I love wrapping presents. Yes, partially because it’s creative, but mostly because it’s so much more. While I’m folding papers and gluing little bits of this and that to the outside, I’m imagining the recipient’s reaction upon seeing this thing that’s beautiful or striking or funny. I also love that it’s a temporary art, that it’s designed to be destroyed, that I’m creating something that will exist only between the two of us after it’s gone. The gift itself is more lasting, but the wrapping has a transient loveliness I celebrate.
I feel the same way about cooking for someone. I imagine the flavors that they like, the kind of impact I want the meal to have. I am communicating how much I care through their taste buds. It’s brief, but it matters.
In my hula class we talk a lot about “mana.” In Polynesian cultures, mana generally refers to the spirit that flows through everything. What I really like is recognizing that we transfer some of our own mana into whatever we make or do. For example, if you’re making lei (a wearable string of flowers and/or plants) for someone, thinking about that person while you’re doing it can guide your hands and transform the experience from a simple act of threading and wrapping flowers into something far more meaningful. In the same way, thinking about who I’m dancing for can change it from just another way to move my body into something with meaning. And like the gift wrapping and the food, fresh lei and dance are also transitory, moments of time suspended in emotion and memory.
We’ve all felt it – that sense that someone was really thinking about us when they did something for us or when they gave a gift that felt so perfect, that gave us the sense that they were thinking of us. Usually, we’re picking up on their positive thoughts, but I’ve also felt when someone was thinking bad or mean thoughts when choosing a gift or doing an otherwise innocuous action. This idea of giving someone your feelings through an object crosses through every culture, sometimes referred to as “spirit” or “intention” or “mana” or simply “being thoughtful.”
So why do I write this post now, at the end of the big gift-giving season? It seems to me that it’s natural for many to think about this when selecting presents, but I’ve found that the transfer of mana happens so much more often than that. The act of thinking about others lasts all year, and I believe you can turn anything into a moment where you communicate how you feel about someone. Opening a door for another, smiling when you see someone, giving a cookie at lunch, writing a little note telling someone about something that made you think of them, making something with your hands, posting something online – all of these moments are ones in which we can be sharing our mana, they can all be thought of as little gifts. Your mana is endless. Give yourself the gift of sharing it.