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Receiving the Gifts of the Season with Dr. Judith Greer Essex

Receiving the Gifts of the Season with Dr. Judith Greer Essex

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The artist appeals to that part of our being…which is a gift and not an acquisition – and therefore, more permanently enduring.–Joseph Conrad

Black Friday indeed!  What a designation.  I hate shopping and am easily overwhelmed by crowds and commercialism.The list of gifts to purchase and wrap at this time of year can too easily feel like a burden and a chore. Not to be a complete curmudgeon, I should be clear. Although I hate shopping, I love finding the “just right” gift for someone.  I love to bring a moment of surprise and delight in my dear someone’s eyes. 


If finding the right gift is a challenging part of the holiday season.  Receiving is just as hard. One year, when my daughter was on an impossibly tight budget I said, “Please don’t spend money on me, I don’t need anything.”  And she replied, “I can afford this. Don’t deprive me of the fun of finding things for the people I love.” 

It dawned on me once again, that gifts benefit the giver as well as the receiver.

The question for me becomes; Can I truly give, if I cannot graciously receive?  
Stephen K. Levine, in his book of essays, Poiesis, discusses the social nature of a gift.  Gift exchange, says Levine creates a circulating, flowing connection between the people involved.  Marcel Mauss goes so far as to state; to give something is to give a part of oneself.  Giving and receiving creates what he calls a “total social fact.” Giving and receiving creates bonds of appreciation that nourish and enrich the whole community.  This annual, tidal rhythm of give and receive might be considered a part of the natural ecosystem of any community. So why does it sometimes feel so awkward or difficult to receive? Perhaps, because the gift is so far beyond our control.
A gift is a thing we do not get from our own efforts.  We cannot buy it, and we need not earn it. Whether it comes as a tangible object – this tea cup, that book, or through the gift is time and friendship, a moment or experience chosen, we are called to be present to the presentation. The message of the exchange is intimate and much more direct than our usual communications with others. The gift well chosen says “I value you, and I value our relationship. I have been thinking of you. I want to you to know.” That is a lot more confirmation than most of us are accustomed to. And it is an experience that can be profoundly beneficial to both partners in the dance when it is acknowledged with careful attention.
Remember, when giving or receiving; allow the belly to be relaxed, and the eyes open and seeing your partner in the exchange. Connect with the person first, then the present that passes between you. Keep your senses open  and your heart unguarded to what you find. That will allow the gift to be well given and well received.
Here, from my treasure trove of expressive arts therapy prompts, a tiny gift from me to you. Two seasonal activities; one for a friend and one for you.  Enjoy– Judith
1.  For a friend: Give a gift of light for the short days of winter. 
Start with plain white votive candles in glass available in many grocery and craft stores.  Use standard white glue to embellish with art studio goodies:  paper collage of seasonal themes, bits of poems or significant words, mesh fabrics, ribbon, jewels and sparkling things, the more personal the better. Tissue paper makes a lovely translucent finish so the light can shine through.
2. For yourself:  make a journal page on giving and receiving.  I suggest a butterfly spread (two pages that face each other). 
  • On one side make a list of presents you receive and the hidden gift within it. For instance a book might be housing the gift of knowledge, or beauty, imagination or delight…depending on the book, of course!  Allow your metaphoric imagination to inform you.  
  • On the other page, make a list of the gifts you would like to give to your friends and family. Not the objects themselves, but the meanings you would like them to convey;  gifts of memory, love, comfort, delight or wonder.  Then imagine simple objects or small experiences  that could carry and convey these messages.
Embellish the pages with images collaged or sketched, colors, perhaps even bits of your wrapping paper from gifts given or received.  
Our seasonal reminder: (tax seasonal): If you are looking for a tax deductible year end donation, consider the Expressive Arts Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax deductible charity, benefitting the expressive arts in San Diego.
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