MMMM: Mindfulness, Meditation and Mental health May- is a month of quotes, books and (sometimes unexpected) resources to reflect on, to help have a happier, more mindful life.
Regular book reviews will continue on Fridays.
With a birthday coming up, I thought about if I wanted to get myself a treat- maybe a massage, a nice candle, some new clothes… here is a list I came up with of gifts that are worth giving yourself.
The gift of letting go
Candle are a funny thing. In primary school at around age 11, everyone suddenly discovers at the same time that candles are a good gift. And so by the end of the year everyone has 20 or so candles, that they may or may not actually be allowed to burn in their room. They then spend the next 5-10 years trying to use up all the candles they get as gifts, and don’t think they are a great present any more. People stop giving them. For some people that is where the story ends. For some they start to appreciate them as part of the welcoming decorations in their lovely, clean well set out house. Or some people are like me, and are drawn back to candles for another reason.
When ever I travel, I like to visit museums, historical places and churches. I always liked the votive candles in churches. Not growing up catholic, I am not sure the exact significance of them, but my mind formed a link between the idea of lighting a candle in prayer and giving things over to god, and of lighting candles in remembrance for someone. One day when I was going through a stressful time, I decided to try something different. Usually when I am stressed or unhappy I distract myself with lots of TV, but then feel bad I am not doing anything useful or interesting with my life. This day I decided to light a candle, and let the candle represent my negative feelings, the letting go of them, and also the remembrance of the bad things. It is kind of hard to explain because it is a nebulous thing- it changes to suit the circumstance. When I am sad the candle is lit in remembrance of the person I miss. When I am worried, the candle is a prayer to god or the universe- that can keep on praying for me while I get on with my day. When I am unhappy, it represents a calm acceptance of the good and the bad life brings. When things seem all wrong, it is a small reminder of beauty and light.
So this year I bought myself the stereotypical present of a candle. And let go of past stressful birthday, to allow myself to be free for the next gift.
The gift of celebrating yourself
I feel like there is a subtle view underlying society, that we aren’t allowed to celebrate ourselves. I guess it comes out of a need not to be selfish and think ourselves better than other people, but we end up with people who remember their successes for a day and their failures for a decade. Pride comes before a fall, we hear. We are meant to brush off and avoid things that make us the centre of attention like the Happy Birthday song. But I think we should have pride in what we have done well, and celebrate ourselves for the good things about ourselves.
So this year I opened my heart to well wishes, and adopted the attitude that I was worth celebrating. I decided I wanted to have dinner on my birthday (had already organised a get together on the weekend), and despite the first few messages to friends not being productive, kept on until it was organised to everyone’s satisfaction. I smiled genuinely as my work colleagues sang happy birthday. I stopped worrying if my guests had what they needed or were bored etc, and just enjoyed spending time with them.
The gift of having done something hard
I didn’t actually end up doing this one, as I ran out of time, but I thought a good gift to myself would be to meet the neighbours that I hadn’t yet- maybe invite them to the weekend party. The gift of community, I was going to call it. Then I thought about it and realised that the biggest gift that going around to my neighbours and meeting them would be for me, was that I had then already done it. I am a bit of an introvert and unless I am in a particular mood, or am at an event I have mentally designated as ‘social time”, I am more likely to avoid meeting new people. So the best thing about going and meeting them would have been that I had then already done the hard bit.
I think that this could be a useful way to look at difficult tasks in the future- rather than think of it as a hard thing you don’t want to do but have to, think of it as a gift you are giving your future self. If you do it now, future you will be free to not have to.
There were several other things I thought of, but I lost the piece of paper. I think there was something about cherishing my body (massage, nice moisturiser etc), of acceptance (of not liking someone who is annoying- accepting you don’t like someone somehow makes them less annoying than if you feel obliged to be a ‘nice, living person’ to everyone)… Have you got any other ideas?