The Thanksgiving holiday is perhaps my favorite of the year. It presents a rare opportunity in the midst of a busy season to connect with family and friends, enjoy delicious food, and reorient our mindset to one of gratitude and abundance.
But even more than those fundamental joys, I am growing to realize that what I appreciate most about the day is the opportunity to be still. Make no mistake: in the run-up to Thanksgiving at our home, there is a flurry of activity. What began as four people around a small table has exploded to include more people than we have plates to serve. We spend days planning, preparing, and pre-cooking. Sharing the highlights of our city with visiting family members. Coordinating and confirming details with local guests. And from the moment we awake on Thursday morning, we are in full-on "go" mode - playing our respective parts to orchestrate all of the elements arriving on the dining room table at the appointed hour.
But then we sit. Still.
We laugh and linger.
We allow ourselves to be fully present in a way that seems so elusive for much of the rest of the year. And irrespective of what else is happening in our lives or the world, our spirits are lifted.
Similar to gratitude, stillness and its accompanying lightness should not be reserved for a single day of the year - nor just one season. Whatever your holiday traditions and planned celebrations in the coming months, I encourage you to choose moments in which you can be perfectly still. To pause in your "doing" and instead focus on "being" - present, connected, and at peace.
Each year at the Thanksgiving table, we take turns sharing what we are most grateful for. Some are obvious and grand: the birth of a healthy baby or a new job. Some are more nuanced: a struggle that taught us an important lesson - a blessing in disguise. Children's responses often bring a smile - whether giving thanks for the simple joys of chocolate or a beloved grandparent.
As I was reflecting on the past year and thinking about what I wanted to share, it occurred to me: Why do we reserve this tradition for the Thanksgiving table? I start most mornings with a personal gratitude practice - thanking God for the big and little joys in my life - and it helps me put into perspective the highs and lows I encounter throughout the day. Until this week, I had never thought to incorporate this practice into family meals throughout the year.
Special traditions are part of what lend warmth to our holiday celebrations, but some of the practices can - and perhaps should - be extended into our everyday life. As you go through your celebrations in the coming weeks, take stock of your favorite elements. Are there activities or practices you can incorporate into your regular rhythms? How can you extend this season of gratitude throughout the year?
In times of triumph we look to share our joy. When we are overwhelmed by tragedy, the support of friends and family can be the elixir we need to heal. Even the most introverted among us can't deny that we are wired for community. Just when we convince ourselves we don't need - or want - anyone's help, we realize we can't function without it.
At no time is this more clear than when we face a significant loss. While our outer shell begins to harden into a barrier between us and the world, an inner voice cries out for comfort and connection. We may not want to explain what happened or how we feel, but we desire desperately to be understood and know we are not alone.
The loss of a child - whether an infant or an octogenarian - is an unparalleled source of grief for the parents, siblings, and communities in which the loss takes place. Every 75 seconds a family loses a child - leaving more than 400,000 parents to mourn each year. But it so often goes unspoken and unrecognized that many do not know the prevalence of their experience - nor the many neighbors who share their burden.
This Sunday, after millions of families across the country gather to give thanks, a different type of gathering will take place in Washington, D.C. - uniting people of many diverse backgrounds and worldviews in solidarity over their shared experience of losing a child. Leaders from different faith traditions will offer practices to honor the legacies and lives of children who have passed and foster community among survivors.
Coming together will not bring back a loved one who has left this world, but it can contribute to strengthening those left behind and bringing them hope. If you have experienced the unimaginable loss of a child of any age I encourage you to attend. If you know someone who has faced this challenge, please help spread the word about this important resource.
In Silence and Solidarity: Reflections and Meditations on the Loss of a Child
November 27 - 4:00pm
2111 Florida Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Some of you need to believe this today. You are struggling to hold it all together. Recent events have you questioning everything. Just when you have a handle on one area of your life, another unravels.
I have heard from so many people lately who are facing internal doubts. New moms are returning to work only to find they barely recognize their organization - let alone where they fit in. Family breadwinners are torn between logging extra hours at the office or carving out time to dedicate to their health. Young people want to pursue a passion but face the reality of paying off student loans.
