With the holidays now upon us, many of us are beginning to feel the stress of this time of year. So how can we make the holidays more mindful? How can we get back to truly enjoying this time of year? I plan to approach this holiday season with a more mindful mindset than in years past. So along with baking holiday cookies, sipping tea by the fire and wrapping gifts, I plan to add these five reminders to my holiday to-do list:
1. Practice gratitude. I think about the concept of gratitude a lot, especially this time of year, when we’re bombarded by advertising and crowds and the expectations of others and an overly full calendar. When that overwhelmed feeling begins to creep in, it often helps to count the many small blessings in my life. Because the holidays aren’t really about buying the coolest, hippest gifts—they’re about being grateful for things both big (my health) and small (my daughter’s smile over waffles on a Sunday morning).
2. Embrace the moment right now. We are all pulled in so many directions during the holidays—from potlucks and decorating to shopping and parties. These things are fun, yes, but they can be stressful, too, especially when you are trying to fit them around an already busy schedule. When I can slow down and savor and embrace this moment right now—and put aside my worries about my to-do lists—I can connect with my inner happiness and peace again.
3. Eat mindfully. I do try to eat mindfully on a regular basis—and as animal-friendly as possible—but so much temptation surrounds us this time of year. Even though I intend to try my best, I must also practice compassion for myself if I eat too many cookies or too much chocolate (which I’m pretty sure is going to happen).
4. Take time for yourself and your animals. Our animals find happiness in the most simple things—a warm bed, a clean bowl of water, a soft pet on the head. Let us all remember to take breaks for ourselves when we feel overwhelmed, and also to look to our animals for inspiration. Spending one-on-one time with them, either walking a favorite trail or cuddling on the couch with their favorite blanket, can calm our frayed nerves and bring us back into balance.
5. Breathe. And meditate. I am hoping my daily meditations will help me if I begin to feel overwhelmed by those myriad holiday stresses (difficult though well-intentioned relatives, busy parking lots, a sky-high pile of dirty dishes). Of course I feel like I have even less time now to meditate, but that’s when it’s more important than ever to keep it a priority.
6. Remember that this is a special time to enjoy. How easy it is for us to forget. I want to try my best to truly savor what matters most in my life—love, kindness and sharing with an open-hearted presence. I find this Dr. Seuss quote from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! perfect and inspiring for this time of year: “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”
How can we live a more heartful and fulfilling life? Is it even possible? I believe that it is. But only if we protect ourselves (and our hearts) from life’s inevitable stresses. Think of it as building an armor of sorts—against impatience, anger, short-sidedness, judgmental thinking, grudges and other negative emotions. If that sounds compelling, it is! To get started, you must learn to embrace the four dimensions of heartful living. They are as follows:
1. Peace: Peace can be difficult to find in our crazy, busy lives. Our complicated days often end up pulling us in different directions, leaving little time for ourselves. Our overactive mind can leave us feeling scattered and stressed—and closed off from those around us. But by finding that peaceful space within ourselves, we can handle the obstacles thrown our way and open our hearts to animals (and even people) on a deeper level. It’s not always easy, but I find peace by quieting my mind with meditation. I like to meditate when walking my dog, standing in a pasture with my horse or even taking a stroll on the beach. Meditate regularly, and peace will follow. Here are three tips for finding more peace in your day.
2. Love: Only once we feel peace within our hearts can we tap into love and its healing possibilities. Truly heartful living means universal love and respect—for ourselves, for those around us (human and animal), for the world at large. Opening your heart and connecting with others means so many things, including: learning forgiveness, feeling gratitude for the now, eliminating prejudices and showing love through actions, like volunteering or simply noticing and being friendly with those in the community around you.
3. Clarity: What happens when we quiet our mind through meditation and open our heart with love? We are able to see deeper than the surface of things and awaken to what truly matters. A dog at the shelter that is sick and depressed doesn’t need you to use Reiki to try to “fix” this or that. What he does respond to is you sitting quietly with him, opening your heart and inviting him to share that space. This may take up to 45 minutes or an hour or more. But with patience, I’ve seen dogs like this open up to me, walk over wagging their tails and offer me their tummy. Only with peace, love and clarity can we see beneath the surface.
4. Compassion: If all beings felt and lived with compassion, our world would be transformed. Though we can’t control what other people say, do or feel, we can control ourselves and then radiate heartfulness into the world. So choose compassion. Realize that we are all One, and therefore we must choose kindness and be of service to others, as often as we can.
When we can learn to live a heartful life by embracing these four dimensions—peace, love, clarity and compassion—we find ourselves closer to happiness, closer to fulfillment, closer to being the kind of person we want to be. But like any puzzle, the picture isn’t complete without all four pieces. So if one is missing in your life, strive to reconnect with that dimension in order to maintain your balance and harmony. Your heart (and the animals) will thank you.
What does heartful living mean to you?