This month, I want to offer some thoughts on how mindfulness can help us get the most from life’s pleasantries.
First, to state the obvious, it’s really easy to overlook good things – and not necessarily because we want to. The media continually bombards us with negative stories and images. And, the brain is conditioned to notice problems over pleasantries. Add to the already dismal equation, most of us have scattered, diffuse attention that doesn’t always land on a good thing when it’s actually happening.
In some sense, you could say that the deck is stacked against us. But I’m a proponent of research and the research shows that it’s not only worth investing time and effort into offsetting the tendency to focus on negativity, but also that bringing mindful awareness to good things can deepen well-being.
A Mind-Wandering Massage
Last week, I treated myself to a luxurious massage. When the therapist asked me to turn over onto my back, it was amazing to notice where my mind went: “Oh no, it’s almost over! Why does this have to end so soon!?”
The thoughts came back fiercely as she worked her way up my body. I had to constantly let go of the fearful thoughts that didn’t want the good thing to end in order to soak in the wondrous feelings of the moment.
Have your thoughts ever robbed you of happiness in this respect? If you think back to a recent pleasant event, you might discover that your thoughts made it hard to fully participate in the experience. Whether you were thinking about the event itself (It’s not good enough. Or, I wish it would last forever!) or about something completely unrelated on your to-do list, the mind has a tendency to overlay our experience with thoughts that block experiences of joy and well-being.
Taking in the Good this Holiday & Beyond
As we come into the holiday season, you may want to consider bringing greater focus to the good things in your life. Not as a way to sidestep real problems, but as a way to soak in the joys that are often missed. I’m not talking solely about extraordinary joys, but of ordinary moments when you connect with loved ones, see something beautiful, or feel a sense of strength in your own being.
Key is to let the experience be known in your body. As much as you’re able, let go of the thoughts that keep you from directly experiencing what it is to be alive in the midst of a good thing. Notice how your senses receive it. Explore what happens if you feel the effects on your heart one or two beats longer than normal. You don’t have to do anything, just be still and soak it in.
Good experiences can change us for the better as long as we’re present to receive them. And as the Tibetan saying goes, “If you take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves.”