Giving the Gift of Mindful Presence to Yourself and Others
As the holiday season kicks into full swing, the desire and feeling of obligation to give tangible, meaningful gifts grows. In most cases, though, the best gifts that we are capable of giving are not at all tangible and, when given, offer as much to the recipient as the giver. During last year’s holiday season, we encouraged families to focus on sharing acts of kindness with friends, neighbors, and community members throughout the holiday season. While many of our suggested acts of kindness end in a tangible representation of our intentions, the gift of presence is perhaps the greatest act of kindness of all – and yet it does not physically exist.
This holiday season, families can focus on meaningful gift-giving by incorporating mindfulness into their lives. Rather than giving actual presents (or perhaps in addition to), families can focus on sharing their presence with those around them – giving the gift of true attention, close listening, and deep understanding to those they care about.
Used as a tool to help humans connect more closely with themselves and the world around them, mindfulness can also help those who practice it connect more deeply with others. The clear, tuned-in mind that mindfulness can produce is one that has more space for listening; rather than being cluttered by thoughts about things taking place in the past or future and in different contexts, a brain that has practiced mindfulness offers more space for listening, processing, and conveying kindness, love, and support.
Of course, even when guided by the best of intentions, the gift of mindful presence cannot be given unless the givers have made a point to practice mindfulness regularly. The gift of mindful presence requires the practice of mindfulness not just during the holiday season, but all year round; this gift requires intentional changes to the concept of self and the process of thinking. So, then, rather than shopping or crafting in order to prepare gifts, families sharing mindful presence as a gift should put energy into exploring the idea of mindfulness, learning ways to practice it, and reflecting on the changes they notice once they begin to intentionally practice it.
Hilltown Families columnist Ginny Hamilton offers up monthly reflections and intentions related to mindfulness in her column, Off the Mat: Reflections on the Practice of Parenting. Parents can use Ginny’s writing as a source of inspiration for guiding the practice of mindfulness at home and for finding insight into blending mindfulness and parenting – perhaps allowing parents to give their children the gift of mindful presence this year! Additionally, families can explore the role of mindfulness in community service while listening to guest DJ Charity Kahn’s Community Service Episode of the Hilltown Family Variety Show – an episode that inspires listeners to think about how practicing mindfulness and engaging with community can support those around them.
To introduce and explore the idea of mindfulness with children, look to the pages of some simple yet very well-crafted children’s books for inspiration. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles teaches youngsters exploring mindfulness a technique called pebble meditation, a relatively new way of developing skills for mindfulness through creative, hands-on meditative practice. Rana DiOrio’s What Does It Mean To Be Present? can help to further explain mindfulness meditation to children, who will learn from its pages that mindfulness involves not only being calm and quiet, but tuning in to the world around them. Once kids have a handle on what mindfulness is for them and the benefits that it can have, What Does It Mean To Be Kind? – another of DiOrio’s works – explores the role of mindfulness in kindness, and the ways in which kindness can easily be spread throughout a community (and throughout the world) with just a few small acts.
[Photo credit: (cc) Rebecca Stanek]