12/07/2011 11:07 am ET Updated Feb 06, 2012

The Only Gift That Matters

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Isn't that what we've always been taught? Isn't that the American way?

That's what we were instructed to do back in 2001, as a response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Remember? Shopping became our patriotic duty. It was our way of shaking off the shock of loss and getting beyond our national grief, not to mention righting the ship and keeping the engines of commerce going.

And so, patriots that we were, we went shopping, because, well, what else was there to do? We weren't asked to make any kinds of sacrifices or to think or feel too much about what was really going on at the time. Wanna be a patriot? Go into the military or go shopping. Take your pick. Most of us chose the latter.

Shopping, the ultimate distraction! There is nothing quite like it to tamp down those pesky, unwanted feelings we'd rather not feel. What can be better than a new pair of shoes or a new electronic toy to drive away, at least for the moment, that inner choir of the "You're not worthy, you're too fat, too old, not good looking enough, not smart enough, who do you think you are, why bother -- you'll only fail, what will everyone think" blues?

I'm not suggesting that all shopping is a way to avoid or that it's negative or even wrong. Shopping can be a way to honor and celebrate those we love, including ourselves. There's nothing like finding a sale on the very thing for which you were willing to pay full retail, or celebrating a milestone or a special moment or achievement by giving a thoughtful gift. But let's keep it in perspective.

As bad as the world appears to be right now, Virginia, in all this mess, there is a silver lining. Something is happening out here in consumer land. We are beginning to wake up.

We're beginning to wake up, not only as consumers, but also as human beings realizing that something more is required of us than performing our patriotic duty by filling up shopping carts this holiday season and beyond. Our collective awakening might not be readily apparent however, since this year we broke all spending records on Black Friday and millions of people came away with shopping carts overflowing with goodies. Money was saved and money was spent and the economy got a boost. Yay!

But we also got pepper sprayed by crazed consumers seeking to protect their loot and at least one person lost his life in a tragic way while attempting to shop on that weekend. To borrow a phrase from the AA community, could we just say we've "reached bottom"? We have bottomed out. Could we call a "time out" and regroup?

Something much more important than shopping and gifts is attempting to make itself known to us through these tragedies. For the family of the man who had a heart attack at a Target store, was completely ignored and then trampled upon and subsequently died, whatever gifts he might have brought home that night will never measure up to the price he paid for them. This might sound like an extreme example, but it isn't the first time someone has paid the ultimate price for a Black Friday deal.

When the gift becomes more important than the giver, it carries a price that is usually not advertised. Something essential has been lost. For "things" cannot fill the hole left by the loss of a loved one or substitute for a love that wasn't otherwise expressed. Life is brief and it ends sometimes all too quickly. If the only gifts that matter never were given, what's left in the wake are regrets.

Having worked in palliative care for years, author Bonnie Ware, in her book "The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying," lists the following responses from people facing the last few days of their life when queried about what they regret the most:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

No Black Friday gift lists here! No electronic gadgets. No baubles, bangles or beads. Just the recognition of the real costs of a life unlived. But we, among the living, still have a choice. And we can exercise that choice through the awareness we bring to each moment.

Snag a new TV set at Best Buy on sale, $200. Living in alignment with what really matters -- priceless! What matters is more about presence and less about presents. It's more about what kind of person is doing the giving.

Who's the giver you want to be? Who's the giver you already are? What ineffable qualities do you bring to the giving? This is truly the gift you have to give.

The only thing that matters is that you give this gift, whatever it is. For in giving it to others, you automatically give it to yourself. And visa versa. What we give to ourselves fills up the cup from which we give to others. It's a circular thing. The old adage: "What goes around comes around" happens to be true!

At the end of your life, what will you treasure the most? The expensive gift someone gave you, or the quality of the time you spent with one who gave it?

This holiday season and throughout the coming year, let what you give be an affirmation of the values you hold most dear. Give of the things that are the deepest and the highest expression of who you are. What is that for you?

For me, it's about being real and sharing the "juice" of life, the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly. It's about losses grieved, tears shed and hands held. It's about telling the truth, forgiving and asking for forgiveness. It's about sharing the journey, lending an arm or asking for one to lean on when the feet or legs get wobbly. It's about long walks, cups of tea and telephone chats across the miles.

For me, the gift that matters most is about being in the presence of "Being" and honoring the sacred. It's about being a heart that listens. It's about recognizing the beauty of simplicity, appreciating boldness and having the courage to be honest.

It's about the love of family, the bond that is shared and the acknowledgment that this bond transcends everything. It's about expressing love through words and actions that has my beloveds know they are loved beyond measure.

There are no Black Friday deals on the gifts that matter most. They are in abundant supply 24/7, 365 days a year.

I'd love to hear about the gifts that matter most to you and extend an invitation for you to share them here and with your beloveds this holiday season and beyond. Please feel free to leave your comments below and/or come pay a visit to my personal blog and website: Rx For The Soul.

And while you're at it, Become a Fan and be notified when new posts appear. For personal contact email me at And Happy Holiday gifting!

Continued blessings on the path.