By Laura Mills
Today I’m feeling that life and the world are heading out of control. I don’t think I’m alone; even if one hasn’t been paying attention to the news of late, it’s normal, I believe, for many to feel this way in December. At the best of times we run around finishing holiday shopping and other errands; our routines flip-flop for better or worse as we schedule and attend parties and host out-of-towners; we overindulge to the point of actually believing we’ll never touch a sweet or cocktail again. But this isn’t the best of times. The usual “December frenzy” seems ridiculously irrelevant in the shadow of the state of the world today…thus, I feel more than ever that life and the world are careening into an unspeakably frightening tailspin.
It was at times like this that I used to go to my yoga mat looking for answers. “When will this end?” “Why do these things happen?” “What can I do?” And I was always disappointed, as I never stepped off my mat at the end of a practice with any more answers than I had at the beginning. With time and reflection I came to believe no answers exist…at least none that any of us can fathom with our human understanding. If we keep searching for answers we will search all our lives, asking the same questions over and over while the world continues to careen ahead.
Each of us has an inner light. When things happen that set our world uncontrollably spinning, fear, confusion, sadness and grief smother our light. Today, I believe the power of yoga exists not in showing us answers but in reigniting and reclaiming our light. And that’s all we can do—reignite and reclaim our light, and then shine out, for the brighter our light the more we are able to sustain ourselves and support each other.
May we all find peace in the new year, and may we now more than ever let our lights shine to illuminate the way forward.
Lessons From the Slow Cooker
By Laura Mills
In addition to holiday decorating, one of my favorite rituals at this time of year is making chili in my slow cooker. The day before, I chop and prepare the ingredients; the morning of, I empty everything into the cooker, add the appropriate spices, and turn the switch to “Low.” Every time I lift the lid to stir throughout the day, a wave of smells spreads across my kitchen, and by dinnertime the chili has transformed from a cold mass into a simmering stew. The whole process—from preparation, through cooking and dinnertime, and even through packing leftovers—proves itself quite the event. It is, I believe, an occasion that sets the mood for a cozy, happy, and festive transition from fall to winter.
Isn’t that the best thing about comfort food, the fact that we not only enjoy the flavor itself but also the total experience of it? Eating our favorite comfort foods seems to reset our ability to notice things that enhance our existence, like warmth, heartiness, the coziness of settling in, and the closeness we experience with others and ourselves. Comfort food, in a way, is like salt we add to the moments in which we anticipate it, prepare it, eat it, and clean up after it. It doesn’t change life’s flavor, just heightens our awareness of its tastiness.
The Good Kind of Emptiness
By Laura Mills
With Thanksgiving approaching, many of us are probably thinking about where we’re going, whom we’ll see, what we’ll wear, and what we’ll do the day after. And maybe we’re also relishing how the holiday will be an opportunity to slow our lightning-paced lives and recall the blessings that enrich them. While such activities and remembrances are sweet, this year I challenge all of us to add one more item to our holiday festivities: consideration of the things that are NOT part of our lives.
Think of the locations around the world in which you do not live, for example. Then think of the times in history during which you were not born. Consider your life situation—the many challenges you never had to face, the illnesses and conditions you never had to deal with, the surprises that never turned your life upside down in an instant. Consider all the choices you never had to make, the tears you never cried. And consider so, so much more that never touched your life.
This Thanksgiving, in addition to enumerating our blessings, let’s remember how unfortunate we are NOT. Then we can raise our glasses higher and bow our heads more deeply in the spirit of even more profound gratitude.
Help for the Holidays
By Laura Mills
I’m sure I’m not the only person who shudders at seeing winter holiday merchandise in stores even before Halloween. I understand that, in the retail world, this is the year’s most lucrative season. But aside from the benefit of “early bird” sales, I wonder why so much of the rest of the world and I usually run with such great speed into the final fraction of the year. So many of us claim these months as our favorites, why do we rush so anxiously to their culmination?
I would really like to wake up January 2nd, 2013, NOT as disorganized and disheveled as if I just staggered off a two-month-long roller coaster. So today, as October nears its end, I am setting the intention (and I enthusiastically invite you to join me) to take my time through 2012’s last months, to experience each day as a special entity. The holiday season and all its trappings, both genuinely festive and truthfully un-festive, is just about here whether I like it or not…. But this year I want to experience it differently. I want to choose, every day, not to relapse into the usual frazzling, over-committed, exhausted state of being that the season brings.
No, I don’t expect this to be easy, and I don’t have any great strategy for accomplishing it, but I’m definitely up for the challenge. By now, I’ve learned I’m worth it. And just in case you haven’t: so are you.
Tricks to Treat Myself
By Laura Mills
Okay, September’s here. Fall has barely begun, but before we blink Halloween will arrive. Not far on Halloween’s other side: the winter holidays. These thoughts scare me, for along with celebration comes miscellaneous commotion that flusters me so much I end up exhausted and cheerless. So this year, I hope to rise above the holiday mayhem with the help of a few intentions….
First, I will pick up my phone and actually call someone with it. I have several old friends whom I regularly email but whose voices I haven’t heard in years. How cool to un-electronically chat like we used to! Second, I will sort through my kitchen cabinets. Not only have I not cleaned them in ages, but also I can’t even remember what’s in some of them anymore. I don’t believe a faster way of cultivating both gratitude and humility exists than to immerse myself elbow-deep in my own stuff. Then third, I will donate all I can spare—which I already know is a lot.
Fourth, I will dedicate at least ONE day during the season to just staying home, wearing my sweatpants, playing with my daughter, catching up on magazines or watching a movie, and doing whatever else feels good that day. And fifth, I will create something I can give to someone else. I don’t know what yet—some kind of recipe or craft, perhaps—and I don’t know to whom I’ll give it. But sometime before the season ends I’ll think of something and someone, for sure. And hopefully when I present the gift, I’ll do so with a genuine, full-of-holiday-cheer-like-never-before smile, too!
Uh Oh, Here Come the Holidays
It's the time of year when I start thinking about holiday gifts. While I love the holidays, spirit and overall festiveness, I confess I really dislike the commotion about gifts. Shopping is so automatic for so many of us; we talk about starting shopping, putting off shopping, finishing shopping, spending too much on shopping. We breathlessly announce things like, I;ve done my in-laws, now I just have to do the kids. To be fair, I know people who holiday shop with a great deal of festive spirit, but I canít help but feel sour about it because I know many others who go about it in the same spirit with which they gas up their snow blowers.
I propose we at least reassess our own gift-giving processes this year. Unfortunately, in my experience gift-giving has often boiled down to merely an exchange of a particular dollar amount (Well, so-and-so spent this much on me, so Iíd better spend this much on her). And if thatís really the case, what's the point?
I challenge us all to leave the auto-pilot holiday shopper at home this year and instead take along that part of ourselves that truly values the people we buy for. We need to ask ourselves what is special about each particular person and how we might honor him or her with a gift. It will be an interesting experiment. And no matter how much or little we spend, more than just another holiday gift, our gifts this year may enable our recipients to sense that we actually do care.