Mindful Gift Giving

I had the opportunity this week to step in for a colleague and present her wellness seminar on “Decluttering Your Life: Taking Control of Your Space.” This is a favorite topic of mine, partly because it is an ongoing challenge for me and my family and I am always looking for new strategies to help manage our “stuff.” We have made a concerted effort over the last several years to reduce the amount of material things that we possess, but I’ll admit it is still a work in progress.

If there is one thing that the decluttering presentation reminded me, it is that Americans have too much stuff. Did you know that 1 out of every 10 Americans rents an offsite storage unit? Offsite storage units have been the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. I believe it, as it seems like there is one on every corner here in Raleigh – and many of them are directly across the street from each other! It astounds – and saddens me – every time I drive by them.

Given this cultural obsession with stuff and knowing that many of my friends and family members have also reached a point of not needing or wanting any more material possessions, I intentionally seek out gift ideas that won’t contribute to the clutter epidemic. Given that the holidays are upon us, I thought I would share some gift giving ideas for those of you who also wish to shop more mindfully. Most of these ideas apply to adults, but I think there are many children who also would enjoy an outing or an experience over another toy that they will be bored with in a few weeks.

For the foodies in your life:

  • Restaurant gift cards – you can never go wrong with a gift certificate to someone’s favorite restaurant, or perhaps a new restaurant they’ve wanted to visit. Even more budget-friendly options like fast casual restaurants (think Panera Bread) will be a welcome gift for those nights when they just don’t feel like cooking.


  • Cooking classes – a great experience for anyone trying to hone their culinary skills. Many restaurants and culinary stores (e.g., Williams Sonoma) offer classes throughout the year.


  • Tasting tours – many cities have food tasting tours, where you visit multiple restaurants, talk with chefs, learn about the culinary landscape of the city, and enjoy delicious food and drink. As a bonus, many of these tours are walking tours so you get in some physical activity too!


  • Grocery store gift cards – whether it’s for their favorite grocery store or a more high-end store where shopping might be a real treat, they’re sure to be grateful for the nourishment.


For fitness-oriented friends and family:

  • Membership to the local YMCA or other fitness facility – or if they already belong to a fitness center, offer to pay for the renewal


  • Gift certificate to try out classes like yoga, Pilates, martial arts or indoor rock climbing


  • Pay for a round of golf on their favorite course, or maybe a new course they’ve wanted to try


  • A day pass for skiing or snowboarding at a nearby resort


For the entertainment junkies:

  • Movie gift certificates – let them escape reality for a couple hours and throw in a little extra for some concession snacks (Note: Consider Fandango if you don’t know their local movie theater chain)


  • Tickets to a concert, play, or sporting event – so many options at the high school, college or professional level. If your budget doesn’t allow a big splurge like Broadway or the NFL, staying closer to home is a great way to support local theaters, performers and athletes.


  • Membership to a local museum – whether it’s art, history, or natural sciences, you are giving the gift of exploration


These are just some ideas to hopefully spark your imagination! Whether the gifts you give are large or small, store-bought or homemade, those who truly love you know that it’s the thought that counts.




Being Present is A Gift

It is hard to believe we are coming to the end of the year already.  It seems like once we hit Halloween, the rest of the year just flies by…which is why I chose the topic of being present for my final post of 2017.

I am taking time off to be with family over the holidays. I don’t get to see my extended family as often as I’d like due to distance, so visiting them is a source of joy. However, it can also be stressful: lots of people crammed into a relatively small house, many (usually too many) tempting, high-calorie treats, and difficulty keeping up with my usual exercise routine and sleep habits. It’s only for six days so I usually give myself a little leeway, knowing I will get back on track once we return home. However, there is one practice that I won’t sacrifice even when I travel and that is my daily morning meditation.

Sure, I may have to make some adjustments when I travel – finding a quiet place to practice, and choosing a time when I can do so uninterrupted. Fortunately, I am an early riser whereas many of my family members like to sleep in, so I am usually able to finish meditating before anyone else is awake. I love the peace and stillness in a house when everyone else is still deep in their dreams.

The reason I maintain my practice even when I am out of my normal routine is the benefits I reap from taking time to sit and be still. I have noticed a profound change in how I engage with the world since I started meditating regularly. I am calmer and less reactive. I don’t sweat the small stuff nearly as much as I used to (and believe me, I used to worry about it ALL). I have created space – literally and figuratively – that allows me to experience life in a different way. I am more aware of what’s happening to me and around me – and the coolest part is that I notice this awareness. Some people describe it as living more consciously. I prefer to describe it as living more mindfully versus mindlessly going about my day, missing out on most of what transpires from dawn to dusk.

My wish for all of you in 2018 is to find ways to be present in your life. One of the best ways to do this is to do one thing at a time. Study after study has shown that multitasking is a myth – the brain cannot focus on more than one task at a time. It merely switches back and forth quickly from task to task, giving us the illusion of productivity. In reality, it actually takes more time to complete the tasks we’re switching between and we make more errors than when we focus on doing one task at a time in order.

So, during this holiday season, as well as throughout the new year, consider the following advice as you go about your day and see if you notice a difference:

When sitting, just sit.

When eating, just eat.

When walking, just walk.

When talking, just talk.

When listening, just listen.

When looking, just look.

When touching, just touch.

When thinking, just think.

When playing, just play,

And enjoy the feeling of each moment and each day.

From “When Singing, Just Sing – Life as Meditation” by Narayan Liebenson Grady