What do you want your day to feel like? The question isn’t what do you have to do today, or what do you want to accomplish today — but how do you want it to feel as you are going about it? What emotion or sensation do you want as an evocation of your day?
I want my day to feel like sunshine.
How did I choose sunshine? I started my day with an on-line meditation from Amy Ippoliti. With a paper and pen nearby, the practice began with gratitude – what do you feel good about, grateful for, right now? The next few minutes were spent contemplating yesterday’s successes or positive moments. In each case, I meditated on the question, then wrote things down. And for the final step of the meditation, the question was, “What do you want your day to feel like?” Is it a feeling of joy, or fun, or ease? Can you visualize it?
Sometimes when we’ve been going through a succession of bad days, or are under a lot of stress, it’s hard to remember that we can often choose how to feel, just as we can choose how to react. I know that’s true for me. A series of mishaps in my home, a lot of travel recently, and some new responsibilities have overwhelmed me at times. I focus on the negatives, let myself get carried away with anxiety, and forget that these are very, very small problems compared to what some people face.
So this morning I looked at my gratitude list. It included feelings about my children and the comfortable life I have. I thought about a letter I recently received from someone who referred to my son’s smile as “a little bit of sunshine.”
I considered everything that was positive about yesterday — the helpfulness of the people I dealt with, the fact that I felt in control of things instead of overwhelmed, the nice mid-day run that I had, and most of all, the beautiful, sunny, cloudless day that it was.
So when I got to the part about how do I want my day to feel today, there was no question that I wanted it to feel like sunshine. I wanted it to feel like that beautiful cloudless day, my son’s smile and being bathed in light.
The thing is, though, that not every day is sunny and cloud-free. Some days are overcast, both literally and spiritually. So how do we capture the sunshine on those days? How can we sustain the positive emotions from one day to the next, no matter what happens?
A recent study by Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin showed that some people are able to savor positive emotions longer, while in other people they subside quickly. The difference is related in part to the activation of the reward center in the brain. So capturing sunshine on a cloudy day depends on keeping that reward center more active.
There’s no question that doing so requires making a choice to focus on those positive emotions. It might be by meditating on lovingkindness or compassion, or by calling up memories of a time that felt especially joyful or comforting. In either case, the goal is to really drop back in to that feeling, so much so that you experience it all over again. The more you practice doing that, the easier it will be to get back to that baseline of positive emotion.
This 5-Finger Exercise* is good way to begin (spend 2 minutes on each part):
Touch your thumb to your index finger. Think about time when your body felt healthy fatigue, such as after an exhilarating physical activity. Can you capture the feeling again now?
Touch your thumb to your middle finger. Think back to a time when you had a loving experience, perhaps a warm hug or an intimate moment with someone.
Touch your thumb to your ring finger. Now recall the nicest compliment you’ve ever received. Can you really accept it now? By accepting it, you are giving a gift to the person who said it to you.
Touch your thumb to your little finger. As you do so, go back to the most beautiful place you have ever been and dwell there for a while.
*The 5 Finger Exercise is adapted from one I was given. I’m sorry I do not know who developed it.