11/28/2012 03:12 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2013

10 Holiday Shopping Guidelines for the Soul

It's that time of year again when for many people, after a year of pinching pennies, all that carefully cultivated restraint goes out the window and something primal is triggered: the holiday shopping gene!

First, two confessions:

Confession #1: I am completing my fifth year as a recovering holiday shopper. You can read my earlier posts on this subject here and here. This post is my 2012 shopping sobriety update.

Confession #2: I have never been a good shopper, holiday or otherwise. I could never hold my own with those friends who qualify as "ninja shoppers," who have perfected the art of getting not only a "deal," but also getting the best deal out there. I am clueless when it comes to getting a deal. I am a primitive shopper, more like a modern day cavewoman: Hunt prey, find prey, kill prey, which I hope you understand, means buy prey.

It's not that I have unlimited resources wherein I never have to consider price or the value of things. I am not opposed to getting a deal, but it has to fall in my lap, and even then, I usually don't recognize one when it hits me in the face. I simply don't have the necessary instincts to recognize a deal, much less go out and hunt for one.

I do understand that for many in this economy, getting a deal is the only way they can afford to purchase certain desired objects. I might fall into this category if I were playing the game. However, after many ill-fated attempts to qualify as a shopping warrior, I long ago admitted failure and now prefer to warm the bench.

For many others, shopping has become a kind of competitive sport, with the teams consisting of Shopper vs. Retailer. The game goes like this: Team Retailer offers a "loss leader," a hard-to-refuse deal, cleverly designed to entice Team Shopper into the store. Funnel enough shoppers into the store on a specific date, with limited hours, competing for a "limited" availability of good deals and you have what we now call Black Friday, the ultimate arena of competitive shopping, wherein shoppers now literally risk life and limb for a good deal.

But is this activity soul-filling or soul-killing? Is it really a deal to spend $800 for a 51-inch flat-screened TV if you don't have the $800 to begin with? Is it a good deal to hurry through the Thanksgiving dinner, where you just expressed thanks for what you already have, so you can be first in line at Walmart to buy more "stuff"? Is it a good deal to support a retailer that doesn't believe in paying its employees a living wage and forces them to leave their families to work on holidays so you can get a deal?

What is the Black Friday death toll so far this year? Whatever it is, to me, it's much too high a price to pay for a deal. I can't help but wonder: America, what are we doing? When will we learn? What will be the Black Friday equivalent of Hurricane Sandy that will finally wake up consumers to the terrible price they're paying for a deal?

Without consciously being aware of it, consumers have bought the "party line" that consumption is their patriotic duty. "Go shopping" was president Bush's antidote to the terrorist attacks of 2001. Remember that? We were not asked to save or conserve or serve our fellow man. We were asked to consume more "stuff."

Boy, did we take that advice to heart! And so Black Friday sales rose to more than $1 billion this year, and that doesn't include Cyber Monday results. Is this a figure we should be proud of?

Each of us must live according to our own values and conscience and choose what works for us. But I do want to raise the questions, so that those who engage in this national sporting activity can do so consciously and not at the effect of media manipulation.

With a personal history of compulsive holiday shopping, I now eschew this activity altogether and instead of hunting and capturing the perfect gift, my Black Fridays are spent sitting on the holiday shopping sidelines, keeping the bench warm and tending to the matters of my soul. A much more satisfying activity, I might add.

Here's what I've learned from five years of recovery offered in the form of 10 holiday shopping guidelines for the soul:

1) Keep it simple. Keep it small. The soul is not fancy. It is not grandiose. It's not impressed with designer labels nor does it care how much you spend. That's the ego's territory. To the soul less is more. A plate of homemade cookies, a shared cup of tea, time spent with a loved one counts most to the soul.

2) Slow it down. Speed is the ego's game. Ego wants more, faster, bigger, better. When you catch yourself in the grip of this game and find yourself pushing against the flow, this is the time to push the pause button and stop everything. Go on strike. Give yourself a time out. Then...

3) Turn inward. Make the space to become still and listen to your soul's inner guidance. Ask what your soul is needing in this moment. Then...

4) Follow instructions. Your soul knows exactly what is the best way forward from here. Pay attention. Trust your soul's instincts. It will always lead you down the right path.

5) Lighten up. Holiday shopping can become serious business. Always there is pressure to get it done and on time, as if your life depended on it. Get a grip! Take a deep breath, remember what matters, and have some fun while you're at it. There is nothing like a healthy dose of laughter, even if it's at your own expense, to restore perspective. Your soul appreciates a sense of humor, so lighten up just a bit.

6) Step away from the mall. Mall energy is soul-killing. If you must buy gifts, stay away from the big stores whenever possible. Support your local small business owners. Enjoy the slower and quieter pace of those local shops that provide unique items. And remember #1 -- keep it simple.

7) Gift a donation to a favorite charity in your friends' names. Support those causes that make a difference and honor your friends at the same time. It's a triple win: The charity wins, your soul wins, and your friends win. What could be better than that? And you don't have to brave traffic or fight for a parking place to boot.

8) Consider experiential gifts only. This is what we do in my family. No wrapped presents, experiential gifts only. Our gifts to each other involve spending time together in ways we don't normally do the rest of the year. Attend a special Christmas concert or play, take a tour of holiday lights, take a family field trip to the mountains or seashore or a local place in nature that feeds your collective souls. Go skiing, have a picnic. What does your geographical area provide at this time of year? Get out and enjoy the season together.

9) Stay present. It's far too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the season and lose sight of what it's all about. What is it all about for you? What does this time of year beckon you to be and do? Stay mindful of the true meaning of this season and get yourself back on track if you wander off.

10) No one is judging you. Holiday shopping is not a performance evaluation. You will not be fired or promoted based on your adeptness at shopping. Sometimes the ego gets mixed up and goes racing into all its old programs: "Am I good enough? Am I worthy?" Your worth is not measured by your performance at the holidays. You're already worthy. Now, go and enjoy yourself.

What does your soul yearn for at this time of year? What makes your holiday experience soul satisfying? What traditions do you look forward to? What are you ready to leave behind? I'd love to hear from you.

Please leave your comments here or on my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul. For personal contact, reach me at

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Blessings on the path.

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