My office goes through perhaps an inordinate number of rubber bands. We use them to hold together very large stacks of paper, which accumulate dust and yellow at the edges over many years. They have a big job but come in various sizes, from angel-hair-pasta thin to heavy-duty elastics as wide as a your pinky finger, and in lots of colors from orange to green to the standard putty beige. I usually use a fistful or more per week.
But despite their time-tested design–a design built for stretching and bending and withstanding a heavy load–sometimes they snap. I’ll pick up a banded stack of papers only to be whipped by the frayed and flying ends, resulting in a nice welt on my wrist or arm. You can see precisely where the band gave out, the elastic worn a little thinner in that space, a little drier and more brittle. The papers go flying everywhere, and I sigh at the fact that the same thing will happen again the next time the rubber band disappoints me.
Sometimes I find myself feeling like those rubber bands: stretched past the limits of my innate flexibility and on the verge of snapping. I can feel myself getting thinner and drier when my mind can’t focus but jumps around among the various things on my to-do list. Irritability strains my relationships, including with myself, and I can sense that everything I’m trying to hold together will tumble out as if from Pandora’s Box.
It’s hard in these moments to think about anything but the stress. But when everything around you feels like it’s wearing you down, the best place to look is nowhere but yourself. Taking the time to rejuvenate and breathe–and bolster those elastic fibers–is what I call self-gifting. It has two applications that yield equally effective benefits.
First, there is the perhaps more obvious interpretation of giving a gift to yourself. Maybe it’s a trinket you’ve had your eye on at the boutique on your way to work, but it can also be something non-material: the time to read a book, a nourishing meal, a reflective walk, a full night’s sleep, a conscious recognition of your beauty and talents. During the bedlam of the holiday season, when everything and everyone is telling you to give! give! give! (i.e., buy! buy! buy!), it’s important to include yourself in that spirit of giving. That goes for all year ’round, not just the month of December.
Try this nurturing mudra to send your heart chakra the message of love and self-preservation. Sit in a lotus position. Put the heels of your hands together over your heart. Touch tips of your thumbs and pinkies, while spreading the rest of the fingers wide open like the petals of a lotus. Breathe deeply, meditating on a mantra of love toward yourself.
Second, the gift might be of yourself. For me, 90% of the fun of Christmas is seeing people’s reactions to the things I give them. When you take a moment to really understand someone else and imagine what they’d want most, your capacity for empathy grows and grows like the Grinch’s heart (with no risk of snapping). With empathy comes patience and discernment, and an ability to cope with the unexpected with a milder attitude. Giving to a cause or those you don’t know can also make you feel like a part of something bigger than yourself. In those moments of transcendence, your own problems can seem to dissipate, or even resolve themselves with minimal effort.
Finding the perfect self-gift is a job for a lifetime. Thankfully, our fibers are made of sterner stuff than rubber bands, and hold more important things than sheets of paper. But the only way to know your own capacity for generosity is to exercise it–and reach both in and out trusting that you won’t let go of yourself.
Also by Jennifer: Vegan Cranberry Sauce Crumb Cake
Related: How to Deal With Toxic People
Photo: Larry Rosenstein via Flickr; Peaceful Dumpling