The Best Gift of All

Personal Note

Thanksgiving is over, and all of a sudden I have run out of time. Boxes of decorations are strewn around my living room, lists for gifts and for cards are being drawn up, and food is being gathered in to make sure that friends can be welcomed at any time of the day or night.

One of the boxes I opened contained a box of cards that I have kept over the years because of the sentiments expressed by the giver, and one of those cards is the subject of this week’s newsletter.

The Best Gift of All


I was looking over the collection of greeting cards I have received over the years. All of them I treasure for one reason or another; one of them I truly cherish.  It is from a friend who is very like me – in some ways. We both enjoy solitude, and can sit together companionably, reading, without having to interrupt or be entertained by the other.


In other ways, such as tastes and lifestyle, we couldn’t be farther apart.  I love dress-up events in posh places, such as theaters and fancy hotels. She loves spiritual get-togethers with incense and candlelight. I look buttoned-down and Vogue; she looks mystical and other-worldly.  Heck, I am a recovering chocaholic, a taste she infrequently indulges in. We may at times resemble the odd couple when we go places together, but we are friends, and have been for a long time.


The card that I cherish (and look at frequently) shows a delightful fantasy world, with princesses in pointed caps, a unicorn dipping its horn in a stream, and rabbits dressed in livery and tooting ceremonial bugles while doing balletic leaps in the air, all depicted against a background featuring a large rainbow.  (Well, ok, you have to see it, but trust me, it represents my inner world.) The wonder is that she knew this when she saw it and sent it to me.


It took me a few years of gazing at this card to recognize a truth:  She knows who I am, and she likes me for it!


How often do we give gifts that we think would complete our fantasy of the other person: an item of clothing a little more upscale or flattering (in our opinion) than the other person would have chosen, for example.  A gift that is a little hint, a nudge in what we believe is the right direction.


How much more difficult it can be to honor the real person, but how rewarding.


In these financially difficult times, the best gift of all can be within your budget. It doesn’t have to be a fancy object. How about a card offering to take the person to an event you know he or she would love, but you would not?  You might ordinarily be bored to tears by a poetry reading, for example, but you would be generously sharing your time – and finding out more about that person than you knew beforehand. Or you could offer to perform some task that would be very helpful but difficult for the recipient to do.


It doesn’t even have to be the “right” card; one with just the right sentiment.  A home-made one will do just fine to express your feelings, as kindergarteners everywhere know.


Your gift could simply be words of appreciation that you realize you have thought for years but have never put on paper or released into the atmosphere.   Christmas couldn’t be a better time to do so.


Just Breathing

Pause, breathe, choose:  I remind my clients (and myself) of this sequence frequently, adding that the response we make to a stressful event is our choice, not a given.To reach the point where we recognize other choices, it is important to be able to distance ourselves from the world and center on our own bodies and minds. Correct breathing is the key here.  If you have ever studied voice or a wind instrument, you probably know how to do this already.If not, here’s a primer:  deep breathing doesn’t come from the chest, but from the abdomen.  Therefore, the best way to start taking a deep, relaxed breath is to let go of all the muscles you have probably been trying so hard to hold in.  Feel the entire front of your body release; if you are sitting down and are not skeleton-thin, you may feel a portion of your lower abdomen touch the very tops of your thighs.

At the moment that this happens, think of your body filling with air, and picture that air reaching all the way down into the bottom of your abdomen.  At the same time, you will probably become aware that your entire rib cage is expanding to the side as well as to the front.

Once you have grasped this technique, try the following sequence:
Inhale for four slow counts
Exhale for four slow counts
Stay empty for four slow counts

Your body contains enough oxygen for you to rest comfortably for four slow counts without feeling the slightest bit deprived, yet somehow in this state it is difficult if not impossible to think of anything except your body, especially the center of your body which is involved with breathing.  Your consciousness pulls in until the outer world recedes, and you are all alone, comfortably, with yourself.  The squirrel wheel of your mind even stops.

Repeat this exercise several times.  If you do it for ten minutes, you are taking giant steps towards maintaining physical and mental health, for it not only slows down your thinking but also slows down your nervous system and your heart rate.

In this state, unimportant events somehow slip away.  You may find they are replaced by truly creative thoughts about how to plan your next moves.

Once you have learned this technique, you can practice it anywhere.  Just a deep breath or two can help you handle a difficult situation with less stress.

Easy, and cheap.  What more can you ask for?


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