In our must-have-and-do-everything-right-now culture it can be hard to find a realistic perspective. We want it all - the perfect relationship, job, family, house - and we focus on whatever piece is missing rather than appreciating the parts of our lives (and ourselves) that are "pretty awesome."
Sure - you may no longer fit into your wedding dress, but you have robust friendships, strong social networks, and throw AMAZING dinner parties. No, you can no longer recall every stanza of the major works of 19th century English poets, but your up-to-the-minute expertise on the restaurant scene makes you the go-to resource for any friend looking for the perfect dining destination. No, you have not published (or started writing) the Great American Novel (yet), but your daughter loves the bedtime stories you create for her.
You are not perfect, but parts of you are pretty awesome. And that is more than enough for today.
Sometimes our minds get stuck. An event triggers a thought or emotion we simply CAN'T. GET. OUT. OF. OUR. HEADS. At other times, we are so full of frenetic energy we can't force our minds to be still.
Enter the mantra. Before my non-yogi readers brush aside the suggestion, let me help alleviate some concerns and clear up a few misunderstandings. A mantra is neither a spell, an incantation, nor a prayer. It is not a method of brainwashing, nor does it contain magical properties. A mantra is simply a sound, word, or group of words we repeat - silently or aloud - to help us shift our focus or enhance concentration.
Over the past week I have been inviting my students and clients to work with mantras in their yoga and meditation practice. As I shared last week, the simple suggestion to be filled with peace, grace, and loving-kindness proved helpful to many who had been fixated on the disappointment and frustration they were feeling over the recent election results. This week, we focused on cultivating gratitude, which helped highlight the many blessings in our lives.
As we enter the holiday season with its many competing demands on our schedule and energy, it is easy to be distracted, overwhelmed, or unable to focus. Whether you find yourself stuck in unhelpful thought patterns or utterly unable to concentrate, take a moment to pause and identify an idea or quality you want to embody. If meditation is already part of your daily rhythm, use that time to repeat the word or words until they resonate. If sitting still doesn't work for you, use your morning run or daily commute as an opportunity to incorporate a new practice.
See if this simple act can bring some calm and clarity into your day - and your life.
The mood in our nation's capital yesterday morning was bleak. We awoke to grey skies and an early morning rain. Seemingly everyone was low on sleep and many were bereft of hope.
As I arrived to teach my first class of the day, I learned that two of the regulars had last minute emergencies requiring their attention, so they wouldn't be joining us. Those who did attend were few in number and low on energy.
We began the practice with a simple mantra:
May I be filled with peace.
May I be filled with grace.
May I be filled with loving-kindness.
As the students began to move, I could feel little shifts in the way they held their bodies. I heard a deepening of breath. I saw a subtle softening of their facial expressions. The practice became a vehicle for them to channel their energy and redirect their thoughts.
Their transformations buoyed my spirits, as well. I ended the class feeling just a bit lighter. And as I stepped outside, I saw the rain had subsided and the sun had begun to shine. While I certainly don't credit our practice with improving the weather or changing the tone of the city, it was a welcome reminder that we have nothing to lose by being peaceful, kind, and loving - irrespective of what is going on in the world.
Wherever you find yourself today - whatever challenges you encounter, dig deep and share a smile. Your simple gesture just might turn the day around for the recipient - and yourself.
For my first beach vacation as an adult, I traveled to Jamaica for a long weekend with two dear girlfriends. The only thing on our agenda was relaxing, connecting, and soaking up the sunshine. I had spent the previous several months training for and running my first marathon, and I decided my vacation would involve as little physical activity as humanly possible.
We enjoyed every second of our time in "paradise" - hours reading by the ocean, decadent meals, a lesson in Jamaican cuisine, dancing into the morning, and sleeping into the day. We returned home full of great memories, but I found myself out of sorts and off rhythm. Despite the break from running, I felt physically exhausted. I needed a vacation from my vacation.
Does that sound familiar?
I learned an important lesson that week. Travel provides a great opportunity to let our pendulum swing away from our usual patterns and routines, but if we allow it to fly too far, we risk ending up off center.
