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welcoming spontaneous generosity – december 2009


As we step through the squares of December on the calender a certain sentiment starts to rise. The soundtrack of our lives shifts into sentiment and expectations. There is the wrapping up of presents and end of year projects. There is reflection and expression through song and hand written cards. Suddenly we are gathering with friends and work colleagues and family. We step on to flights and into cars or into time off amongst our own homes. Some of it is hustle and bustle and other parts welcome solitude and quiet walks. There are patterns to fall into with people and situations and also room to break the mold and create new traditions for our hearts and our families. For some this is a time of fatigue and sadness, for others it is joy and happiness. Within the December rush, where do we find balance?

This is my second holiday season back in America. Last year we were fresh out of Australia, with tiny roots growing up around our shoes and housesitting in a dear friend’s home. We were full of all new things. The new year ahead held such big unknowns. We were trying to decide where to live, where to work and wondering and wishing to conceive our baby. The tides of uncertainty were washing over us daily and the ground beneath us felt watery and thick like the sand in shallow waves. This year we are standing with our feet again amongst early shoots, but those new seeds have been planted into fertile ground with an intention of deeper roots. We are in our own home near family and friends, have the support of a school that Peter works for and are expecting our first baby in February.  The picture is colorful in a different way this year. There are still many blank spaces needing color and shape, but the foundation is there and as we move forward into the new year we are confident that it doesn’t need to be all colored in to be beautiful.

This letting go is where I’m finding that balance often hides. I’ve lived a lot of my life with a plan, a very concrete plan. I love details. In my home, I like to know that things have a certain place, a coat closet, sections on a book shelf, a shelf where a favorite vase looks just so. I like colors that work in harmony, a meal that unfolds with grace. But what I’m learning that so many conductors or directors know, is that once the stage is set, it is in the letting go that the real magic occurs.

On Thanksgiving, my family has gathered with my grandparents in southern California or at our friends home in Mill Valley. This year the plans weren’t set. My mom invited us to her home which has always been where we would go if we didn’t have other plans. Suddenly I thought, why not have it in our home? Having lived in another country for so long, being a part of creating new traditions in my family is foreign to me. I left when I was twenty-one years old and making the leap into adulthood happened while I lived far away from my family. Being back, there is a lot of joy for me in having adult “firsts” with my family. This might be cooking a meal for someone in my home or being available on the other end of the phone for advice in the same time zone or in this case hosting a holiday in my home for the first time.

My family agreed that Thanksgiving would travel this year across the Golden Gate in the other direction. My mom came up a few days early and we gathered ingredients and made plans. She was still going to cook which I think everyone was thankful for, as her talent in this area far exceeds mine, but I was going to be there to assist and videotape! My mother is the kind of cook that works quickly to her own time. I’ve always wanted to learn her recipes, but magically the real work seems to happen just as you step out of the kitchen or when she sends you get something for her. This year I was determined to record some of this magic so that I would have some hope of replicating it some day with lots of practice. We had a great time in the kitchen and my dad and sister arrived around lunchtime on Thanksgiving day.

For those of you living in another country, Thanksgiving has been deemed by my Australian husband as the best American holiday. There is no pressure of gifts, it is simply a time set aside with family to share a meal, have a day off from work and reflect on what you are grateful for. It is as if the whole country lets out a sigh of relief. Things get quiet and candles get lit and families find themselves together.

Our dinner was put in the oven, tantalizing scents were wafting through the house and the sound of Thanksgiving football was sneaking out under warm conversations when my pregnant body decided it was time for a walk. At this time of year in our neighborhood the streets are accented by large established trees melting with multicolored leaves on to wide sidewalks. As a group we kicked through the crunchy leaves down the street until we came to a home that I had been curious about since we moved here. In front of the home there was a plaque that outlined its history beginning in the 1880’s as the site of a traditional Japanese garden much like the one that sits in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The difference being that this historic garden is part of a private residence now.

My mother, an avid gardener for most of her life, peaked over the fence with me and the others on tiptoe. Suddenly we were spotted and a rush of energy traveled down my spine soon to be replaced by surprise. A woman with a wide gardener’s hat paused from sweeping her leaves and leaned out from behind a Japanese Maple to say, “Would you like to visit our gardens?”

