Giving Presence

As we cross the threshold from the holiday of giving thanks to the holiday of giving presents, I offer encouragement to include in your giving this year—in addition to whatever actual “presents” you may give—the gift of your actual presence both to your loved ones, to strangers and lastly, but not least, to yourself. “Easy for you to say!” you may well respond. “It’s the $@#! Holidays!” (Or: “Have you seen my $#@! in-box??”)

How do we find our own presence within; how do we re-discover what some would call our higher Selves, our own souls … in the midst of the busy-ness of this season, and of our overall lives?

We know when we have touched this place of quiet feeling, a sense of assurance arises within, and our problems seem smaller, solutions more evident, or we are content to simply enjoy life as it is, now, no matter what our circumstances.

"We know when we have touched this place of quiet feeling, a sense of assurance arises within, and our problems seem smaller, solutions more evident ... "

Our children benefit, our spouses, our families, our colleagues.

I have learned for myself that the how is as simple as stopping. In my work of late, I’ve been using the term “surrender.” Surrender in the very best sense, meaning we stop trying to control everything around us (a futile task!), and even what is within our own minds. We stop. Emotions may continue, energies in the body. Chaos may swirl, still, for a while. But we do not need to continue to feed our thoughts, which add complexity to the storm. We can stop.

What is here, under this surrender, within this stopping? Under thoughts of what must be done, what we must do, what we must achieve, or change, and how we can prove our worthiness, or disprove our unworthiness? What is under, beneath, within, before and after our “to do” list, whether accomplished or not?


Beautiful Sunset - Ami Chen.


Within simple presence, when the mind is quiet, we discover the universal feelings of connection, love, peace—and a fulfillment that includes all others in its gentle embrace. When “me” and its non-stop trajectory is lost, when self-concept is forgotten, even if only for a moment, we are actually found.

I am very fond of the authors Hugh and Gayle Prather (Hugh has now passed on). They reflect in their book, Spiritual Parenting, on the idea that the Christian holiday at this time of year is perhaps particularly joyful because it celebrates the birth of a child.

The child’s mind, the child’s innocence, the child’s feeling all are not actually lost as we age. They are obscured by thought. It is that richness of mind and connection to life Jesus referred to when he said, “Be like the little children.”

I believe our gathering together and preparations for the holidays reflects our deep desire to feel love, to feel connected, to feel delight, to feel presence, to feel a sense of the sacred. Indeed, most of our efforts in life are directed subconsciously toward these goals. Ironically, and wonderfully, we can stop at any moment and find this presence is already here!

" ... We can stop at any moment and find this presence is already here!"

Perhaps we must first become present to ourselves before we can show up as present for our families … What does this mean for you today? An unscheduled walk in the woods, or by the ocean? A hot cup of tea, and your favorite chair? A good lie down in bed? A moment with your pet, or on your meditation cushion? Or perhaps simply slowing down in whatever activity you find yourself in, now.

Ask yourself (and tell no lies!): Does what you think needs to be done really need to be done? And if so, does it need to be done today? This minute? Is there something more important, more essential that could be discovered first—that might pave the way gently for good things to come?

Your present—your presence—gifted to yourself. I suggest this is this best gift you could “give” this holiday season. We could make a pact. I will give it to myself, if you will give it to yourself. What do you say?

Ami Chen Mills-Naim is author of The Spark Inside and State of Mind in the Classroom (revised, 2nd printing due in 2016). She leads the “Everyday Satsang” drop-in class through Santa Cruz Yoga. Next class is Sunday, Dec. 13, 2-4 pm at 1010 Fair Ave. Suite E. Class fee is $15. Ami also provides personal and professional coaching, is a global speaker, and leads retreats, webinars and trainings via the Internet and in person. Find more at


Reemerging Sunshine of the Accepting Mind

I recently posted my status on Facebook as taking a "Me" day ... Just before that, my young daughter had been in the hospital on critical status with a chest infection, we had canceled vacation plans, I had just finished moving my non-profit out of the office, and earlier this year, my father had passed away. (The year before, his spiritual teacher and mine, Sydney Banks, passed, and the year before that, my grandmother, Nell.)

Medical bills and paperwork were piling up, and our already small house was filled with boxes from my old, "real" office. Although there was so much to do, I have come to learn that in most adult lives, having "a lot to do" is not a temporary state. There is never a time when all things get done, or are done ... when from a worldly perspective, one has indeed accomplished "enough."

I also understand (and more and more so) that, from a global perspective, my, let's say, "suburban" problems are all good problems to have. Alia's health was jeopardized, but we had nearly instant access to highly trained doctors, x-ray and ultrasound technology, medications of every type ... our own hospital room, even!

Furthermore, our little family is well-fed, housed, intact and we live in a country where--in most cases--one can say what one thinks. Freedom, calories, opportunities, computers, heat, running water. Only gratitude is truly in order, of course.

Nonetheless, anxiety does not come because one asks for it!

And I have learned that when stress or anxiety come knocking, when everything screams to be done, it is time to stop ... and not do a thing. Have you heard the play on the old adage:

Don't just do something. Sit there ...?

I have another one: If it feels urgent, it probably isn't.

I put everything on hold, packed my child's "Hello Kitty" backpack with a tangerine, banana, cashew bar and bottle of water. Plus a notebook.

And then I ran away from home.

I took the train to San Francisco with the sole intention of enjoying myself--and being by myself.

The train ride itself was soothing, although as we pulled out of the California Avenue station, a cold feeling crept over me that once (in my 20's) had been familiar--a feeling of dread, of coming depression. As in: What does it all mean? Nothing!

