S is for summer (and savoring)

In previous posts, I’ve discussed the practice of savoring, which has roots within both the mindfulness and positive psychology fields. Savoring is available to everyone. We can savor memories of experiences from the past, bring mindful attention to pleasurable current experiences, and anticipate those headed our way in the future.

Anyone who follows me on social media knows that I’m a self-proclaimed grow-your-own-food activist. Why do I cook, grow my own food, and visit public green spaces as often as I can? Because I know – through my forty-odd years of personal experience as well as an in-depth review of the research, that such nature-based activities improve mind/body health. Also, quite importantly, I really do love food and nature! In my work with The SAVOR Project, I further savor these experiences by reflecting upon edible garden projects and planning nature-based programs that benefit others.

This month, in an Instagram post, I’d mentioned the “what went well” exercise that I’d read about recently in Dr. Martin Seligman’s Flourish (2012) book. As a scientist-practitioner, the pleasure center of my brain really lights up when I encounter useful practices that are also grounded in psychological science, especially those that emphasize personal efficacy (“I did this!”) during a time when many of us are feeling a loss of control. For the foreseeable future, I’m experimenting with this exercise on a nightly basis. If you’d like to check it out, here’s a good description from the Greater Good Science Center.

Some of the things I’ve included on my list from last week:

  • My sunflowers are finally blooming!
  • I spent quality time connecting with my tween daughter
  • I finished a creative project even though I really, really wanted to give up
  • I started a work day by watching a short video on the power of rest
  • So, so many bees are visiting my rooftop garden these days
  • I felt super proud of the amazing Jerusalem-based mezza spread I made
  • I rode my bike around my new urban neighborhood for the first time
  • We had a positive experience during our daughter’s birth family visit

Over the period of a couple of weeks, I’ve realized that one of my strengths is planting seeds (literally or metaphorically) because I trust that they will generally result in abundance. I credit this to both individual and generational resilience that I’ve gained from my working class, Jewish immigrant family. By participating in this “what went well” exercise at the end of each day, I’m able to counter my mind’s tendency toward negativity bias, identify positive events, and savor the pride and pleasure that comes from such experiences.

Over the years, I’ve read various articles exploring gratitude as both an experience and a practice. The American Psychological Association defines gratitude as:

A sense of thankfulness and happiness in response to receiving a gift, either a tangible benefit (e.g., a present, favor) given by someone or a fortunate happenstance (e.g., a beautiful day).

While there is considerable overlap between gratitude and savoring, I like to think about savoring practice as “switching on the high beam” of mindful awareness when we’re attending to a particular type of experience – specifically, that of pleasure or joy, in the present moment. So while our thoughts and feelings of gratitude (“I’m so grateful for this opportunity to connect”) may be part of our overall pleasurable experience, we’re also savoring the full physical experience – the sensations occurring in our body and the details that we’re taking in through our senses.

One of the things I’ve discovered over my two decades of work as a psychotherapist – and in particular, as an eating disorder treatment specialist, is that many individuals have become disconnected from their bodies. This distance may have occurred – or worsened, due to traumatic or stressful life events. In fact, such a dissociative reaction may have been the most resilient way to survive, at the time. However, we can cultivate a gradual “return” home to our bodies by attending to the pleasurable moments that present themselves daily – and then drawing upon the nourishment such practices provide, to support and elevate others. Indeed, the “pleasure activist” adrienne maree brown draws from her roots in the Black feminist tradition to suggest the following:

“Pleasure activism asserts that we all need and deserve pleasure, and that our social structures must reflect this. In this moment, we must prioritize the pleasure of those most impacted by oppression.”

adrienne maree brown, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

Over the course of this summer, I invite you to join me in either the “what went well” exercise or another daily mindfulness practice, where you identify one moment of pleasure, joy, or connection…and pause to savor. You might experiment with mindul writing for ten minutes about the experience, or consider taking a picture so you review and reminisce about it later. I’ll be curious to hear about what you discover. Have fun!

To read more about savoring:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/10_steps_to_savoring_the_good_things_in_life

https://positivepsychology.com/savoring/

https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/book-reviews/excerpts/view/21095/self-compassion

https://www.livehappy.com/science/science-savoring

https://www.rickhanson.net/enjoy-good-lasts/

https://www.outsideonline.com/2405267/savoring-new-mindfulness

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