giving embodied holiday gifts & experiences (because virtual reality is about to rock our world)

For months I have wanted to write a long and detailed piece on virtual reality (VR) in advance of the holidays. For the first time ever, VR headsets are available at nearly every price point and VR gaming systems, while expensive, are projected to be given as Christmas and Hanukah gifts in massive numbers. 

This is not that piece. It will come, in time, because I feel certain that the habits we fall into around VR use, just as with all tech engagement, will shape us profoundly. The more access we have to highly stylized, provocative, neuromarketing and neurodevelopment influenced, immersive VR worlds, the more likely we are to find the actual embodied spaces wherein we live to be found wanting. VR holds immense potential for greatness and personal/societal benefit as well as for dissatisfaction with our own bodies and limited physical environments.  For this reason, I hope that everyone who gives or receives tech gifts in general, and VR gifts specifically, will be mindful of the norms that they set BEFORE habits start forming. As any of you who have ever been with me when I’ve opened my mouth has likely heard, IT IS EASIER TO ESTABLISH HEALTHY NORMS THAN TO BREAK BAD HABITS. This means that healthy norms can make our tech use more fun and and less likely to cause harm if we create norms and set boundaries that keep our use at moderate levels with certain, less potentially harmful, platforms and content.

Most of us do not do this. We find a new tool, stumble upon a new game, or surf a new set of sites until we realize the ten minutes we intended to spend there has turned into an hour or more. We intend to spend less time staring at our screens yet find ourselves almost magnetically pulled to them to send that one last text, look up a recipe, entertain us while in line (or at the red light), “calm” us in bed when we can’t sleep, help us study for finals and more. 

All of this is leading us to be increasingly divorced from our bodies and our embodied environments. Simply because we can do so many things in digital spaces, we do do them there and I believe, and research is showing, that this has an impact. 

Holidays and the traditions that they bring with them can provide opportunities to encourage embodiment in the gifts we give and the spaces we offer that challenge or balance these tendencies. So, while this is far from the research based piece I had hoped to write, providing information about which platforms are best and safest and how to establish healthy use norms, it is a rallying cry for adding a few simple, inexpensive objects and/or experiences to your holiday weeks ahead. It is intended to encourage thoughtfulness about including our “embodiedness” in a month where we may be the recipient or giver of lots of tech. 

Since time is of the essence I’m simply going to bullet point some ideas. My hope is that you’ll add your voice to the mix on Facebook or Instagram, suggesting experiences or objects that you are offering to help people sink more deeply into their bodies (and them selves) and connect more meaningfully with their embodied spaces and the others they find there.

Around the table:

Pay attention to atmosphere and create a space that people want to linger in. Turn the lights down, light candles, warm the room up, play music that is quietly appealing. Change things up and put a card table or two near the fire to eat there or put pillows on the floor and eat from traysor coffee tables or make a low table creatively. If the space is chilly, have a basket of blankets that people can wrap up in before sitting down. Make the gathering more about the people who are assembled than about any kind of food or decor perfection.

Borrow my friend Judi’s wildly successful interaction encourager by scouring through your junk drawers or garage work bench to find objects that are obscure and unknown to those you have gathered. When there is a lull in the conversation, take one out, instructing everyone to come up with a description for what it is and how it is used. Pass each object with each person at the table offering an idea of it’s origins, identity, and use. You can either then vote for the favorite descripton, describe what the item actually is, or simply use the activity as a source of connection.

Place a lump of home made play dough at each person’s place and have simple cookie cutters, knives, and “rolling pins” (small pieces of pvc tubing work well) ready to put on the table. As people finish eating, clear the plates and encourage people to sit and create together. The same could be done by putting a big bowl of legos in the center of the table.

Make simple (SIMPLE) place cards by folding construction paper or using large note cards. Place a cup with markers in the middle of the table. At the beginning of the meal tell people that part of dessert will be affirming each other (giving sweetness). As you clear the plates encourage everyone to grab a marker and begin passing the placards to the right with each person adding affirmations, blessings, valued character traits about the person whose name card they have. Pass until everyone has a full name card. 

Do a simple examen. After (or even during) the meal, light a candle to demarcate some sacred space. Offer the opportunity for each person at the table to recount something that gave them life/energy/contentment this past year, something that took life/energy/contentment away in the past year. If you'd like add something that they look forward to in the coming year. Encourage people to be authentic, to not feel a need to be articulate, and to go with what comes quickly to mind. A simple way of remembering this practice is by recalling a "rose" (the thing that gave life), a "thorn" (the thing that took life), and a "bud" (the thing that is anticipated). If you feel like being really fancy, have everyone write themselves a short note about what they hope for the coming year. Pack these up with the holiday decorations and mail them to each person when you unpack the decorations next year.


