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By Justine Buckley
There is a tendency for each of us, in our own fashion, to be either working on 'me' or avoiding 'me'. We wake up, barely give the extraordinary fact of a new day's dawning a 'hello', and go straight into fourth gear. In fourth gear we get revved up doing what needs to be done and avoiding a fuller awareness that includes our actual present experience. Or we focus on ourselves but only so we can 'improve' this version of who we are because we sense it's lacking something - we're not quite 'there' yet. We can't relax when there's work to be done. While our attention is caught on improving and fixing ourselves and the world around us, it is not attuning to such matters as joy, pleasure, appreciation and real relaxation. And I admit, this is my bug bear today.... the fact that we rarely allow ourselves real relaxation, joy and pleasure just for its own sake.
I was speaking with a fellow recently who has an incredibly stressful job and his down time is precious. I asked him if he watched movies. He said he feels like he's wasting time if he just watches a movie, so he only lets himself watch documentaries so at least he can feel like he's improving his mind while he's trying to relax. We chatted a bit more and he admitted what he really enjoyed , really loved, was kids movies, and 'Finding Nemo' was his favourite. As he mentioned Nemo I saw his face light up with a big smile, his body relaxed and I caught his joy and smiled back.
It is wisdom and not 'avoidance' to go with wholesome pleasure and the felt sense of relaxation. This is a skill we can really practice (the 'Finding Nemo' skill) and there's no limit to the amount of joy we can take in and deepen into - it's a bottomless practice! Of course this is different to 'numbing out' and escaping, because when we take in joy, genuine nourishment is involved. It is nourishing to allow ourselves to feel the sun on our back, to exhale, to watch 'Finding Nemo' and to fully savour the feeling of joy that spreads through and saturates our mind-body.
Letting this joyful feeling spread through and saturate us creates a body memory and corresponding neural pathways in our brain. Then, even just remembering what brings us joy becomes a whole body experience of pleasure - the body remembers! Strengthening this whole body experience of joy does many things. In sciency terms, there are neurophysiological components and benefits to spending time with joy and relaxation. For one, we start to restore balance to our stressed autonomic nervous system (ANS). The two branches of the ANS are the brake and accelerator of our body. Our threat and drive-excitement systems (accelerators) are trigger happy, connected directly with the Sympathetic Nervous System and when out of balance, stay on. We can't turn them off even when we want to! When we practice the whole body experience of joy, our Parasympathetic Nervous System applies the neurophysiological brakes and our mind-body has time to nourish, replenish, restore, revitalise and so on. Most importantly, our neurological capacity to switch between brake-accelerate is strengthened, now allowing us to be ON when appropriate to be on, and truly OFF when it's time to be off.
So choose to hang out with your own 'Finding Nemo' moments today. Let your whole body wallow in feeling good. Feel free to stare down and refuse the insistent energy (that Doko is talking about) that wants to push you around and not let you relax.
This makes us happier people to be around and a smile is catching - share it around. x