Thursday, May 19, 2011

Taking in the Good

Today's T'ai Chi Chih class held its finale followed by a potluck. Unlike last night's class which now begins a five month break, this morning's class will start an outdoor summer session in a month.

Both class sessions were a bit anticlimatic due to low attendance (four of seven students attended class last night and three of seven this morning). Interestingly, once the norm is set with a certain number of students, personalities, and energies, it feels different when class members are missing. Despite what we may think, we do indeed make a difference in each others' lives and in the group dynamics to which we contribute.

I felt tired today. I spent all day yesterday with a headache and today felt a bit of a sore throat. Consequently our group practice was slow and quiet. Post-practice we discussed Chapter 4, "Taking in the Good," from Buddha's Brain.

It's fascinating to realize that in order to bring happiness, love, and wisdom into our brains--and our lives!--it is our responsibility to foster positive experiences. The authors make three suggestions for internalizing the positive. First, turn positive facts into positive experiences (p. 68). In other words, actively look for good news, particularly the little stuff, and bring a mindful awareness to each positive, uplifting tidbit you discover.

This suggestion reminded me of an action I took a year or two ago when I realized that I felt inundated by the daily doses of bad news served up by the media. I decided to subscribe to in order to receive regular reminders (news articles culled from a variety of sources) that good people and good news abound in this world.

Second, savor the experience (p. 69). Buddha's Brain authors suggest that you stay with a positive experience for 5, 10, or 20 seconds while you focus on your emotions and bodily sensations.When you focus on good feelings and let them flood your body, your brain releases dopamine and strengthens its neural associations in memory. I often savor beautiful scenes (especially during my daily T'ai Chi Chih practices) or memorable experiences (i.e., holding the hummingbird in my hands yesterday). But there are innumerable opportunities for such mindful awareness while receiving a hug from someone you love or after completing a demanding project that challenged you.

And, finally, per the authors, imagine or feel that the experience is entering deeply into your mind and body, like the sun's warmth into a T-shirt or water into a sponge (p. 70). It is helpful to keep relaxing your body as you absorb the emotions, sensations, and thoughts that come from your experience.

I practiced these techniques en route to class today as I marveled at the bright yellow marsh marigolds in the ditches along the roadway and, later, the baby calves that suckled their mothers or lay napping in the bright sunlight. And I particularly enjoyed refining this experience while I meditated to the sound of a singing bowl. When I invite the bowl's tone and vibrations into every cell of my body as I listen to it reverberate into nothingness, I experience magical moments of connection and continuity.

T'ai Chi Chih practice is a tool to enhance and deepen mindfulness. Not only that, it enriches our relationships and daily experiences as we learn to focus our attention and expand our appreciation for All That Is.

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