Some national stores gave us a jumpstart on their after-Thanksgiving deals by opening on Thanksgiving. One of only two remaining shopping-less days turned into a way to speed up the competitive shopping frenzy. Christmas is now the only day when it's difficult to find an open store. Is this shocking? Not really. After all, shopping is our national pastime.

Regardless of the state of our finances, we are susceptible to the constant cultural pressure to consume with vigor. Giving and receiving, elemental activities of human life, are often driven by needs outside of our awareness. Especially at the holiday season, when many of us attempt to buy joy, love, closeness, and happiness—and avoid loss and sorrow—through gift giving.

I wish I had a guaranteed technique for avoiding compulsive or frenzied shopping, but I don't. We each have to struggle with whatever limits our capacity to give either too much or too little. And more than ever this year, some of us need to sit with the pain of not having money to buy the kinds of gifts we would like to. The more we know of the emotional makeup of our gift giving, the more able we are to make wise and satisfying choices to express our connection with others.

Whatever meaning gift giving holds for you, the point is to stay awake and aware when you are shopping, avoiding the pull to go unconscious at the cash register. Here are some beginning questions to ponder. If you are vulnerable to spending more than you intend, what are you trying to buy or to express in the gifts you give? Love? Happiness? Freedom from guilt? Forgiveness? Or if you need to confront your own stinginess, why is it hard for you to give? What are your childhood memories of being given to? Of giving? Is it better to give or to receive? What longings are stirred in you at the holidays? What family and personal drama are you trying to create? What are you looking for?

For many, holidays remind us of what we don't have, perhaps won't ever have, and maybe never have had. Sitting with our grief and feelings of deprivation is just as important to the health of our psyche and hearts as sitting with the love we give and receive. The holidays are a time of reaching back through the memories and of feeling what we have lost but still carry in our hearts.

There's lots of cool stuff out there waiting to be bought, but don't overlook the things that don't come in packages tied up with bows. We are easily distracted from the authentic parts of ourselves. The more we are able to loosen the grip of the consumer culture, the more room there is in our lives for the precious connections that money can't buy.

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