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A Gratitude Exercise For the Holiday

Shepherds, Angels and Wisemen; a gratitude exercise for the holiday


The holidays, regardless of which one or how you celebrate, are typically bursting with nostalgic looks back at memories from days past. While this can be beautiful and warming to the spirit. It can also be a way to enamor ourselves with things more distant and leave us forgetting appreciate the good things we have had most recently. In a year like this one, an actual exercise or practice of gratitude may be more needed than ever.

Because the nativity holds a special place for me in reflection this time of year, I like to use subjects from it. You can rename the three subject titles however best fits your family’s traditions,  beliefs or practices.

And yes, this can be adapted for use with kids as well. It can be a great way to share a practice of acknowledging what we have and hold dear in life. And adults can be an example by participating and sharing about ourselves as well. Might make a nice new family tradition?

So, here we go.

First, get some paper or use your journal. Yes, keep it ‘old school’ and hand write this. (it matters in several ways – including brain/memory). Find a quiet and comfortable place where you can sit with your thoughts and put them to paper without much distraction.

Shepherds;

These are people from your same walk of life, your neighborhood, old friends, coworkers – people who come from familiar territory; even if they have different roles, tasks. They are diligent, reliable and fierce defenders of your goodness. And, they support you and honor the ‘real’ you in some manner.

Write down the names of 3 people who have been shepherds to you in the past year and a few examples for each of them of how you have benefited from their presence in your life; how you have felt their support, love and camaraderie.

Angels;

These are people whose presence in your life has come to a conclusion this past year or a significant change. It could be a relationship that ended, it could be the result of a change of residence or career, or even someone who has passed away. The presence of them has added to your life, your learning, your appreciation or in some other way. Big or small, they have impacted your life and you will remember them.

Write down the names of 3 people who have been angels to you in the past year and few examples for each of how you have benefited from their presence in your life and why that matters to you. (Try to focus on ones from the past year. It’s sometimes easier to jump to larger losses of the past – try to refrain from this and focus on exits from this past year).

Wisemen (and Wisewomen);

These are the people who are very different from you. They may hold different careers, have different lives, perhaps have different faith traditions and cultures. Their lives are very different from yours and yet they have served as a guide to you; knowingly or unknowingly. They have gifted you a very different perspective. They do not challenge or dismiss you, but their presence has brought something new and unexpected into your way of living life. They may inspire, invite or share – but in all their action, they honor who you truly are.

Write down the names of 3 people who have been wisemen/wisewomen to you in the past year and a few examples of what their presence in your life has brought you; what you have learned, how you have changed or grown.

Finally, to bring this exercise into full resonance, share your answers for this year with someone else – talk about it. Elaborate on your responses and talk about the gratitude you hold for all of these people and your experiences. Put into words, aloud, how you are a better person for it. How your life has been added to by having them in it.

To really stretch – you can also opt to contact those people whom you can from your answers and let them know that you appreciate them being in your life and some of the ways who they have been to you in the past year has been impactful.

At bare minimum, when you complete the written exercise (not typed – handwritten), put it down for a while and come back to it a few hours later. When you do, read it out loud – not just the answers, but “One of my shepherd this year was _____ because she/he __________, _________ and __________. I am grateful for them and my life has grown in ways such as ______________________ and __________________.” (or something similar).

Don’t forget you can change the titles ‘shepherd’, ‘angel’ and ‘wisemen’ to whatever subject titles best fit your spiritual beliefs and practices.

Handwriting, reading and hearing are all different paths into memory. Discussion with someone else adds layers to this as well. Gratitude must be practice for the brain to learn to seek it out. The more we visit gratitude in our thoughts, the more readily and frequently we are to recognize the other things to be grateful for. Things that have always and will always come through life – if we only see and acknowledge them.

Peace, health, happiness and prosperity to you and your loved ones this holiday and in the year to come.

Pace’ Tutti –
Ben

 

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Embracing Change: How to Adapt Traditions in a Pandemic Holiday Season

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to change so many things about the way we live this year. Now, with the holidays fast approaching, it’s very likely that some of your favorite traditions will have to change and shift, too. So, the task becomes how to adapt traditions in the pandemic holiday season before us.

There are many new orders and guidelines in place with cases surging in different states across the country. Most of them reflect the idea that large get-togethers shouldn’t happen and that you should continue to distance yourself from others, not in your household.

Needless to say, you’re probably going to have to adapt traditions this year. That can be hard to deal with, especially if you’re already feeling sad, lonely, or even anxious. It can feel like you’re losing something special.

