There is a way to begin to feel joy on a consistent basis. It’s a choice you can make. Even though most people today are disturbed by the constant change and turmoil of our current situation, we can find joy.
The newest number of Covid cases is anxiety provoking. The latest weather emergencies bring a sense of dis-ease. The increasing violence is heartbreaking.
It is an unpredictable and unsteady time.
We will not be able to stay engaged, and stay healthy, unless we find ways to create some evenness, some steadiness. We can structure our minds to turn to what is good and pleasing, what brings us joy. It is a matter of focus and watchfulness.
This kind of repeated focusing in the present moment can interrupt a continually high state of vigilance. Hypervigilance can ultimately cause a release of excess stress hormones, which is very destructive for our bodies and minds.
There are a number of ways to steady the mind, and savoring is one of the most immediately enjoyable.
Savoring is the ability to intensely focus on the sheer enjoyment of something that is pleasing to you.
I use chocolate, mints, or fruit, to train people to learn to savor. It is simple to learn to shift from other thoughts and focus on enjoying the sweetness of chocolate.
In this exercise, with structure and with intention, you will sustain your attention on one sensation. It is simple, and simplicity is exactly what we need to take our “emotional rest”. So, in the following exercise, remember to focus on the taste in your mouth, interrupting thoughts and distractions.
* First, you should do this when no one is going to need your attention for a few seconds, as you will be allowing yourself to be fully absorbed in the taste in your mouth. Set the alarm on your phone for maybe 15 seconds so you don’t have to think about time.
* Secondly, put the chocolate, or whatever you find appealing, in your mouth. It doesn’t have to be the best of the best. Use what you have available, just make sure you enjoy it.
* Now just sit quietly and experience the sensation. No need for a running commentary in your mind. When your mind starts to think, gently shift your awareness back to the the sensation on your tongue, again and again. Feel the fullness of the taste, allowing it to linger.
* Finally, as you open your eyes, notice your state of mind. Notice any relaxation you might feel. And notice how you can still taste the chocolate. Pleasure sticks around when we make room for it. It is true that all the problems of the world are still out there, but you have spent some time focused on enjoyment.
Now try the same exercise with a beautiful sunset, a piece of music you love, or whatever presents itself to you in your day. Ignore your mind’s commentary. Saturate yourself with enjoyment.
Do it 4 times a day for 2 weeks. That’s 60 seconds a day. Keep track on your phone. After the two weeks are up, it will come more naturally to you as you walk down the street and see a beautiful flower, an interesting building, or friendly eyes above a mask. You have begun to rewire your brain to engage with an inner response of joy, no matter how fleeting.
This practice of savoring will interrupt the stress responses because you are beginning to build up the response of enjoyment as another option. This doesn’t mean we won’t be stressed by the difficulties we are facing. This means we will be able to momentarily feel joy and ease of heart. We will be able to interrupt the release of the stress hormones.
Life is short, and right now it seems overly taxing. We all need, always, every little bit of joy we can absorb. The more we practice this with structure and intention, the more beauty we see all around us. Just try it.
Choose the habit of joy.
*P.S. If you did this exercise, you just learned how to meditate. It is that simple.