Managing Holiday Stress with Mindfulness and Gratitude

Starting around mid-November, my stress has a way of whirling itself into a tornado of chaos. So many things to prepare, to remember, to DO – people to reach out to, family relationships to manage, presents to buy, food to cook, errands to run! Traffic increasing, long lines at the store, bank accounts letting out more than they’re taking in… The tumult of the next six weeks is supposed to culminate in a joy-filled holiday break of reflection and celebration, infused with the spirit of giving. So HOW exactly do I maintain my peace in the midst of the madness? By finding the place inside of me where everything is quiet and still instead of expecting to find it outside of me, by depending on my own mindfulness practice of gratitude in the present moment.

Focused on gratitude, I ALLOW myself to feel the peace and happiness that accompany it. Guru Ranjit always says that stress is resistance within my body and my mind, so by ‘flipping the switch’ of my focus towards thoughts and emotions that are easy to embrace, I remove resistance and find a path of positive forward motion. When feeling resistance to an activity, I focus on performing the activity with all of my awareness, intentionally guiding myself towards thoughts of gratitude. For instance, when I resist the logistical nightmares of lining up multiple family gatherings and preparing adequately for each one, I guide my thoughts towards how lucky I feel to have so many loved ones with whom I share the holidays and how grateful I am that I have the resources to give gifts, food and time to these people that I love.

By releasing resistance within my body, I engage more fully in whatever task is at hand. At meals I focus on eating mindfully; I worry less about calories and instead appreciate the love and energy that has gone into every bite. During cleaning, cooking and running errands, I am mindful of my breathing. Most importantly, though, during all of my interactions, I speak and listen mindfully. Tense conversations and friction at extended family functions are an opportunity to be grateful for those you love and a chance to choose silence and a smile instead of jumping into the fray.

I find that when my heart is full of gratitude, kindness comes much more easily to me. I interact with others, focusing on the hope that they are loved, healthy, happy and safe. Self-care is easier with a heart and mind full of gratitude, and by practicing kindness towards myself, I have more to offer others. As Guru likes to remind me, I can’t give to others what I don’t already have within. That’s why true charity starts at home.

So this holiday season, when the stress rises to a fever pitch, I know to turn my attention first to my breath and then to my gratitude. Resistance fades as I let the happiness and peace associated with gratefulness roll in. Then I can focus on what I need to do and truly enjoy the ride to that joy-filled holiday break of reflection and celebration.

~Ashley Moye~

Weaving a Tapestry of Laughter and Joy around the Pillars of Your Life

Carrying Guru Ranjit’s words as inspiration, “Breathing and meditation are the two pillars of life that make the building solid,” I walked in to a local elementary school, excited to begin my first solo lesson of the fall as a certified meditation teacher. Representing Youth Meditation (the non-profit arm of Charlotte Meditation), I hoped to provide these children with tools they can use in order to build a solid life of clarity and peace. Instead, through my interactions with the first and second graders during my first week of classes I rediscovered another essential tool of my own – laughter and joy. By weaving these materials around my pillars of breathing and meditation, I infuse my entire life with a sense of safety, companionship and warmth.

In our Youth Meditation curriculum, we traditionally begin our eight-week sessions with laughter yoga, using the exercises to build an open environment where we can laugh and feel comfortable with each other, ready to have fun with the next eight weeks of practice. Laughter yoga has been around for thousands of years, beginning in India as a way to bring villages together – and yes, while there is something inherently awkward and uncomfortable about forcing foolishness with each other, the awkwardness almost immediately gives way into authentic laughter. By the close of a good laughter yoga session, I end up engaging completely, dropping reservations and finding delight in nothing but the joy of laughter with others. In my Youth Meditation classes, students who were initially reserved, nervous or withdrawn bloomed in front of my eyes as I gripped their hands and looked deeply into their eyes before breaking out in to a smile, chuckling with each other for no reason besides “it’s fun to laugh together.”

This experience with the children impacted me in a powerful way. As someone who has spent a large amount of time in a troubleshooting field, seeing errors and anomalies without even looking (four leaf clovers have always been an easy find!), I often struggled to see positives when a negative was present. Guru recommended the practice of intentional meditation so I practiced purposefully being aware of all things good, positive and right surrounding me instead of the things that weren’t. I was amazed at the immediate difference it made in my interior life and in the way that people related to me and felt in my company. So many wonderful things that were ALREADY present in my daily moments slipped outside my notice when I trained my attention on the failures of myself, the world and others for the sake of “continuous improvement.” I finally saw that the potential for laughter, joy and positive connections with others was present in every mindful moment.

I stand by Guru’s statement that breathing and meditation are the pillars of life – but my experience with my students reminded me that cultivating and maintaining laughter and joy is the next essential step.  If I weave laughter and joy around my pillars of breathing and meditation, I find myself surrounded by contentment and happiness. The positive is ALWAYS present, but I have to maintain openness within my mind and body in order to truly embrace it!

~Ashley Moye~