In the [MANY] years since that experience, my approach to travel has shifted. Yes - I find ways to slow down, relax, and indulge, but I have come to recognize certain parts of my routine are necessary for my overall well-being whether at home or away. Wherever I am I try to incorporate little doses of the movement and solitude I need to ground my body and anchor my mind in the present.
These actions needn't be the centerpiece of your day - nor do they need to be exact matches for what you do at home. On my recent visit to sunny Florida, I found what I needed in different forms. Some mornings it was a sunrise run along the beach. Other days, it was a quiet afternoon reading and writing on the back porch. Both left me feeling rejuvenated and ready for whatever was to come.
Before your next getaway, consider what you need to stay grounded, and think of ways to incorporate those elements into your itinerary. Caring for yourself will make you a better travel companion and enhance your own experience.
The New Beginnings "philosopher in residence" shared an arresting article last month highlighting the dangers of constant connection and the absence of silence, contemplation, and meaningful contact in our lives. In his lengthy treatise, the author argues we have replaced personal interaction with the artificial stimulus of the virtual world - and we are doing so at our own peril.
If we are being honest, most of us would confess to recognizing ourselves at various points in his story. We may not have allowed our tech addiction to land us in the hospital, but who hasn't reached reflexively for a phone in a moment of silence - whether to stave off the discomfort of sitting alone with our feelings, distract ourselves from an unpleasant reality, or attempt to escape boredom.
But when we remove silence from our lives we enter dangerous territory. Without quiet, we cannot really hear. When we nod and smile our way through one conversation while simultaneously typing a response to another person into our device, we are not multitasking - we are ensuring minimal value in both interactions. And when we are alone, constant virtual connection deprives us of the chance to hear the still small voice within that longs to guide us safely down our path.
As we turn the corner toward the holiday season, we will be presented with countless opportunities to choose between connection and distraction: family gatherings, office parties, celebrations with friends. You will have the power to decide whether to be present and open to what others have to say or tune them out. Whether you will listen to the white noise of constant stimulus or allow yourself to hear - and follow - your heart.
What might you hear if you chose to be still?
I come from a family who holds things close to the vest. They are an amazing, supportive, generous, loving group of people - they just don't want to talk about it. Deep expressions of affection are conveyed by a hearty pat on the back - and no matter the storm brewing inside, if asked what is wrong, we will tell you we are, "Fine, just fine."
So when my husband and I were struggling to start a family, we didn't share many details - even with some of our closest friends and family. It wasn't that we were ashamed or afraid of how they would respond, we simply preferred to keep the experience - and its roller-coaster of emotions - to ourselves.
When I began working to help other women facing the challenges of infertility, I knew sharing was critical to the healing process, but I was far more comfortable facilitating the discussion than participating. I would provide a general outline of our journey - numbers, protocols, procedures, and results - but I kept my story brief and quickly pivoted to "listen and encourage" mode.
But last month, I learned the Huffington Post was seeking essays as part of its coverage of National Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month. At first it didn't seem a natural fit: if I couldn't share my feelings with those closest to me, why would I expose something so personal to a broader audience? But I couldn't get the idea out of my head.
So I sat down to write. And when I finished, I felt that a weight I didn't know existed had been lifted from my shoulders. If nothing else, the exercise was therapeutic, I thought.
I sent the piece to an editor the next day, and it was published. And read. By thousands of people. Our story was out there - not just for our closest friends - not just for my students, but for anyone curious enough to click on a headline link.
I was unprepared for what came next. I received responses from complete strangers in similar positions who were grateful to know they were not alone. Others thanked me for being honest about the ugly feelings that can accompany loss. Any fear I had about making our story public vanished. Knowing I had been helpful gave me peace.
There are many occasions when keeping our feelings to ourselves is perfectly acceptable - perhaps advisable. But there are other times when it is helpful, even healing, to open up and give voice to what we are experiencing and how it affects us.
Is there something you need to share - whether with a trusted confidant or a larger audience? If so, take a deep breath and put it out there. Your act may be just the medicine you need - and you might help someone else along the way...