One of the themes of MindSurgery London’s May Mindfulness course has been Treasure the Pleasure. So often we rush from one end of our day to the other without feeling like we’ve had many moments of pleasure at all. The world we live in now is always selling us the next best thing – bigger, better, brighter, the idea that the real treasure is somewhere around the corner. Now more than ever, we need to skill of paying attention, and that includes paying attention to and appreciating the small pleasures of our day.
It is easy to dismiss this as happy-clappy nonsense, but the brain has an in-built negativity bias; it’s like Velcro for the bad things that happen to us, and like Teflon for the good. The makes perfect evolutionary sense. Our brains evolved to keep us alive; the brain’s number one priority is our survival. For early humans roaming the Savannah, trying to look for food while avoiding predators, the brain evolved to pick out the negative information and give it greater weight. After all, we would live to see another day without nice juicy berries (good information) but we definitely wouldn’t if we were eaten by a tiger (negative information)! In other words, the negativity bias, the tendency that things of a negative nature have a greater impact on our psychological state than positive ones, helped to keep us alive.
We are now living in a modern world, where most of us don’t have to worry about our immediate survival, but we still have the same old hardware of the brain, making us more responsive to negative information. But there are things we can do to combat this. The daily practise of ‘treasuring the pleasure’, or engaging our full attention and focus, being present in that moment, on the small pleasures of our day can help to balance out this bias. We don’t need to wait for the big pleasures in life – the next holiday, the next job promotion, a fancy meal out – but instead we can learn to get maximum positive effect out of the everyday pleasures; the sound of birdsong, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, a moment of connection with a loved one.
And this brings us to the question of method – how? Mindfulness is the perfect skill to bring to this challenge as it helps us to pay attention in a particular way, on purpose, and without judgement. We can use the mindfulness practice of the senses to really drop down into being mode, and disengage from thinking mode. By focusing on our senses – the feel of the warmth of the coffee mug, the smell of the coffee, the taste of the first sip. By bringing our attention and focus to these elements of our present experience, we are directly experiencing the small pleasure, instead of gulping back our coffee while rushing around the kitchen, hunting for the house keys. By making this a habit throughout our day, we can go some way in redressing the balance of the negativity bias. We can nourish ourselves with these small acts, adding to our bank of positive experiences, ensuring that there is capital to be drawn on in times of stress or challenge. And like stringing pearls together on a necklace, they add up to more than the sum of their parts.
Renowned Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh, in his poem Canal Bank Walk, captures this with beautiful brevity and invites us to ‘wallow in the habitual, the banal.’
(c) MindSurgery London 2017