What makes you feel Alive?
Well, for Shanti (my shetland sheepdog), it’s standing in the pouring rain, under the rain gutter, lapping up the water and getting mud soaked. Shanti has a soft tissue leg injury and is on restrictions: no ball, no running, no jumping on the bed, no tug of war, no beach runs- all the things that normally make her happy. Yet, Shanti shows us that just cause you can’t do something great all the time, you can keep a good attitude and be ready for all joyful possibilities.
Research tells us that in order to counteract the negativity bias (which is hard wired in us), we need to hold our positive feelings for 20-30 seconds and really feel its effect. I know Shanti fully enjoys her moments as she soaks in the fun!
We’ve been hard wired for survival for many thousands of years, ever since we had to run and hide from T-Rex and friends. This mammalian instinct is a holdover from the reptilian brain and creates a negativity bias. It warns us when there is alarm, danger, or discomfort, an important survival mechanism. However, it turns on with ANY perceived threat, runs on overdrive and revs up the sympathetic nervous system that causes fight, flight, or freeze. It lights up the brain and the experience is seared into long term memory. When we lived in an age of constant threat to physical survival it was valuable to react verses responding. Better to jump and run from the “snake” then to wait and see that it was just a stick. Even though most of us no longer live in constant threat to our physical survival our brains are still wired for it.
One of the best ways to counteract the negativity bias is to make an effort to notice the good, savor its emotional quality, feel it in your body and hold it in your short term memory.
When we are having a great time with friends, enjoying a great meal or a walk on the beach, or experiencing whatever we love, these feelings seem to fly out the back door. They never make it into long term memory, so never interrupt and mitigate our sympathetic nervous response. We must make a conscious effort, engaging the prefrontal cortex and holding awareness of good times in our bodies, hearts, visualizations and mind!
The other day I slid my paddle board out past the dock and into the mist and fog. Gliding past the cormorants, whose faces (I could see closely) were glowing orange around their bills. The smell of the salt air was embracing me. A lobster boat moved toward the sea. An osprey or sea hawk flew over my head. I took this as a gift for seeing clearly and avoiding any obstacles in my way. I continued around two coves, past the open sea, into the harbor and under a bridge to spy on the eaglet that I have been watching for months. The fog cleared, the sun warmed my body. I allowed the peace and beauty of this morning to wash through me. I sat on my board and felt the warmth radiate and expand, letting it flow from my feet, legs, sacrum, belly, and heart to my crown. Inhaling the sweetness up the back of my spine and down the front of my body I stayed with this feeling of aliveness!
What makes you feel alive and what will you savor today?