We have two options for the Spiritual Exercise this month, try choosing the one which provokes you the most. Each day this October, try to pay attention to the positive or spend time counting your blessings. Come to the theme group ready to share your experience, even if you only tried the exercise once, share your story.
Option 1: Focus on the Positive
Psychologist and author Rick Hanson, writes, “Scientists believe that your brain has a built-in ‘negativity bias.’ As we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots, it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots. That’s because – in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived – if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick – a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species – WHAM, no more chances to pass on their genes.”
This is bad news when it comes to noticing and holding on to the blessings of our lives. For instance, it often takes five good experiences to make up for a single negative one. As Hanson points out, “In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.”
Fortunately, we are also equipped with the simplest but most effective antidote: attention. If we focus on the positive and pay attention to the good things, we can help our brains “tilt towards the good”, and make it easier to hold onto the positive experiences.
To help the good sink into our brain, all it takes is 20-30 seconds of attention to the blessings in life.
So this month, start up a new relationship with your blessings. Don’t just notice them; notice them longer. Or as Hanson puts it, “It’s like sitting down to a meal: don’t just look at it—taste it!”
You can do this in all sorts of ways: when you experience something positive consciously pause and focus your attention; pause when walking, eat slower, look longer, take a photo, keep a journal and jot down what happened, when and how it made you feel. It’s as simple as just not letting yourself get distracted and rushing on to the next urgent thing.
Come to your group ready to share how this practice of intentionally holding on longer to the positive altered your days. Did your brain begin to re calibrate towards remembering the positive?
Option 2) Pay It Forward
Many of us are familiar with the idea of “paying it forward” rather than simply “paying it back.” To pay someone back for a blessing or gift accomplishes little more than evening the score. The concept of paying it forward changes everything. Suddenly the blessings in our life are sources of abundance rather than sources of debt. This spiritual exercise invites you to tap into these sources of abundance.
Two simple steps:
- Spend a few days assessing the major blessings in your life.
- Choose one of those blessings to share with someone else.
The key is to identify blessings that can and should be spread beyond the circumference of your personal experience. What has enhanced your life? What has helped you feel blessed? How can you share it with someone else?
It may be a favorite trail in the woods that you share with a friend. If doing art feeds you personally, take a child under your wing and stimulate their love of color and light the same way someone once did for you. Maybe you’ve been helped through tough times and learned a lot because of it. If that’s the case, then who in your life is going through tough times now and needs the blessing of being able to talk to someone who has “been through it before”? The options are endless. We can pass on and pay forward wisdom, wealth, support, passion and even the love of simple things–like gardening, skiing or music.
The point is to get so in touch with the way you’ve been blessed that you can’t help but want to spread that blessing around. Don’t forget to tell them why this blessing matters to you.
Here are two small ways you can keep the theme of blessing in your heart and mind this month.
Silently bless the strangers around you. Bless those on the subway, in the grocery store, in the car stopped beside you at the lights. Use the buddhist blessing “May you be happy. May you be at peace.” or offer your own words as you notice each person.
Light a chalice, focus on the flame, and bring to mind the blessings in your own life. As you think of them, pause and thank them for being a blessing. If lighting a chalice is too much, think of your blessings while you do the dishes.