In the last post, I gave two reasons to slow down: 1.) to actually get to feel and enjoy your aliveness and 2.) to have a choice about how to respond in the present moment.
The third reason is that you can actually change how your brain is wired if you slow down and take them time to do a simple exercise. In Hardwiring Happiness, Dr. Rick Hanson explains that our brains have a predisposition to dwelling on the negative which is hard-wired by evolution. This propensity to be alert to what’s wrong helped us survive, but can also make life miserable.
When a positive experience happens, we often let it go by too quickly for it to have time to move into long-term memory. So, in order to have a sense that life can be full of positive experiences, we need to savor them. According to Hanson, practicing taking in the good can actually help rewire the brain. He proposes a process he calls “H.E.A.L.”
- Have a positive experience. It could be something happening externally or tuning in to a feeling that you like.
- Enrich the experience by taking 10-20 seconds to dwell on it and feel it in your body.
- Absorb it by imagining it sinking in to every cell of your body. You can even match a gesture to the feeling of the experience–hand over heart, or spine straight, or arms open, for example.
- Linking is an optional step. It can be tricky but very effective. When you are grounded (the first three steps) in a positive experience, you can link it to a negative one so that the positive can touch and soothe the negative, sometimes even erase it. Keep the positive dominant and let the negative receive it. Repeated “antidotes” like this can change neural networks.
Although you need to slow down to do this, you don’t need to slow down that much. The whole process can take under a minute. But the more often you do it, the more effective it will be. As Hanson’s subtitle says, you can wire you brain for “contentment, calm and confidence.”
The fourth result of slowing down is to arrive at what I think is the most exciting reason to be alive. When we take a break from active thinking and doing, our brains don’t stop working. They just work at a level below our immediate conscious awareness. This happens in your sleep, for example, when information is processed and absorbed. (Studies show that people know material they have studied better after they wake up in the morning than when they went to bed.) It happens when you take a walk or listen to music. Slowing down gives you the chance to integrate new information and experiences.
Better yet, slowing down lets you have your creative moment. It lets something appear that could have come only from you. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of having a thought pop into your head “out of nowhere,” a solution to something you’ve tried and tried to figure out, or an image of something to make. A writer’s blank page, a painter’s white canvas, a composer’s silence, these are metaphors for a moment everyone can experience if you slow down.
I love this moment. There’s nothing in it but waiting with attention. The air is pregnant; you can feel something about to emerge. It happens only when you’re in the NOW, not thinking about the past or imagining the future. It’s an open moment, and it’s where life happens. When I’m there, it seems as if the world is recreated anew this moment, and then this moment.
I’m practicing it now, and everything my eyes land on seems spectacular: my blooming Christmas cactus, the leafless oak outside, the blue of the cover of Hanson’s book. When I check inside, the area of my sternum in buzzing. I am feeling a longing, a fulfilled longing to be here, and it’s amazing. If I create nothing out of this moment but a description of it, that is enough. Just experiencing it is enough.
Let me slow down. Let me linger here. Let me learn what I can about what it’s like to have my life. I hope you are doing the same. I hope you can feel the love that is available when we share this space. It’s starting now to flow freely–my sternum has opened. I feel connected to you.
Perhaps you’re a stranger reading this, or someone I know. Either way, we’re familiar. I know what goes on inside you, inside a human being. We resonate, and therefore, I land in ‘all is well.’ I don’t know why; after all, I listen to the news. I also listen to this level of being, and here, all is well, including my heart broken over what goes on in the world. It’s a strange place, I admit, this moment that opens when I really, really slow down. It teaches me a whole different way to live.