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


Also Silence

Let's say also there is silence here Relative Silence broken

by words, turkey calls, the

swish-thud-thud of deer

jumping in natural fear

And there is too

Silence Silence

Silence of Nothingness

How simple

this Silence


Where we/I have thought

in the past

and perhaps for good reason

and based on actual

happenings actual


and certainly

stories told

I thought

Great fireworks would come

And Revelations!

Constellations re-arranging and

bowing down

To Some Experience

(we have all heard of one at least one)

But I find

in the end

that Nothingness is really


and No Big Deal

Except that


It Somehow

Is ...

Is like

Love not moving

Until it does

Parenthood Way: The End of the Rope

Dear Friends, I'll be writing a series of posts here I am calling "Parenthood Way," for the next few months. These posts will be based exclusively in and on family life and parenting. My theme is that I, for one, am not perfect as a mom, wife, household manager, dog owner, chief cook or bottle washer ... I imagine very few of us are. As we realize that we are all "in this boat together," we can begin to take our focus off our personal mistakes and look at the boat as a whole, with a gentle but intent curiosity.

I have had clients whose childhoods and parenting experiences have been much, much more challenging than mine--and continue to be. I recently told one such client: "Look. Everything is already broken. People hurt each other every day, and you know all the stories. You have lived them. We must find peace now--in the midst of this brokenness. In ourselves. If we can do so, we become a part of the hope, of the solution, for all children."

I wrote this recent article on "The End of Our Rope" for my kids' elementary school newsletter. I dedicate it, and this new series to all parents and child care givers and caretakers, everywhere. Peace exists here and now. Let's find it. It's contagious!

Parenthood Way: “The End of the Rope”

With two, still young daughters, (one growing up fast), a job, a dog, a busy husband, a house to maintain, finances to organize (worry about, forget about, worry about), I, like most parents and caregivers, am busy!

I find parenting to be a series of moments in which 1) we feel we have come to the absolute end of our rope, and then 2) miraculously, more rope appears! Suddenly, there is a moment to breathe, to enjoy our children and our lives. How does it happen that sometimes we are terribly stressed, and at other times, we remember (and experience) the reasons we became parents? We experience the present moment. We experience humor, love and gratitude.

The truth is that we are most often not actually experiencing our children, our spouses, our current realities—we are experiencing our thoughts about them. And while negative thoughts can be triggered by many “external” situations, parental stress comes from hanging onto negative thoughts (worries, concerns) that cycle around without solution. Then, in a quiet moment (and this can be in the midst of chaos, too), the mind clears and we are back in the present—noticing the turning leaves, the holiday lights, the beautiful sunset … And, interestingly, solutions to “problems” with our kids percolate up to help guide us through this endless mystery and challenge called “parenthood.”

I call these changes in thinking (busy thinking, then clear mindedness), states of mind. The other day, a “Walking School Bus” day for us—which means getting all of us out the door 20 minutes early—my husband was tired and slept in, I was singly trying to make breakfast, lunches; blaming my husband, blaming myself, the kids, the dog, whoever; and I finally got the kids out the door, but without me! … I had to finish dressing and run to catch up with the “school bus.”

Then, as we were crossing a neighborhood street, my youngest daughter dropped our dog’s leash and Coco went free in the street. I stopped to gently lecture my daughter and took the leash. I was heading on down the road with most of the school bus group way ahead, when my daughter began to cry. She was standing still, crying, upset that I took the leash, and she didn’t want to go to school. She wanted to go home. She wanted her daddy. Here it was again: the end of my rope.

The end of the rope can be a very good place, a fertile place. It means we have run out of ideas and (hopefully) are about to give up on our current way of thinking. In that moment, I just stopped. I had no idea what to do. I sent the rest of the school bus on its way. I tried to apologize, but that did not work. I tried to explain that we really needed to go, but that did not work. And so I just stopped, and looked up at the sky and the clouds, waiting in the unknown. I realized my frustrated thinking was not going to get me anywhere. Perhaps it had caused this mess. And, after a few moments of waiting, my daughter hugged me. I dried her tears and we got ready, slowly, to move on.

“End of the rope” feelings include hopelessness, frustration, anger and fear. To be able to recognize these feelings and understand that another state of mind is possible is one of the most profound lessons of parenthood I have learned. It is actually one of the most profound lessons of life I have learned. When we learn to embrace the unknown, “the end of our mental rope,” we have created space for insight, wisdom and good feelings to re-emerge.


Taking a moment, an hour, a day, to just stop, or as one parent I worked with once said, understanding the "Power of the Pause" can be powerful. 
Ami Chen Mills-Naim is a member of the Westlake Elementary School Site Council, Education Director at the Center for Sustainable Change, a personal and family coach, and author of The Spark Inside: A Special Book for Youth, and State of Mind in the Classroom. Send your comments or questions to her at