Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Savoring - tasting the tip of each moment

As I've been thinking about how to phrase this post, I've been chowing through a fat-free muffin from the corner store, with watermelon and yogurt. It's barely registering, apart from a cement-like mixture forming in my gums, and I've already almost finished it. Ironically, this post is about savoring.

When you wake up in the morning, what's the first thing that waddles into your brain? For me, it's often what I have to do at work that day, then the activities I have planned afterwards, and then even that I must try and get to bed earlier tonight so as to not wake up so tired tomorrow!

Why our little grey cells rush to and from the present, into the past and future is debatable. What isn't such a mystery, is that staying present, savoring the moment, has proven benefits for reducing stress and increasing feelings of well-being.

Martin Seligman talks about enhancing our every day pleasures by concentrating moment by moment on what we are experiencing. Right now. The concept is closely tied to the Buddhist practice of mindfulness - being aware of external stimuli and internal thoughts, without judgement.
The benefits of savoring and mindfulness include a heightened awareness of what's going on around us, as well as how we're interpreting that in our heads. The result being that we can choose to live each day to its fullest potential. We concentrate better, we get more stuff done. We worry less. Our relationships are improved; if we are fully present, we are more likely to listen, understand, and respond with thought.

Sometimes something unusual or unexpected jolts us out of our reverie ... we tend to remember these times? Because all of a sudden we're not in our heads, we're fully present, we're alive! (My first view of the thing below. It reminded me of a Tiffany bean, one a giant might wear. A giant Chav ;)

Looking ahead to an upcoming vacation can be fun. Except that a) the future NEVER turns out exactly as you think it will and b) there is the added risk of this habituation infecting the vacation itself, implanting thoughts of the next thing, the evening or meal ahead, or even going home or back to work - while you're supposedly relaxing!
Well aware of my own tendencies to day dream, on a recent weekend trip to Chicago I had a bit of a heart-to-heart with my mind to try as hard as possible to be present in each moment. Some people have this knack anyway. I don't, but I have the capacity to try.

Luckily, my trip was crammed full of stimuli. Cycling along the pier near the lake with the wind in my face and the strange, disjointed feeling of lack of sea-smell, despite this vast stretch of water laid out in front of me; the Bean (above), where the shiny contours meld macabre distortions of the people under and outside of its belly - in particular, I noticed a bride in her white puffy dress, gorgeous in the daylight, was reduced to a mulched, squashed little white blip reflected in the mirrored surface; the feeling of cold water chundering over my head as my friend and host, Dave, held me under a fountain/sculpture in a park (don't tell him, I would have gone under anyway, it was stinking hot), and the taste of a sweet frozen margarita after the bike ride. And Dave's chips.

That night we hollered along to a Neil Diamond covers band, Super Diamond , and the next day toured Frank Lloyd Wright's beautiful early century houses. In these cases a bit of study would likely have enhanced my experience - I could only recall the words to one song, "Sweet Caroline" and my knowledge of the greatest architect the US has ever produced is abysmal. Yet there was still an appreciation - the velvet pants, the stick on side-burns, the identical voice; the delight in identifying a FLW house amongst others, and seeing aspects of his style in vastly different houses - one flat, one turreted, but with similar, hidden away beveled glass windows, or manicured lawns in geometric patterns.

Despite the intention, of course my mind did go on its own vacation at various moments, slip-tripping into the past or imagining the future. To stay fully present constantly would surely make people automatons!? It's the tendency to spend the majority of the time in la la land that is dangerous....

I think my attempts at being present helped when I was playing Guitar Hero and driving the Porsche (around the block a few times, only mildly riding the clutch). Okay, honestly it would have been hard to be anything other than present when driving someone else's expensive car on the wrong side of the road. Especially when it's a manual....

Here are some tips for enhancing your experience of savoring:
(from Authentic Happiness, pg 108, Fred B. Bryan and Joeseph Veroff)

(I am paraphrasing and truncating cos this post is already long)

a) Share the moment with others: Share the experience and converse about its value to you. "This is the single strongest predictor of level of pleasure"

b) Memory Building: Take mental photographs. Reminisce.
c) Self-congratulation: Be proud of what you are achieving.
d) Sharpening Perceptions: Taste, touch, listen, smell! Use your senses. Be aware of what you are experiencing.

e) Absorption. Try to sense, not think or contextualize the experience. You can do that afterwards.

In terms of increasing mindfulness, I personally advocate meditation (as do practitioners of positive psychology, including Prof. Seligman). Meditation helps to slow the mind and focus on the now.

Another tip is to use a marker to focus - for instance, taking three breaths, on the hour, every hour. Or, when eating, concentrate on the food rather than looking at the computer screen. When talking to someone on the just that. They'll appreciate it (and you'll remember what they were on about).

And in the end, now is all there is. Our very personal, entirely unique series of moments that make up the summation of our lives.

1 comment:

Ian Watson said...

bumped into your kitty litter (just kidding)

this one reminded me of my favourite song. XTC's "senses working overtime"

"And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste
And Ive got one, two, three, four, five
Senses working overtime
Trying to take this all in.
Ive got one, two, three, four, five
Senses working overtime
Trying to taste the difference
tween a lemon and a lime
Pain and the pleasure
And the church bells softly chime."