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This can be tricky, because the holidays have a way of springing up on you, unbidden. As in: If you’re reserving a free-range turkey this year, you’ll want to get on that now. As in: Yes, greeting cards are already on display, making you feel vaguely behind schedule — even though it’s only the beginning of November. As in: Oh dear, your kids’ wish lists are already growing faster than your retirement account.

But before you begin fretting about the number of shopping days left, before you begin worrying about your in-laws’ impending visit, before you begin filling every last nook and cranny of your schedule — and budget — with holiday obligations and desires of one kind or another, stop. Really, just stop. Sit for a moment. Take a deep breath. Now let it all the way out, and ask yourself: What do I really want for the holidays this year?

Last year, when I asked myself this question, I got a surprising answer: All I really wanted was to experience a sense of peace and gratitude and stillness. I didn’t particularly want to give or receive gifts. I didn’t particularly want to decorate or entertain. And I certainly didn’t want to elbow my way across crowded megamalls or trudge through slushy parking lots or get paper cuts on my tongue from licking envelopes with well-intended but hastily scrawled messages inside.

I wanted to wake up to that sparkling quality of light you only get when it bounces off the snow at an hour much later than you usually rise. I wanted to hang out with my family in my slippers and sit on the floor and play board games late into the night. To have close friends drop by for a cup of tea or a glass of wine. To take long walks and stop occasionally to look at animal tracks and tree icicles. To watch my niece and nephew play hockey on a frozen pond. To listen to Schubert on public radio while making soup. And I think, most of all, I wanted to do whatever I felt like doing right at that very moment.

Holiday hustle and bustle hold their own appeal, of course. But they also have some real liabilities. When we’re racing around, we tend to notice less, to feel less, to appreciate less. We tend to get less satisfaction per unit of energy expended. We tend to get disconnected from our most pressing intentions. We tend to max out on action, and miss out on beauty.

There’s a radical kind of beauty in just being where you are.

I get that feeling in yoga class sometimes, when I stop trying to get an asana “right” and I just breathe and notice what my body is experiencing. I get that feeling when I step out of my thinking, judging mind and look at the people and the world around me with “soft eyes.” And I get it most of all when I put aside the worries and agendas of the moment and let myself feel how much I love this whole messy business of being alive.

When I look back at the things I wanted out of the holidays last year, and that I want again this year, I realize that they all have certain characteristics in common: My mind and body are connected, conscious, sensing, centered. My spirit is calm. My heart and head are on the same page, and neither of them is speed-reading.

We put together this issue of Experience Life with the intention of bringing that sort of experience within easier reach — not just for the holidays, but for any day, any circumstance.

On the following pages, you’ll find articles designed to help you get in closer touch with the most central systems of your body, to become more adept at accessing the most powerful parts of your mind, and to become more comfortable with the notion of doing what matters most — including, when it’s called for, doing nothing at all.

Thoughts to share?

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