I think we were all a little bit pink in the cheeks from spying over the fence and surprised that a stranger was inviting us into her home on Thanksgiving day. We broke into spontaneous smiles with a resounding, “Yes!” As we entered the garden through their wide gate, a kind of reverence fell over us. Suddenly around us was a perfect sanctuary, a place where gratitude couldn’t help but fall on us as easily as the yellow leaves on my street. We walked slowly over river stones and, “The bridge of Eternal Peace”. We stood by rare trees and smiled for photos. We toured this beautiful couple’s dining room set for a large Thanksgiving meal that once was the original Japanese tea house. We rested our eyes on the shape of the lake that reflected a turtle, a symbol long associated with my family, and spoke in hushed voices. All of our separate lives for a moment felt connected as one, simply by the act of spontaneous generosity by someone we had never met.

On our walk home we were filled with something more powerful than a store bought gift or a perfectly presented meal, we were filled with the energy of someone else letting go and opening their heart. From this space we stood under giant trees and spontaneously threw handfuls of yellow leaves into the air like we once would have as children. In the presence of something new, we gave ourselves the permission to play.

When I look back on this Thanksgiving, it won’t be the table that I set or the food that we ate or the tidiness of the house that I will remember. It will be this walk. This holiday season, I invite you to consider how your own spontaneous generosity might spill out into someone else’s day. With only a few days left till Christmas, I invite you to give the gift of your own generosity once a day. This might be by carrying someone’s bags to their car, offering to pick something up at the store for your partner, inviting a friend who is away from their family for a meal or simply telling someone how much they mean to you in person or in a card. There are innumerable ways that we can be generous in our everyday. And this doesn’t cost a cent. Generosity in spirit is one of the most amazing gifts that we can give. Being around a loved one who is in a good mood is infectious in a way that a wrapped gift could never be. It touches the heart and changes the energy of the room. Be spontaneously generous to yourself as well. If you’ve been on your feet too long, treat yourself to a bath with Epsom salts. If you have over socialized, schedule in an afternoon of walking or simply reading a book while listening to the rain.

Take time out this year to appreciate the spontaneous generosity that you receive. As the holiday spirit starts to reach a crescendo, instead of focusing on the lines or the list of things to do, let your gaze be on the gifts in the season. Even as I write this, I have listened to my husband open the door to our home at the sound of the doorbell. Waiting there was a neighbor, Melanie, standing in the rain, who introduced herself and presented Pete with a present that the admissions team from his school had left on her doorstep instead of ours. She had heard through the grapevine that her new neighbors a few homes down were having a baby and knocked on doors till she found us. A box of chocolates, a book of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes, a beautiful card and the thoughts of new friends and the generosity of a stranger now fill our home on this rainy Monday afternoon.

Take the time this year to enjoy the package that surprises you on your doorstep, the taste of apple cider mixed with cloves, the presence of your loved ones perfect in their imperfections and from that foundation of generosity try to hold the year that has just been in your heart. Acknowledge the highs and the lows and know that amongst all of it, you are here in this present moment able to choose on so many levels what this day will hold.

This Christmas Eve, I’ll be with my husband and my family in my parent’s home on the hill under the redwood trees. Every Christmas that I’ve been in America, this is where I’ve sat near the Christmas tree with the colored lights that accent the ornaments given to me before I was born or given to us by friends present and passed. I’ll raise my glass as my father drops the needle on the record and, “One little Christmas Tree” by Stevie Wonder spills out into the room. And this year, I’ll feel thankful not only for my family, imperfect and beautiful, sitting with me and waiting to be born, but for you who are reading these words in your own unique families feeling generosity wherever you are in the world.

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This monthly inspiration piece brought to you by author Christina Adler at ‘everyday balance’. If you would like to share your experience with these tools, please feel free to email me by visiting the contacts section on the home page. To subscribe for a monthly reminder for these inspiration pieces, simply fill in your name and email address on the home page under “subscribe to everyday balance.” For information regarding life coaching appointments in person, by telephone or online, visit the ‘for life coaching’ section of this website. Photo taken by Christina Adler in Mill Valley, California.

posted under 2009 life balance