Give small handheld, manipulative games or creative tools. Many of these are available at mass retailers or specialty toy stores. Give these to adults and children alike! Some of my favorites are Rush Hour, Cool Moves, Etch a Sketch, Magna-doodles, Rubics Cubes, number tile puzzles, pattern/shape blocks. Puzzle and word game books are also fantastic gifts as well as potent brain and body builders.

Similarly, creative supplies are a fantastic gift for all ages. Homemade play dough, pipe cleaners (now called chenille stems in case you want to order them), embroidery floss and simple friendship bracelet instructions, wood burning kits, water color pencils and a water filled brush, crocheting or knitting supplies are all fantastic gifts that are easy to get at any craft store.

Skill building, body reliant offerings are more important than ever. Luna Stix, Perplexes Balls, Yo-Yos, Diabolos, jump ropes, hula hoops, jacks, marbles, and simple foam balls which can be played with freely inside the house are wonderful. Drum practice pads and sticks plus a short instructional video can also be great for the person who needs opportunities to be active. My current favorite embodied item is a small piece of wooden board on top of a pvc tube to make a balance board. These are fun for all ages.

Give the gift of experiences. Consider an activity or event that you might gift a person with. Think creatively and boldly and specifically about the individual you are giving this to. This does not need to be an expensive (time or money) offering. It might be for a winter walk with hot cider or star gazing and hot chocolate. It might be an evening of listening to their favorite pod cast and you bring the dinner. You might offer a picnic in the summer at a free outdoor concert. Perhaps you give a few nerf guns and a gift certificate for a whole house nerf war. If you know of something that a person has wanted to try and not felt “brave” enough to do so, offer to do it with them. Take a ballet, yoga, or art class, take a music lesson, donate blood or platelets together. The goal is to give the experience and make it such that the person you invite gets to simply show up. Make a gift certificate to give and get a date on the calendar right away. I had a friend once give me the gift of space. She had me put a date on the calendar and told me to dress comfortably. She picked me up and handed me a journal, pen, water bottle, and bag of snacks. She drove me to a labyrinth, an abbey, and a bookstore telling me to take all the time i wanted at each and to simply text her five minutes from when I wanted to be picked up. She did all the work and I got all the space.

At your holiday gathering:

Printer paper and scissors placed around the house with simple instructions for snowflake cutting is a hit! Add fishing line and tape so that people can hang them as they are made. As the gathering continues you’ll be creating a winter wonderland.

Include a craft area. Either have a pre-planned easy to accomplish craft, or simply supply a bunch of materials and let people go wild. This is one of the highlights (so I am told) of gatherings at my house. When people have something to do with their hands they don’t feel as uncomfortable sitting with new friends. Conversation flows more freely and silences don’t feel so noticeable. My favorite for a craft area like this is to cut out simple prayer flag shapes from cracker and cereal boxes. Add a stack of catalogues or magazines, glue sticks, a bunch of sharpies, and a hole punch and string and encourage people to make prayer flags/collages for themselves or others. Beads(they don’t need to be fancy…cheap ones are fine) and string or Fruit Loops and yarn are also popular choices.

Fill your coffee tables with items that encourage embodied interaction and play. Bins of legos can be left out and about, bowls of Kinetic Sand or tins of Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, a checker board and checkers, an incomplete puzzle, origami paper, or coloring pages and colored pencils will all be played with…I promise. You may feel silly at first, leaving these things out for a party of adults but you will be amazed at how many people love playing with them!

Invite people to participate in unique ways then take your hands off the controls and let things happen in wild ways. Tell everyone you will be making a huge pot of rice or pasta and encourage them to bring whatever toppings they want. Do not manage what people are bringing and let it happen. Groups come together in creative ways when they are faced with a communal task. We have friends who have a baking party every year and offer their oven, mixer, and cookie sheets. All of us participants bring the ingredients we need to make a treat of some kind and the kitchen is filled to overflowing with people working to time things and share resources well. It’s a highlight.

If hosting at your home feels overwhelming, invite others to join you at a pizza parlor (every town has at least one old fashioned pizza parlor…hopefully with a fireplace) or bowling alley for a no host, all fun gathering. Add silliness to a get-together like this by offering up odd times or dress code ideas. Suggest a 9:00 p.m. decaf and slice of pie gathering in your pajamas at a local 24 hour diner or a 5:30 bowling happy hour where everyone comes in business casual.

Doreen Dodgen-MageeComment