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So much of the holidays can be taken up with the busy stuff of gift buying, travel plans, and food and festivity preparations that we’re often left exhausted and depleted. It’s easy to forget what the holidays are fundamentally about: to connect and be with family, friends and loved ones. This holiday, offer the gift of your presence to both yourself and your loved ones.
What do I mean by “the gift of your presence”?
Simply put, being present is about being a human being as opposed to a human doing. It’s about being with yourself or your partner instead of busily doing something with your mind elsewhere. You can also practice being really present while doing something fun with your partner. For instance, you could be on a bike ride with your love, enjoying and participating in the experience, giving both your partner and yourself the gift of your full presence. On the other hand, you could be on that bike ride with your mind a million miles away, thinking about that turkey you have to buy or something else on your to-do list. In this case you are just “doing” the bike ride. And your lack of presence may unintentionally give your partner a really negative message about your value and appreciation for them.
Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between “being” and “doing.”
Some of us are more toward the “being” end and some more toward the “doing” end of the Being/Doing Spectrum. If, like me, you find yourself more at the “doing” end, some kind of mindfulness practice can really help, even if it is just for 5-10 minutes a day. Consider this a chance to work out your “being muscle.” At first, you may have a hard time simply locating this muscle! Then, once you locate it and start working on it, you may feel awkward and clumsy. Afterwards, you may be super sore! But over time it gets easier and easier to work that muscle, and eventually it even becomes enjoyable. This is what mindfulness practice is like. At first it can feel difficult and awkward. Your mind is racing a mile a minute. You have no idea if you are even doing it right. Eventually, it gets easier and you start to enjoy the practice. It becomes a way to connect with yourself that is different from your habitual “doing” mode. It’s really about being with yourself, with no agenda, nowhere to go, nothing to do. It can become a deeply nourishing space that you find you really miss if you skip a day!
The Neurobiology of “We”
Your ability to be present for yourself in this mindful way not only radically shifts your relationship with yourself, it can also deeply affect your relationships. You may find that you are able to be present in a much fuller way with loved ones and that this deepens your relationships. Studies show that mindfulness increases empathy, which increases trust in relationship. As Daniel Siegel, a well-known neurobiologist, says:
If you can be open to what’s going on inside of you as it’s happening, then there’s a gateway to being open and present to other people as well… The more you are aware of your own bodily sensations, the more you could be aware of other people’s internal emotional states. It’s called the neurobiology of “we.”
Too Busy to be Present?
Does all this feel like something else to add on your to-do list? Some of the couples I see are so busy that they barely get a chance to connect with themselves, let alone each other! I saw a couple the other day who told me their session with me was the first chance they had all week to sit down and talk! In cases such as theirs, I suggest “connection rituals” that I encourage them to schedule into their busy lives. Prioritizing time together is as important for couples as going to a class or a business meeting. These connection rituals can become the lifeboat for a relationship that is drowning in to-do’s.
What is a connection ritual?
These rituals vary depending on the couple. There are 101 different ways to be together. The operative word here is be. A connection ritual is not a time to talk about the kids or scheduling. It’s a time to relax, play and enjoy each other. The couples I see have come up with a variety of connection rituals: going for a hike, playing music, taking a bath together, reading out loud to each other, having breakfast in bed, going out for a meal, having a coffee date, and so on. Be creative and see what you and your partner can come up with! And most of all, have fun!
I will leave you with this quote (and if anyone knows the source of it, please let me know!): “A beautiful marriage is built on a long series of little things you do for your mate for no reason on earth except the best reason of all, and that is that you love them.”