Yoga Thoughts on Which is Really Better.
You hear this adage a lot at this time of year when giving and receiving gifts is at the forefront of people’s minds. It’s true, though, on a million levels. The world is a better place when we’re sharing our gifts with and for others. We’re nicer people when we’re focused on what we can give rather than on what we can get. Consciously searching for ways to give makes us more aware of the needs and wants of those around us.
Thirteen Christmases as a mother have given me a slightly different take on this saying. Talk to any kid about Christmas, and it won’t be long before you’re talking about presents. Mine spend weeks perfecting their Christmas lists. They pore through catalogs. They listen avidly to their friends on the school bus. They can’t sleep on Christmas Eve. While they know Christmas is about a whole lot more, they love presents! Early on Christmas morning, when the five of us are around the tree discovering what Santa brought, receiving gifts is pretty darn good.
The good news is, in addition to their passion for receiving Christmas presents, my kids really do love giving gifts. They love to go shopping for one another. Annually, the gifts they choose for each other are the biggest “hits” of the season. There is nothing sweeter to me than watching my child dance with excitement as his sister opens the gift he chose for her. It warms my heart that my children are such enthusiastic, joyful givers.
While they would probably pause at the notion that is it better to give than to receive, I think they would all agree that giving is easier. In a way, giving a gift puts them in the driver’s seat of the exchange. (That’s a good “seat” for the 13-and-under-crowd!) After all, they’ve thought about their loved one. They’ve chosen the gift. They’ve wrapped it up and presented it. Additionally, for my spot-light shy children, being the giver draws less attention. As soon as the gift changes hands, the limelight shifts from the giver to the receiver. All eyes are now on the person opening the present.
When they are opening presents from anyone but Santa, I think they feel a little exposed. There’s very little risk of disappointment when it comes to opening a gift from Santa. He knows your inner heart. After all, you’ve mailed its contents to him in an elaborately decorated wish list! But anyone else (your grandmother or your cousin, say) may not be as well-informed. There is simply no guessing what might be in that package. What if it isn’t what you want? What if you don’t like it? Opening a present like that can be nerve-wracking – especially when you’re working on only a few hours of sleep!
Still, with years of practice, a little life experience and some budding self-awareness, our children are growing into graceful, gracious gift-receivers. Watching them do so has affirmed some of yoga’s most powerful lessons. First, setting aside expectations (here’s a good article on yoga and expectations) is a great way to avoid being disappointed. My artistic, older daughter loves to look at her wrapped gifts for a few moments before she opens them. She will often comment on the wrapping or the bow. She seems to love just having a present in her hands. To my yoga mind, she’s shifting her experience to the joy of the gift itself rather than getting tangled up in what she hopes it might contain.
My younger daughter likes to poke, prod and shake her packages. She’s like a sleuth trying to figure out what’s inside. She does it even with the most obvious packages – the one that is clearly a book or the one from her grandmother that always contains clothes! Again, to my yoga mind, she has developed an enthusiastic sense of curiosity. Curiosity and wonder like this make every experience richer, whether opening a gift or moving through a series of yoga asana that you have done a hundred times before. (For me a sense of curiosity is a key to maintaining beginner’s mind which keeps my practice fresh.)
My son has always had a deep awareness for other people’s feelings. He’s the first to hang back in a group to make sure the slowest walker has a companion. He’s the kid who will go sit with the boy who is all alone in the lunch room. When opening his packages, he is always very aware of the person who gave it to him. He needs no reminder that each gift has been specially chosen for him, that someone thought about, shopped for and wrapped it with him in mind. His expressions of gratitude generally center around how special and loved the gift makes him feel.
Mostly, we think of parents serving as role models for their children. Every once in a while, however, those roles get flipped. These are some of the greatest moments I have as a parent. To learn from your child is a tremendous gift — one my kids give to me unknowingly and one that I receive as gratefully as any under our tree.
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