In the midst of the hustle and hassle of these last few days before Christmas, it’s hard for me not to get at least a little bit cynical about our consumer culture. The advertising campaigns are in full swing, and everyone seems to be competing for my last dollar. I feel bombarded by the images and ideas of the perfect gifts that will make the special people in my life happy.

I choose not to believe the hype, but more importantly, I am choosing to learn about myself in terms of giving and receiving this holiday season. I like to give gifts. I spend a lot of time planning, buying, making, and wrapping gifts. I want to give my family and friends gifts they will enjoy. It has taken me a long time, however, to learn to give these gifts well.

I spent a good portion of my life giving gifts laden with the extra burden of the expectation that they would be appreciated in the ways I hoped they would be. More often than not, this was not the case. I lived through this disappointment many times before learning to give freely, without any expectations about what I would get in return. If it’s truly the giving that counts, my own expectations about the receiving are unimportant. The recipients must be allowed to appreciate the gifts they are given in their own ways.

Which is precisely where I find myself now: having trouble receiving. I know that when someone gives me a gift, I should be grateful and gracious, whatever the gift might be, but neither of these come easily to me. My thoughts upon receiving a gift go instantly to a comparison of what I have given the other person and if the gift I am opening shows how well they know me or how much they love me – as if a gift could convey that measure of meaning. My mind instantly goes to what I will have to get this person for a gift the next time around. All of these thoughts get in the way of my reception of the gift, and isn’t fair to the giver. And in the end, I don’t enjoy this moment of sharing with another person.

I’ve made a goal for myself this year to stay present in the moments when gifts are being given and received. I like to think of it as my gift to myself. I invite you to join me in the present moment of presents.