this month.
Either first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening, write down one thing you are grateful for this holiday season. When you consciously take note of what you are grateful for, your blessings have a way of balancing those stressful feelings.
- Begin your day in silence.
When you “wake up and stop” first thing in the morning by sitting in silence for 5 minutes, you give yourself the chance to connect with the spirit of the holiday—your peace, power, goodwill, and calm within. When the day starts getting hectic or stressful, breathe deeply and remember this connection.
- Create a to-do list.
Make a to-do list for the day in order of priority, including all of the extra tasks and events expected of you. Are you trying to do too much? If so, go ahead and cross off the last thing on your list. If it is at the end, it is low priority and can wait. This gives you a little breathing room to do something relaxing for yourself to counteract the stress of all the hustle and bustle.
- Stay present.
As you transition from one event or moment in your day to the next, instead of letting your mind get carried away with worrying about what needs to get done, bring your mind back to the present moment by focusing on your breath. With all the extra demands on your time during the holidays, your mind will have your thoughts on overdrive if you don’t take the reins and remind yourself, “All is well; just breathe.”
- Give up the need to be perfect.
Give yourself a break and give up the idea of perfection: You don’t have to be the perfect weight, have the prettiest holiday party dress, throw the best party, or give the greatest gifts to feel good about yourself. Embrace who you are, imperfections and all, by being the “perfect” expression of yourself. You can do this by giving every moment your personal best and not comparing yourself to others.
- Say no to things you really don’t want to do.
Do you have to accept every request or invitation you receive during the holidays? Give yourself permission to say no. Really think about what is being asked of you, and if it doesn’t serve your plan for the day or your greatest good in the grander scheme, politely decline. This is like crossing off the last thing on your to-do list. When it comes to invitations and requests for your time, you really do not have “to-do” anything you don’t want to do.
- Choose some time not to multitask.
We generally multitask all the time, but with our hectic holiday schedules, multitasking seems like the only way to get everything done. However, this tends to drain our energy at an even quicker speed: that’s just the opposite of what we want! Instead, identify one area of your life where you can do just one thing, like having a meal. Turn off the TV, put down the phone, and stay off the computer. Notice how much energy you gain from this one-pointed activity—energy for tackling whatever is next on your list.
- Make a list and stick to it.
Especially during the holiday season, it is super important to make a list of what you need at the supermarket and shopping malls so that you can do your shopping efficiently. Efficient shopping equals some downtime for you later. So, as important as having a list is sticking to your list. Too often, we get caught up browsing the aisles, which uses up precious energy and time for the other things we need to do. Keep your mind focused. If you start to wander, take a few breaths and bring yourself back to the moment and back to your list.
- Make mealtime family time.
There’s no better time for you to be mindful than to make your mealtimes family time. The holidays are reminders to be present for each other, so this is an extra reason to sit down together for your meals, no matter what else is going on in everyone’s lives. When you make being together a priority, you set the tone for what is most important in life. This is your opportunity to be there for one another with love and strength. This time sets the tone for the season and is the perfect way to manage the stresses of the day.
- End your day in peace.
Just before bed, unplug from technology and spend a few minutes reading something uplifting and inspirational, perhaps a holiday classic. Think about authors and stories that inspire you and keep a few of these books at your bedside. After you have read for a few minutes, place the book aside and set the intention to end your day in peace. Let go of all worries and fears. The day is over. Nothing can be changed. Giving your mind a rest from thinking about your worries, fears, and plans helps you to have a well-nourished, restful sleep. Starting the new day without past stresses, you find yourself ready to take on any holiday “challenges” in a new light with a fresh mind.
“To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”
In the upcoming months—from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day—we will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy celebratory feasts and activities. These special times of the year are often filled with precious moments as we spend quality time with our family and friends. These memories, in large part, are what give meaning to our lives, showing us how blessed we are to have opportunities to give our Focused Attention to those we love.
So with this feeling of gratitude in our hearts, wouldn’t it be important to show up for these moments in the best of health? Our bodies are the vehicles that support us and give us strength. To be in the best health possible is a daily practice. So, as this holiday season approaches, consider making good health a priority by trying out the tips below. Know that if you are taking care of yourself, you will be giving those around you a priceless gift—your presence in mind, body, and spirit.
- Get your body moving. Physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous, but it does have to be consistent for good health. Stretching, walking, yoga, bicycling, tai chi, swimming—these are all low-impact activities that keep your joints nimble and your muscles toned. Start small, try a few different activities, maybe 10 minutes a day, and settle into one that you enjoy. Remember, moving every day is the key, so commit to spending some time moving your body.
- Make healthy food choices. The holidays can be our most challenging times when it comes to food. We will most definitely encounter high-calorie meals and out-of-the-ordinary desserts. For me, this is a time to really make an effort to be mindful and know at each moment that I have a choice. It can be easy to fall into automatic pilot and just eat whatever is placed in front of us. The point is to consciously make the choice to have that second helping or just half of that outrageous dessert. Be in the moment, knowing that you have the power to make smart choices around food. Your body will thank you!
- Give up an unhealthy habit. Is there something in your life that you know is not healthy for you? Whatever it is, contemplate a plan to kick whatever “habit” it is. Maybe it is an addiction like smoking. Did you know that November 20 is the Great American Smokeout? That’s just two days from now! Days like this are reminders that we are never alone. There is a tremendous amount of support out there—you just need to ask for it.
- Replenish your body. Our bodies are made up of mostly water. In fact, we come into this world from a “sac of water.” So it makes sense that when we spend time in and around water we feel an overall sense of well-being. When I get into a bathtub, my first response is, Ahhh. That’s my body’s way of saying thank you. So replenish your body with this life-giving gift. For instance, take a warm bath, nurture your body with a tall glass of fresh water several times a day, or if weather permits, go to the beach or a lake.
- Sleep well. Do you have too much to do to get a full night’s sleep? The importance of sleep is in the media a lot lately, and I am very happy about that. When it comes to sleep, I know that if I don’t get enough, it is difficult for me to be at my best for the day ahead. Figure out the best sleep schedule for you, and make every effort to stick to it. If time is short, make it a point to take on just one less thing so that you can get your adequate amount of sleep.
- Smile and laugh. I say often, “Don’t take life so seriously, but be serious about the life you’re living.” See the humorous side of things as often as you can. Lighten up! Don’t take things personally; it really is not about YOU! When you make the decision to have a daily practice that nurtures your body as well as your mind, your practice will translate into your life as a deep, beautiful, light spirit that finds not only peace and joy in everyday moments but humor too!