I woke earlier than I wanted to this morning. I fell asleep later than I wanted to last night. The sleep in between those points was filled with distressing dreams that were neither pleasant, nor were they nightmares; they were instead rich in content, symbolism, and implication without being over-obvious, as if daring me to overlook what matters most in the storm of surrealism. I woke feeling stiff and twisted, with a headache that sources down low in my spine, and makes it way to my skull, a dull unrelenting ache that pulsates when I walk. It’s about as dreadful as it sounds…only…I also woke warm and dry, safe from physical harm, indoor plumbing near at hand, and clean drinking water besides. I woke to birdsong outside my window and a not-too-very-rainy morning, and the sound of Dave Matthews Band on the stereo; my traveling partner already awake, playing chess quietly. I woke to an offer of a hot latte made just the way I like it. I woke to a warm hug, and a loving smile. This is my very human experience; it’s not good sometimes and bad other times as much as it is generally a mix of details of a variety of sorts.

Over the past two years I’ve read a lot of words written by several people whose working lives are spent studying the neuroscience of emotion and consciousness. I’ve read about negativity bias, and have a very elementary understanding that the most intense experiences tend to be most memorable, and that we tend to prioritize negative experiences more highly on an implicit level as a survival trait. Sounds damning, sometimes. I’ve also read more than a little bit about a number of practices that can be put to use to minimize or mitigate our negativity bias – resulting in a more implicitly pleasant experience overall; they do work, I’ve tried them. I’ve read about (and tried) practices for calming my storming heart when my PTSD catches me unawares, or I find myself so fatigued that I am unexpectedly volatile. I have explored practices that have tended to take me from a very negative, bitter, chronically irritated and dissatisfied state of being, to a day-to-day state sense of self that tends to be rather calm, generally content, and mostly pretty joyful.

I hope I’ve never led you to believe it’s “easy” every day. I work at ‘happy’ and ‘content’ by practicing an assortment of practices that tend to take me that direction over time. There are verbs involved. A commitment to wake up every day and actually practice them – because they are only effective when I do them. Thinking about them doesn’t quite change anything. When I consider moments over the past two years when things just didn’t seem quite as good as they could be – speaking just of my own experience, subjectively – it seems significant that there’s often some days preceding during which I was less committed than usual to some key practice or another. (That’s often how I figure out which ones are ‘key’ for me personally! lol) I don’t feel any shame over that, and I don’t feel like a failure. (I hear my traveling partner’s voice in my thoughts asking in a humorous tone “Well, how do you feel?”) I do feel very human; encouraged by the bits that go well, and a little beat down by the things that don’t.

Like it or not, there are verbs involved. Real actions to take, that require some small effort of will – a decision, a choice, an intention followed through on with a behavior of some appropriate sort. There’s just no getting out from under the action-reaction thing. The actions I choose aren’t always ideal; that’s the next challenge, isn’t it? Once my will is firmly in place, and I’ve made a choice, and taken an action, then experience unfolds the next lesson like a map, and I see where my choices take me. Then the whole thing again, for some other circumstance. Life. I am learning to be more aware of the puzzle pieces themselves in this jigsaw puzzle, rather than straining to see the finished picture while I piece it together.

It’s hard to overstate the value I’ve been finding in the ‘taking in the good’ exercises in Hardwiring Happiness. I haven’t ‘finished’ the book yet, because I keep re-reading it, and meditating on pieces of the content that are most relevant to my own experience. The practice, particularly, of lingering over pleasant moments for a considerable time rather than allowing them to be so fleeting, and also of refraining from lingering over unpleasant moments and treating them fairly casually after-the-fact, is a current favorite; it really does seem to be altering my implicit emotional bias for the better. I recently started a simple practice for improving my perspective with regard to positive and negative interactions, intended to prevent me from taking such things personally, particularly when they are not (and they mostly aren’t). It’s a simple reality-check; if I am feeling very picked on and emotionally beat down, I make a list of the specific complaints, or negative feedback, directed specifically to me, about my actions – no other negative content is listed, because it ‘isn’t about me’. The first time I did it, I quickly recognized that I’d only actually been offered a single point of negative feedback – and the rest of the discussion wasn’t about me at all, however negative it sounded in my thoughts. A negative bias functions on a lot of levels, it seems. This simple practice has seriously improved my relationships with other people; in one case I was able to recognize that new boundaries needed to be explicitly set in a work relationship, without things blowing up, when my list made it clear that 1. the relationship was profoundly negative and critical, and 2. there was a legitimate issue surfacing as a theme that could be easily addressed.

Illumination, or artificial lighting?

Illumination, or artificial lighting?

Meditation does take a commitment. Practicing is action. Choices are necessary. Verbs are involved. The results, for me, so far, are entirely worth it. I sure don’t have ‘the answers’. I am finding it worthwhile to consider some of the questions carefully. Will… that’s the thing, isn’t it? The Will to Practice. How do I build Will? Practicing.

Today is a good day to experience the birdsong, the music, the laughter, and the love. Today is a good day to change the world.