Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Collecting Perfect Moments

I began collecting perfect moments out of desperation about 17 years ago.  I’d been in therapy for several years and was working hard but still struggled almost every day.  I was sad, irritable and intensely self-critical.  Each evening at bedtime, I ruminated about my endless failures, shortcomings and imperfections.  I imagined that every incomplete project, snippy attitude and weeping fit spread out behind me like the wake of a boat, in far reaching waves of chaos.  Not only was I miserable, but I was convinced that I made other people miserable, too, just by being in their lives.

One night, as I snuffled into my blanket I decided that I needed to make a change.  I needed to change my brain. I decided to change what I was thinking.  Dwelling on negativity wasn’t inspiring me to become Mary Poppins (you know, “Practically perfect in every way”) and it wasn’t helping me rest peacefully through the night.  I determined that I needed to accept my terrible flaws and deliberately think about something else.  That night, I devised a new bedtime ritual for myself.  It was a three-part process:

1-      List ten perfect moments from my past

2-      List ten things I was looking forward to without reservation

3-      List ten things that were good, happy or worthy of gratitude in that very moment

Mentally listing these thirty positives was a tremendous challenge but integrating the practice into my nightly routine was not.  The rewards of going through this list each night were immediate.  I stopped crying myself to sleep, I slept better, and this ritual launched me into la-la land almost as fast as an IV drip of anesthesia!

Over the next year, I made other changes in my life that contributed to a MUCH happier Marcy; I started an anti-depressant medication, I adopted a dog and I moved.  That first step, though, that moment of epiphany when I realized that I had to actively change the way I used my brain; that was my first step down a new road of happy and it was the first step I took towards mindfulness practice.  With time and daily work, I began noticing more perfect moments and I became increasingly able to stay fully present and aware of what was wonderful in life as it was happening.

In an odd way, it doesn’t sound like much of a big deal to simply pay attention to what kind of good stuff is going on in life.  Our brains, however, have a powerful tendency to focus on the dangerous, negative, alarming and difficult stuff, it’s called Negativity Bias.  We process negative stimuli faster than positive stimuli, remember it more vividly and give it more weight or import than positive stimuli.  This quirk in our wiring has likely played a pretty big role in our survival, as a species.  It’s also impacted all of our various cultures.  I think that it’s been a powerful force in shaping modern media. 

Perhaps for some imaginary person who is born without any propensity towards depression (not to mention paranoia), who is raised in a family and community that is largely positive, validating and safe, Negativity Bias does not impact mental health.  For those of us living in a less than rosy-ideal reality, however, it poses a major barrier to happiness.

All these years later, noticing the positive has become far easier for me.  Still, it’s a deliberate practice that I must consciously engage in.  All too often, I find myself caught up in negativity and it takes awareness and self-discipline to disengage.

I’ve neglected this blog for nigh onto seven months.  Every time I wrote a potential post, I rejected it.  None of them sang to me.  They all felt wrong in one way or another.  Some of them were funny and some were serious.  Yesterday, I realized that each of them had negativity at their core.  And now, I’m glad that I didn’t publish those posts on this blog. But, it’s spring time and spring is famous for new leaves, so it’s a great time for me to turn over a new blogging leaf!  I am going to strive to post on this blog every day or two.  My aim is to keep my posts positive and I expect I’ll be sharing a lot of my perfect moments with all of you.

Here’s a perfect moment from today to get us started:

This morning as I prepared a meal to go in my crock-pot, I used my marble mortar and pestle to grind black peppercorns, sea salt and fresh garlic together and then to mix them into olive oil.  The aroma was succulent and I dipped my finger into the mix for a taste, spicy but not too hot and also marvelously earthy.  My tongue tingled and I bent over the mortar to inhale the delicious aroma before adding the blend to the crock-pot.  I closed my eyes and reveled in the lingering flavor and mouthwatering smell.

Facts to elicit marvel:

The average human adult is made up of about 7 octillion atoms! Yup, octillion is a real word, too. 

Every cell in your body carries 6 to 8 feet of DNA!
What do you do to stay positive and happy?  Have you collected any perfect moments today?
Please feel free to comment!