But, when you know how to adapt traditions effectively, you can still make the most of them and enjoy your holidays during these uncertain times. Let’s look at a few creative ways you can make changes.

Stay Connected

The holidays will always be about connecting with the people you love. This year, you may not be able to do that in person.

However, technology has made it easier than ever to stay connected. Schedule a video chat with your friends or family during the holidays. Make an “event” out of it and start a Zoom call with multiple people. Maybe you all can eat dinner together over the call or have a “cookie swap” where everyone shares their favorite recipe.

Even calling the people you love can make a big difference in how you feel. It can strengthen your bond in a time of loneliness, and that’s helpful to everyone. It may not be your usual tradition, but it’s the next best thing.

 

Keep Your Favorite Traditions

Just because your family may not be around this year doesn’t mean you need to give up every tradition. Think about the ones that put you in the holiday spirit. What are some of your favorite traditions?

How can you adapt those traditions this year to still make them a part of your holidays?

You could try making one of your favorite family holiday recipes, or opening a gift the night before Christmas, etc. One way to adapt traditions is simply to make them smaller, with the people in your household. They don’t need to go away completely.

Start New Traditions

You might think that starting new traditions isn’t exactly “adapting,” but it allows you to be flexible in light of the situation.

By taking your favorite things about the season and turning them into new traditions, you’ll still have reasons to celebrate. Whether you’re by yourself over the holidays or with your immediate family, having traditions (new or old) will help you feel more grounded. That’s crucial during a time when things seem so uncertain.

Struggling With the Loss of Tradition

It’s only natural to feel a bit down this holiday season. Knowing how to adapt traditions is an excellent place to start, but you might still feel like you’ve lost something. You may even be grieving over that loss — and that’s okay.

Feel free to contact me about counseling for loss if you’re genuinely struggling or consider some other options. One of the best things you can do is to accept that loss, rather than trying to deny it or pretend you’re feeling better than you are. Adapting traditions can help, of course. But, it may not wholly take away your “holiday blues.”

Keep in mind that this era isn’t forever. By adapting traditions now to keep everyone safe, your holiday season next year can be filled with the things you’re used to and the people you love.

Please reach out to me today or visit my page on Counseling for Loss to learn more about how I can help.

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Presence Before Presents

It’s a festive time of year and in the hustle and bustle of it all, it’s easy to get distracted and forget to put presence before presents. Traditions vary and obligations abound, but the seasonal change of the year beckons us to reflect and remember what it truly most precious to each of us in our lives; to not let the stuff get ahead of the spirit of the holidays. But how to I find and keep meaning in the holidays? Below are 20 Ways to Make this Holiday More Meaningful for you and your loved ones.

Holiday stress already got you stressed out?

Feel lost in the commercialism and marketing deluge that typically overtakes this time of year?

Wanting to make presence more of a priority than the presents?

Below are 20 Ways to Make this Holiday More Meaningful for you.

1. Start With Spirituality, the rest follows.

Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist – whatever your faith tradition; give it the place of reverence it deserves and build the rest of what you have to do on top of it. The season is not about commerce, unless you allow it to be. Cultivate the meaning you seek.

2. Things lose their value quickly – People do not.

Don’t let the hectic shoppers, demands on your schedule and overall commercialism steal you away from what is important. Make people a priority. Give them your time, your attention. It matters more than that great new gift idea you have for them.

3. Remember to Give.

Smile at people, look at them – don’t turn away. Hand a couple bucks to the guy on the corner and have a handful of change for the red bucket and bell ringing volunteer out in the parking lot – and thank THEM for being out there asking for help others.

4. Take It In.

Stop, breathe and take the time to really notice…..take a deep breath when you are tree shopping – smell the pine trees, see the dancing flames in the fireplace, hear the popcorn, feel the warmth of the coffee cup you are holding, close your hands around it and smell the cinnamon. Breathe deeply and slowly every so often and pay attention to your senses.

5. Say “Hi” and “Thank You”.

Whenever you can and especially to the dry cleaners, the grocery clerk, the bank teller, the maintenance guy, the cleaning lady, the receptionist – take the time to give that small moment of “I appreciate you” to people who far too often go unnoticed for all they do.

6. Handwritten cards.

For some it’s a joy to do and for others a pain, but do it – at least a few of them. When you take the time to write it yourself the person you send it to gets the message “you are worth something more to me, worth my time and effort”.

