This article originally appeared in the December, 2011 issue of Natural Awakenings, Southwest Florida Edition.

Mindfulness is the skill of paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment on purpose and without judgment. While we’re practicing mindfulness, we engage with life as an interested, curious observer, without any pre-formed views, and opinions about what we’re experiencing. Mindfulness is a skill everyone has, and it can be strengthened through regular formal and informal practice. Here are a few tips for strengthening your mindfulness skills during the holiday season:

More Being, Less Doing

The mindset of constantly rushing to finish one thing, in order to tackle the next thing, is exhausting and stressful. Set an intention to “pause” your activity during the day and to notice your immediate experience. Identify a few special objects around your home, in your car, and in your outdoor space. Make these objects “mindfulness reminders”. When you notice one, let it remind you to stop what you’re doing or thinking so that mind and body can fully experience the next few moments. Notice your surroundings, the smells, the sounds, the textures, the temperature, how you’re your body feels, what you were just thinking. Take a few slow conscious breaths, fully attending to each one. Explore bringing this present-moment focus with you as you proceed about your day.

Listen Up: The holidays often involve engaging with large groups of friends, family, and others we may not know well. It’s challenging and not part of our normal routine. There can be “issues” attached to relational dynamics within families, and these may pre-occupy our attention and how we encounter others. This year, experiment with bringing an open-minded, genuinely curious attention to others. Try being present, alert, and aware when others speak to you, without interrupting. Sometimes, when someone is speaking to us, our habitual tendency is to be preoccupied with our own views and opinions, and with what we will say in response, that we totally miss important information in what they actually said! Notice how others react when they realize you are giving them your full, non-judgmental attention.

Practice Noticing: What would happen if you brought the full attention of your senses and awareness to as many “moments” as possible during this holiday season? What would you notice? The smell of cinnamon and evergreen? The brisk outdoor air? The laughter of people that you love? The soft smoothness of a warm sweater?  Be sure to allow yourself many experiences like this during the holidays, and make it your practice to intentionally build this skill of mindfulness, so it becomes “second nature”. You may find yourself more fully connected with your holiday experiences and your life!

~ Madeline Ebelini