12 Days of Giving: The Gift of Mindfulness

Monks meditating in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This is the second in our special “12 Days of Giving” series running for the holiday season. It’s a little different from what you might think of as traditional presents or giving. We aren’t really talking about stuff you buy or a gift list. Rather, on these 12 days, we will be talking about different gifts that you can give to yourself, or others — those that have a deeper meaning, that can help you live with intention, be happier, be healthier. Soul gifts, you might even call them. Join us on the journey.

For the most part, a lot of us go through life just getting from one task to the next, planning dinner or the next day, repeating the same mistakes or bad habits, sort of drifting through life without being really cognizant of what we are doing, the life we are creating.

And so days pass, unheralded. Months and then years slowly trickle by, and we realize that we haven’t done so many of the things we set out to do, we wanted to do. We are getting older, and still we have not lived.

I don’t want life to be that way.

Living mindfully means, most of all, focusing on the present moment. The now. It’s all we have really, this actual moment happening right now. Be there. Enjoy it, or at least learn from it.

It can be really challenging to be fully present in the moment, and I have to admit that I still don’t do it often enough. But I’ve become much better at it — and much better at recognizing when I’m so far ahead of myself, or in the past, that I’m just not here. I’ve become better at issuing myself prompts to just take a moment to notice what’s around me, and be here now.

Here are some of the key takeaways I’ve learned in the past 10 years I’ve been practicing mindfulness:

Stuff clutters our lives and our minds.

I’m no austere minimalist, don’t get me wrong. I have my share of things, but by and large I try to be selective about possessions that have real value and meaning to me. After my Six Items or Less challenge, I cleaned out my closet and gave lots of stuff away. I did the same with other items during the Giving and Sustainability projects. In the never ending rush of accumulation and consumerism that seems to drive so much of American life, stuff becomes our master. Have too much of it, and it begins to own you.

We can choose to be happy.

We create our own happiness in our minds, by and large. Of course events and situations can be painful, tragic and traumatic. At those times we are often unhappy, stressed or even grief-stricken. But I’m talking about the permanent ongoing baseline, not fluctuations of circumstance. True happiness is internal, not external, not reliant on other people or things or events. We make our own happiness, every single day.

Surround yourself with people who inspire you.

It took me a long time to learn to weed negative, toxic, soul-sucking people out of my life. We can’t always pick and choose, and have to get along with people who are in our paths, at work, etc. But as far as people you let into your inner circle, your entire life, it’s just as with food – what you bring into it is what you’ll get from it. I am blessed to have a wonderful partner, loving family and some of the most awesome friends in the world. I have made a conscious choice to leave toxic people out of my life and surround myself with the pretty darn wonderful. Don’t be with people who make you miserable; be with people who make your spirit soar.

What we do really matters.

Paying attention to little things around the house that suck energy; buying a lot of food from your local farmer rather than stuff that’s been trucked thousands of miles by a corporation…all these things add up. They may seem small, but there are seven billion people on our planet now. If enough of us do enough small things, we really do affect the world.

There’s no excuse not to live consciously, mindfully, with intention. Every moment.
As far as we know, we only have this one life. Let’s make it count.

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