7. Invest in your Relationships.

This is where presence before presents really hits home. Start your closest circle; family, spouse, best friends, close colleagues – make a point to earnestly get to know them a little better as people, to get closer. Ask about them and their lives – and pay attention. And grow it from there.

8. Slow is Better than Go.

Embrace the quiet moments – they are better than the craziness and panic of the commercial season. Allow yourself time for earnest reflection. It’s not wasted time.

9. Purpose Above Perfection.

Tree Decorations are about the time putting them up and the reflection on what is important in life – it is not about how crooked the tree is, or the faded ornaments or whether there are too many lights at the bottom. Every tree is perfect as it becomes. Period.

10. Play More Music.

Me, I prefer holiday music and I have some old favorites I work in – but festive, bright, heartwarming, inspiring music – whatever that is to you. Sing it, dance to it – but fill more space with music. Start by turning it on in place of routinely turning on the TV, tablet or skimming through your phone.

11. Traditions Evolve.

But they are not carved in stone. Revel in the traditions of the past, as long as they are meaningful AND be open to letting a few move over for new traditions to be born. I love some of our special traditions during the holidays – but the best moments have often come from welcoming something new into our celebration together. Remember presence before presents…as well as traditions. Don’t get hung up on the “We always”, focus more on just the “we”.

12. Find the Beauty.

Some holidays will be harder than others. We may have lost people we loved, be faced with medical concerns, moved far away and be unable to travel home or be trying to balance more than in past years. There is always beauty in the world – even in darker days. Seek it and share it. There are few more important paths in this time of year. (If this is hard for you, I may be able to help.)

13. Pay It Forward.

Do something that helps someone else and expect nothing back. Several years ago I tried the pay-it-forward drive-through experiment. I paid $5 for the coffee for the person behind me in the drive thru and told the barista to them I said “Have a great day and just do it for someone else sometime”. The next time I saw the barista, she said the line made it nine cars with people paying for the person behind them. It may have been easy, but each person could have just kept it for themselves, but instead they thought about the person behind them and passed it on. Little seeds of caring.

14. Remember People of Service.

Your postal worker, the UPS driver, the cashier, the lady at the cleaners, the local firehouse, the constable service – whomever. Make time to go and thank them – shake a hand, bring a bag of cookies or some hot chocolate. Look them in the eye and let them know what they do is appreciated and noticed.

15. Snow Becomes Slush.

So what. That’s life. All worldly things are impermanent. Enjoy them while they are here and when they are gone remember them, but also get up and celebrate the next new snow. Nostalgia is fine, fond memories a treasure – but life is about change, growth and movement. No holiday will be like the previous and it shouldn’t. Each one has the potential to be special in its own right – make it so.

16. Smile & Forgive …infectiously.

You don’t know the other person’s story, period. Don’t jump to assumptions or let your bias swamp you. When you get cut off in traffic – try to let it go. When they pull into the parking spot you were waiting for – try to let it go. These are small, silly things in the grander scheme or your life and theirs. Advance a little grace to someone else – your heart will love you for it.

17. Cultivate Wonder.

Presents before presents…and let there be awe. Especially with the young and the elderly. Pause and notice the sparkle of lights, the bright colored wrapping paper, the flicker of candles, the giant store decorations – talk the wonder, share the awe. When you inspire this in others something wonderful happens for all of you.

18. Respect the Red Suit.

If you don’t believe in Santa, keep it to yourself. Don’t ruin it for the people around you – especially kids. Keep the spirit and mirth of the season alive for everyone – all ages, all faiths and all beliefs. Leave the “Bah Humbugs” to Scrooge and make a commitment to celebrate the good in humanity.

19. Practice Gratitude.

It’s easy to see what is missing or wanted. We spend far too much time doing that in life. Look at what you do have and reflect on how your life would be without it. Say “Thank You” to people. Reach out and tell the people in your life that they matter and tell them why. Write 3 things you are grateful for each day – unique to that day, no matter how small – and read it aloud to yourself before you go to bed. In no time you will start noticing the “gratitudes” around you in everyday life more and more,

20. Say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or…

…Whatever tradition you honor greet others with it as you like. It doesn’t matter if others only say “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” – you say it your way. My Jewish Uncle loves being wished “Merry Christmas”. He says it is an expression that celebrates love from the person who believes in something good and greater than themselves. So send it out and be joyful in it. And whatever holiday wish comes your way remember that person is honoring you from the heart – who wouldn’t want that? And if you hear nothing back? So what? Put your merry heart into the universe. Keep your presence before presents. It’s good for you and all of us.

Buon Natale’ e Pace’ Tutti !