Despite the divisive times we find ourselves in, I believe there is one thing nearly all of us can agree on. Our nervous systems are getting more than their fair share of wear and tear these days. With an apparent oversupply of unpleasantness, these times are an easy set-up for negative emotional feedback loops that lead to escalating levels of anxiety and stress. It is a natural human tendency to avoid or resist the unpleasant, to run away from our fears. We raid the cookie jar, or much worse, which just adds fuel to the fire. What we resist, persists. This isn’t good for our mental or physical health and, as a nurse practitioner and meditation teacher, I have found that many of us–myself included–become easily drained. We can’t drink from an empty cup. Yet as caregivers, we keep on giving.
Like many parents, my husband and I are now in our eighth month of having three kids at home around the clock as they engage in remote learning (including a college student), whilst we parents try to maintain some semblance of earning a living. Add to this a special needs child with significant around-the-clock physical needs, and tempers easily flare, patience runs thin, and calm moments seem fleeting. I know I am not alone – mine is just one of a multitude of flavors of challenge. For all of us, it is the perfect recipe for negative emotional feedback loops.
With all this, there is good news. Antidotes exist that help us break out of our negativity bias. In times like these, I am reminded of how deeply grateful I am for my meditation practice. That said, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. I have needed more than my mindfulness practice as a buttress for my sanity. One practice I have found helpful this past year is to purposefully cultivate joy and savor the good. I started this intentional daily practice during month three of pandemic, when I was feeling overwhelmed and nerves were fraying. It has helped me, again and again, rewire my nervous system. It refills my reserves and resets my compass by fostering a more balanced and healthy perspective.
So what exactly is this practice of savoring the good? On purpose, I pause multiple times a day–including the moments I wake up and go to sleep–to take in something good. And I actively cultivate joy. It might be as simple as taking in the beautiful light as it filters through the bamboo outside my window, rejoicing in the ease of my breathing, recalling an aspiration for the day, savoring my cat’s purring as we cuddle, or watching the steam gently rise off my tea. I pause in the moment, use my senses to help me rediscover joy, and fully immerse myself.
It is easy for me to get impatient and want to get back to whatever ‘doing needs doing’. Thus for the first month, I set a timer for one minute. I figured I can spare 60 seconds a pop for the payoff. I drop everything and allow myself to soak in the good. I give permission to my body, heart, and mind to be infused with joy and goodness. This may sound trivial or simplistic to intentionally do this. And, in way it is. Which, in a way, is the beauty of it! It isn’t difficult to do, and it offers a big return for little effort. That is, if we remember.
Take a pause right now to reflect on this past week. And today. What has been your measure of stress and joy? Frustration and ease? If your gut sense is your scale is weighted toward the negative, I suggest you give this simple practice a try. Set an alarm for one minute every hour. Try to allow yourself a dozen one-minute “joy & goodness baths” each day. This, with practice, will become habit! I can say it has for me.
Cultivating joy and savoring the good is not about spiritual bypassing, numbing, and turning a blind eye away from one’s measure of difficulty or pain. It is actually quite the opposite. The suffering, the difficult relationships, the rage, sadness, unpleasantness don’t disappear with this practice. Rather, intentionally savoring the good helps grow the inner resources–the muscle–needed to turn towards, and hold, whatever is in our lives, both pleasant and unpleasant, with steadiness and compassion.
A wonderful discovery I have arrived at is that even amidst suffering, strife, loss, anger, grief, and fear, beauty and joy can always be found, in every moment, if we pause, let go and allow. Joy is a choice. Choose joy.