I was thrilled to be able to hear Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and author of many groundbreaking books on mindfulness, speak recently in New York City. When he recited this beautiful poem by Derek Walcott, I was reminded how powerful mindfulness practice can be in helping us all feast on the beauty that is our lives.
Mindfulness is so much more than a tool for stress reduction, quieting our thoughts or focusing our attention (although those are great side effects). Mindfulness is a powerful path to inner peace and connection, to ourselves and to the world around us. It helps us lead more joyful, meaningful and fulfilling lives. Life can be difficult. Life can be joyful. Mindfulness helps us welcome it all and make peace with it.
This time of year can be a fine example of the ever-changing landscape of our emotional world. Although the period between Thanksgiving and New Years is often referred to as the “most wonderful time of the year,” for many people feelings of joy and happiness are often interrupted by bouts of sadness, stress, grief, and fatigue. There may be people you deeply miss this time of year and the pressure to be happy and joyful during the holidays can lead to disappointment when you don't feel that holiday spirit. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite mindfulness phrases you can use to help you embrace all of the ups and downs of the holiday season.
7 Modern Mantras for More Moments of Peace and Happiness During the Holidays
1. How lucky am I?
We hear a lot these days about the value of gratitude. Many recent studies have shown that taking the time to notice what we are grateful for triggers the release of “feel good” hormones in our bodies and leads to more moments of happiness in our day.
I felt the deep feeling of gratitude recently when I returned to Rufus King Park in Queens the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to hand out coats, food and hot Thanksgiving meals. As we stood for hours in the park I commented to my daughter how good it felt to be there and how grateful I was to be able to do this each year. I physically felt what I described quite literally as fullness in my heart as I served hot Thanksgiving meals to men, women andchildren who stood in line for hours to receive food and clothing. As I wished them each a very happy Thanksgiving, I received their kindness and gratitude in return. I thought, "How lucky I am to have so much when so many others have so little?" And, “How lucky am I to be able to do this each year?”
One sure way to feel more joy this time of year (and all year) is to take just a moment or two every day to stop and notice something that you are grateful for and simply say to yourself, “How lucky am I!” It does not have to be anything big. It can be really simple (however seemingly simple things are usually not simple at all), like . . .
How lucky am I to have this food on my plate!
How lucky am I to have a roof over my head!
How lucky am I to feel the sunshine on my face!
How lucky am I to be able to take a nice deep breath!
A beautiful twist on this mantra is to offer this phrase to people around you. For example, looking at my three children, I notice how lucky I am to have them in my life. Then, I take a moment to tell them each how I lucky I am to be their mom. It's as simple as that. Just stop, notice, and say, "How lucky am I!"
2. This is how it is right now.
We learn through the practice of mindfulness that we do not always feel grateful and happy. A critical part of being mindful is to fully embrace everything you are feeling (the good, the bad and everything in between). You simply welcome it all and allow it to be. So when you are not feeling so grateful, this mantra will help you recognize that whatever you are feeling is temporary. Just note how you are feeling and add, “This is how it is right now.” This mantra is powerful because it allows you to fully acknowledge how you feel and remember that it won't last forever. All emotions, all thoughts, all feelings pass. They come and they go. And so you can simply say, "This is how it is right now, and it's OK."
3. What if it’s not a problem?
One of our greatest paths to suffering is not how we feel, but how we feel about how we feel. We often get angry at ourselves for feeling what we are feeling. "Why am I sad?" Or, "Why does that always make me so angry?" And so on, and so on. So, this is another amazing mantra that can help you when things aren’t going as smoothly as you would like. Simply ask yourself, “What if it’s not a problem?” This has a wonderful way of taking the resistance to what is happening or to what you are feeling away and it helps you see it as a path to learning about yourself. Instead of being upset with yourself, try being interested in it. When you stop resisting what you are feeling, and you stop wishing it away, you can open up to it. and to all the possibilities it may present. As one of my wonderful teachers always says, “Our obstacles are our path." She reminds us that our challenges can be our greatest teachers if we look at them with patience and interest, and as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves.
4. It’s not personal.
During this busy time of year, you may encounter people who are in a hurry, acting unkind or with little thought of how their words or their actions are making others feel. As a result, you may feel angry or annoyed. One great way to face this unkind behavior is to simply remind yourself, “It’s not personal.” This helps you remember that their behavior is not really directed at you, but instead, it is the result of something that they are struggling with. It’s their own “stuff” that they are working through.
One of my favorite quotes that helps me see things differently in these situations is by Thich Nhat Hahn:
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That's the message he is sending. "
So, remind yourself not to take people's behavior so personally. They are working through their own “stuff.” Instead of getting upset, quietly send them love and wish them luck on their journey!
5. I need a moment.
Remember, the holidays can be exhausting! This mantra is a great way to recognize when you need a break from all of the year-end craziness. Notice when you feel exhausted, overwhelmed or you just need some peace and quiet. Don’t succumb to the pressure to always be “on” and available, but instead give yourself permission to take a break from the busyness of the holiday season and go for a walk, find a quiet place to simply unplug and breathe, or listen to some relaxing music. You will find that not only will you feel better for it, but you will be more open and receptive to everyone around you when you give yourself some time to relax and unwind.
One of the greatest gifts of mindfulness is the ability to slow down and notice the awesomeness of even the most simple things in life. Just as a very young child can find the most mundane things truly extraordinary, you too can reconnect to that same sense of awe by looking closely at what's around you and feeling the wonder of it all - - the incredible taste of a piece of cake, the exquisite beauty of music, the utter joy of laughter, the incredible grandeur of nature, the fullness we feel in our hearts when we share ourselves with someone we love. There are opportunities all around to connect to that child-like appreciation and awe. As Confucius said, "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Take time to stop and look, to feel, to connect to the people and to the world around you. Find your inner child, stop and notice what's all around you, and simply say, "Wow!"
7. I See You.
One of my favorite and transformative things to do is to purposefully make eye contact with people I encounter each day and offer them a smile, a "hello", a "thank you". It only takes a few seconds but the feeling of connection it creates is immeasurable. Acknowledging people you interact with each day by offering them your attention, your presence, and your kindness can change the world. So try it as an experiment this holiday season. Notice those around you and when you do, in your mind simply say, "I see you." In doing this, you are noticing that they are more than a cashier, a barista, a custodian or a crossing guard. They are incredible humans, with their own stories, their own struggles, and their own gifts. In this brief moment, you acknowledge that and honor it. It's truly a gift that has a ripple effect in many incredible ways!
Wishing you peace, joy and ease this holiday!