For days, my mind had been engaged in planning, packing (both the office and our suitcases for vacation), then adrenalin-filled caretaking, hovering ... watching hospital monitors fretfully at 2, 3, and 4 a.m. with daughter's pulse, oxygen and respiration levels too high, too low.

Worry, future thinking, time pressures ... these sorts of thoughts can all result in this "collapsed" feeling.

And I allowed my mind to allow this. Allow the dread, the depression.

By the time we rolled through Belmont, the feeling was gone.

The City itself shone and sparkled in all its grunge, its fine foods and crystalline forward-ness. Market Street welcomed me, indifferent--those out of scale skyscrapers--as if I were an ant to be expected, tolerated, maybe stepped upon, but not maliciously.

The SF Museum of Modern Art was spacious, airy, modern (go figure) ... The rooftop garden sunny and bright, a shelter to couples in love, a mother with her child, a lone young tourist from Britain.

I had moved into the Now, the space of the accepting mind and, how did I put that day? ... I caught up with myself. I became myself, again.

This is the brilliance of the Mind--that its default setting is harmony. When thoughts become quiet, the quiet itself can become very, very deep--its depths both mysterious, unfathomable, and safe.

I got many responses to my Facebook post from Moms and others who felt it was their time for a Me day too! Go for it! I wrote in reply. But it does not need to be on the train, or in the City. It can be the hike, the walk, the yoga class, the park bench in the sunshine.

In my view, the "form" of meditation is not the essence of meditation--true meditation is simply the quieting of thought, surrendering to the Allowing Mind--and actually, this can be done in any moment, anywhere.

Indeed, just yesterday, I was feeling overwhelmed again (Alia's birthday party!) and it was evening--where could I go? To a bar? No, no ...

So, after returning a coffee maker to my aunt's, I went home; and simply accepted both the feeling of overwhelm, and my immediate situation: cleaning up from the party, getting kids ready for school, ready for a busy Monday ... Then I sat down with my husband to watch a nature program on TV.

And peace came again.

What is so beautiful to me--the greatest lesson I have ever learned--is that quiet can be counted on. Perhaps not demanded, but the sun returns when mental storm clouds part ... Mental health and well-being return.

Any catalyst will do ... A cup of tea, a good stretch, an insight, or just resting in the allowing mind. If you know the 3 Principles and Sydney Banks' work, it all makes sense. Thought creates feeling.

"I don't want this" creates the feeling of dis-ease. "I don't know if I want this, but it's obviously happening," and there is curiosity, openness ..."I love this!" and one is filled with both Love and gratitude.

One does not have to change one's thoughts, but the mere resting, the allowing of Thought--without attaching, judging, trying to get rid of ... opens the space for the deeper harmony of the Divine Mind to enter--and the Divine Mind is always grateful, always in tune, always connected.

As the mom of two still-young children, I can testify to the fact that a parents' thought flow, or resting mind, is often interrupted by the needs of children ... And if we cannot become present with our children in the moment, I believe it behooves us as parents to create the space (or simply INTEND the space) for us to find our replenishment in solitude, then. We come back to our families and children with inspiration, with good feelings and as role models for well-being.

As Gangaji has said, "Take a moment to recognize the peace that is already alive within you."

So, yes, Moms, Dads and Non-Breeders ... take a Me day! And if you cannot take a Me Day, take a Me moment. It may be that nothing "special" need happen at all ... for something very special indeed to emerge, from within.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

M.M. Note: Adapted from the CSC's Holiday e-newsletter.

How are you doing with your holidays, my friend? ... My own tendency is to get excited early on, and then as the calendar starts counting down toward Christmas Day, I start to feel a bit stressed out!

With two young children in our family, hopes run high. And this year, my father, Roger Mills (co-founder of our non-profit) will not be with us--he'll be singing carols with the angels. He was a huge Christmas fan, a bedrock of our traditions. It won't be the same, for sure.

Then there are money concerns, holiday "Thank You's" to be paid out to teachers, housekeepers, the postman ... How much? ... Send Holiday cards or not? Use wrapping or newspaper? And, let's see, Christmas Eve dinner planning, shopping, special events for the children ... If you are Jewish, Muslim--or otherwise inclined--perhaps you are feeling quite relieved by now!

I recall a very old recording of a Sydney Banks talk, on which Syd described the feelings of contentment and gratitude that are a marker for deeper wisdom to come, for mental health and understanding. He used the analogy of Christmas. "You know that feeling that just hits you when you're walking down the street? Like, Geez, it's Christmas!"

Our holiday gift to you, no matter what holiday you celebrate (or don't), is the simple reminder that holiday spirit is a feeling that comes from within. Already, our family has failed on a number of "external" holiday "agenda items": We have given up on having beautiful and elaborate lights like our neighbors, our Christmas tree is not color coordinated, nor well lit, and has large, empty green patches. Holiday cards have not yet gone out, my husband may be working Christmas Eve, and we have not found a soup kitchen or other wonderful cause to participate in to teach our children important lessons in charity and giving.

Nonetheless, as I give up on these items, one by one, I see that my children are still thrilled with the holiday. They love singing the songs. They love Santa---the whole idea of Christmas. And when I am simply present with what is, the holidays are very pleasant, and spirited, indeed. A few nights ago, carols on the car radio inspired us to drive around our neighborhood admiring the holiday lights, with the children singing at the top of their lungs.

And as John Lennon sung: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

The best gift is the gift we each already have within us--the capacity to enter into a deeper feeling about life at any time: the richness, the guidance, the love, the "holiness" that comes from nowhere else, but from within ourselves. The present of Presence.

Here's hoping that no matter what you celebrate, or don't, you enjoy the quiet moments between "doings," and even during "doings" that are nourishment for our souls, our families, our lives.