Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’


One night, about a month before I moved from Boston to NYC, I was walking home from Cambridge after dinner with one of my best friends. The weather was pleasant, not too hot and not too cold. There was a lovely breeze and a sort of electricity in the air. As I walked across the Longfellow (or salt and pepper shaker) bridge, I stopped to gaze at the Charles river, glittering with the lights of Back Bay, while the T rumbled into Charles Street station behind me. Standing there, I felt a sense of magic, specialness, something almost sacred.

I think about this moment from time to time. What made it different from the millions of other moments I experience from day to day? Why does it stick out in my memory? My explanation is simply that I was fully present: not thinking about packing boxes or perseverating on my fears about moving. Just experiencing the beauty of the moment and gratitude for my ability to notice.

In meditation, we practice synchronizing the body and the mind. By placing the mind’s awareness on the breath, we remain in the present moment. And each time the mind escapes to the past – replaying events, solidifying stories – or races ahead – planning the day, fantasizing about something in the future – we practice bringing it back, to the breath, the present, NOW. And it is always NOW.

Particularly during this time of year I find it difficult to remain aware of the present moment. I am constantly going somewhere, getting something done, performing some task in order to move on to the next. As I check off my Christmas shopping list, meet friends, and prepare for the festivities, this holiday season, I’m experimenting with being fully present during the moments I usually view as means to an end. While walking to meet a friend, I enjoy the trip, instead of seeing it as standing between me and meeting my friend. While shopping for gifts, I take care in thoughtfully selecting something that shows my understanding and love for the recipient, instead of just focusing on the moment when he or she will open it up.

Even as I write this, I’m practicing awareness of my fingers typing, the feeling that this concept is important enough to want to share it, and how fortunate I am to be able to do so.


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After a certain age, you get to know yourself. For example, I know the following:

  • If I open a box of peanut butter Puffins cereal, it will be empty within 24 hours
  • From daylight savings time to the Winter Solstice, my ursine hibernation instinct prevails and I need a crane to get my ass out of bed
  • I will punctuate any and every emotionally charged statement that I make with “you know what I mean?”

I can’t really claim be surprised by these events after they happen for the 10th, 20th, or 1000th time, right? And yet, every Christmastime I find myself filling up a mental sac as big as Santa’s with expectations: My family will get along perfectly! I’ll stick to my diet! I’ll finally recapture the feeling I got at the age of 8 while watching my Dad put together our fake Christmas tree without having one of his legendary Christmas light-induced meltdowns (picture Alex Trebek turning beet red and throwing the fully decorated and lit tree out on the sidewalk).

And every Christmastime, I feel disappointed. Of course my family didn’t get along perfectly; we’re not the Waltons after all (and God only knows what happened after everyone said goodnight in that family!). I managed to eat one of each of the 37 cookie varieties my mom baked…for breakfast. Dad still freaked out when the lights started blinking. And that feeling, that sense of wonder and warmth and potential I remember from so long ago, seems to have eluded me once again.

Maybe next year. Or maybe not.

Maybe the disappointment doesn’t come from unmet expectations? Maybe it comes from having expectations at all. Expectations, after all, don’t really exist. They are fabrications made up from external sources, the word “should,” and possibly too many romantic comedies. How can we therefore experience a sense of loss when our expectations do not materialize? And what might we be missing by distracting ourselves with such imaginings?

These are tough times. The holidays are upon us. Kids are writing letters to Santa Claus to ask not for toys but jobs for their parents and a few necessities like socks. And we have a Speaker-elect who can’t stop crying.

My goal for this holiday season is to just be where I am, with the people I’m with, without trying to retrofit the situation to some imagined ideal that has utterly no relevance to my reality.

Before practicing yoga, we often set an intention. Today mine was “no expectations.” And I meant it. Whether I can stick to it remains to be seen. Perhaps this is where “one day at a time” comes in.

Happy Holidays everyone!

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