As you might imagine my social media feed has many mindfulness sites. On one site the leader gave a 5-day challenge. As usual, we were invited to do a short mindfulness practice (about 20 minutes) for five days. But he added a bonus practice. Every time we went through a door, were to bring to mind love. We could do this by sending love or good wishes to someone (including ourselves), by thinking of a person we love, or by thinking of a loving act we witnessed. As with all mindfulness practices, we are invited to notice how we experience that feeling (of love) in our body. This specific mindfulness practice is called “cultivating positive states”. It’s based on the science that our in order to protect us from danger and keep us surviving, our nervous system developed a negativity bias. Basically it only pays attention to what it perceives as a threat. It’s constantly scanning for and pre-perceiving threat. That’s why you might jump when you see a big branch on a forest path. The brain and nervous system perceives possible threat (a big snake) and wants you to react fast… whether or not it’s real.
This strategy is great for survival. But the downside is that the nervous system ignores most other experiences that are positive or neutral. In reality, if you pay attention closely, much of our experience is neutral, some good, and some really good. But the nervous system and brain are not interested unless the experience is threatening or possibly threatening. So it’s up to us to notice positive, neutral, and pleasant experiences and make an effort to register these experiences with the nervous system. This practice helps deactivate the nervous system. The act of setting up a reminder (walking through a door) and focusing on love (a positive state) is a way to cultivate a more balanced system. It’s not Pollyanna. It an effort to bring attention to what else exists while the nervous system pays attention to possible threat. Over time, at least in my experience, the nervous system can settle down and one can actually see the world in a more positive light.
My first day of the challenge, I “failed brilliantly”, as one of my teachers would say. I couldn’t remember to do it once except when I went to bed and realized I bombed. But you see, failed or not, my awareness was activated. The next morning I woke up sad and anxious having had a bad dream. This has been usual of late because of all the current events which are taking a toll. As I did my morning ritual of checking in with my body and mind, I remembered the challenge. I believe that this remembering is the nervous system wanting to feel better. My experience is that once on this path of caring for our nervous system (that’s what mindfulness does), it will work to help you succeed. It wants to deactivate.
The second day of the challenge is today. I’ve already remembered, at least half of the time, to notice loving kindness when I go through a door. (Does backing out of the garage count?) I’m noticing that I already feel less gloomy. My thoughts are lighter. I’m not as stuck in the “pre-perceived” threat of the future. I was able to notice the sunrise and the fog in the valley as I drove to work. All this is from just remembering to notice present moment experience. This is the gift of mindfulness. Allowing one to see the WHOLE picture. Not just the threats.
I’ll let you know how I feel by day five. Or better yet, try it yourself and notice how you feel. Stay aware my friends. <3