Last weekend, I took a long walk with a good friend, and we found ourselves reminiscing and sharing about the “many lives” we’ve each lived.
He talked about his travels in Japan, intimate encounters with unfamiliar cultural practices that enriched his experiences of life and his relationship-journey with the love of his life. I found myself reminiscing about life in Egypt and Tuscon and how I’ve grown and changed though my own relationship challenges over the years.
Sometimes I look back on my life and feel like I’ve lived multiples kinds of lives and been all sorts of different people in different contexts. Yet there’s still this almost infinite part of me that has been consistently the same since as long as I can remember. In some ways, I feel like exactly the same person that I was at 17, and in other ways, I hardly recognize who I was back then.
I enjoy this richness in life.
I notice how grateful I feel for my life and all the experiences that have brought me to the places I find myself today. How grateful I feel for the deep friendships that sustain me and for the privilege of doing meaningful, life-affirming work for a living. I notice how the inevitable suffering in my own life has increased my empathy for a wide range of humans and has helped to expand my perspective on previously contracted and narrow-minded views. I am grateful to the vast culmination of influences that have helped me to soften into life, instead of becoming hard and brittle when things got painful.
One of the most transformative practices in my life, was the decision to stop focusing on what was wrong in any given situation, and to instead practice what Rick Hanson calls “savoring the good.”
He writes, “Pay particular attention to the rewarding aspects of an experience, for example, how good it feels to get a great big hug from someone you love. Focusing on these rewards increases dopamine release, which makes it easier to keep giving the experience your attention, and strengthens its neural associations.”
This is very important to take in:
Savoring positive emotions actually changes our brains and nervous systems. As we take in the good, our immune systems strengthen, our cardiovascular systems are less vulnerable to stress, our moods lift, and our optimism, creativity, and resilience increase. Savoring positive emotions and experiences in the now also helps counteract and neutralize any legacies left by past trauma in our lives.
What if you took more time to take in the good?
Here are a few practices to try:
Notice the beauty around you and within you. Take time to really tune into your body and notice the impact that your environment has on you. Seek out those environments that relax and nourish your system. (For me, that means having loads of plants around!)
Keep your attention focused on what might help instead of on what might be wrong. The negativity bias in our brains pulls us toward perceiving life through the lens of “wrongness.” Set an active intention to look for the good in every situation, not in a Pollyanna/denial sort of way but in a treasure-hunting way. Find the hidden jewels.
Take your time to tune into the felt sense experience of your experiences. We often gloss over things so quickly that we don’t take the time to really let them in.
Imagine how your life might be transformed, and feel free to join me for Conversations from the Heart, our weekly Wednesday meeting, where you can find community and support for your self-discovery journey.
Here are some questions for to consider today:
What practices in your own life have helped you to soften instead of stiffen in the face of suffering?
How do you practice “taking in the good?”
I’d love to know; leave a comment below.
WANT TO GO DEEPER IN THIS WORK?
Here are a few of my programs that might be of interest to you: