As we enter the height of the festive season every shop window, TV screen and marketing board is telling us what we should buy the people in our lives to show them that we love them and to make them happy.
It was in the midst of Christmas shopping fever that I came across this beautiful quote by Thich Nhat Hanh (from his lovely book Your True Home)
"Your mindful breath and your smile will bring happiness to you and those around you. Even if you spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in your family, nothing you could buy them can give as much true happiness as your gift of awareness, breathing, and smiling, and these precious gifts cost nothing"
It struck a chord with me. I still went shopping and I still came back with gifts, but it was a useful reminder of what really matters, what really enables us to connect to love and happiness.
I always remember the teacher Judith Lasater talking about how our greatest expression of love can be found in our undivided attention. That idea might invite us to ask how often are we truly present with ourselves and others? How often are we listening to someone whilst thinking of something else, thinking of what we will say next, thinking of what else we should be doing.
Over the years I have often remembered this when my nephew takes me through lengthy monologues on Star Wars / Skywalkers / Minecraft - things that don't mean much in my world (sorry Star Wars fans!), but mean a lot in his. I have seen how, through really giving my undivided attention to him and his world, he knows how important he is in mine.
Tara Brach talks of this her book in Radical Acceptance
"Spiritual teacher J. Krishnamurti wrote that "to pay attention means we care, which means we really love". Attention is the most basic form of love. By paying attention we let ourselves be touched by life, and our hearts naturally become more open and engaged".
Real human life can never match up to images we are fed by the marketing machines. Our lives are never perfect. No material gift can give us ultimate happiness. This season often brings with it mixture of joys and challenges. There may be people missing from our gatherings whose loss is felt. We may be racing around to meet family commitments. We may feel alone when it seems a time for connection.
But through it all, we can try out best to offer ourselves and others the gift of our kind, curious, genuine care and attention. It may be the greatest gift we could carry with us into the year ahead.
If you find you need time to press pause in the week's ahead and pay a gentle attention to what is arising, I've included here a link to a free 15 minute body scan and a 30 minute loving kindness meditation.