I had never expected to become a mother, in fact I was vehemently opposed the idea for most of my life. Then along came my daughter Lilly.
Followed not too long after by my son Joshua.
In the beginning motherhood and I were not the best of friends. I didn't adjust well to my new life, my new routine, my new limitations and my new obligations. I struggled a lot with the change, the sleep deprivation, the lifestyle adjustment and ....well let's just say I struggled.
Then out of nowhere the clouds eventually parted and I found myself sitting in a pretty cool space. I had found a new reality of nursery rhymes and smelly nappies but I had also discovered singing, dancing, Santa, The Easter Bunny, the beauty and vibrance of daffodils, the texture and delight of dandelions and the joy of good old-fashioned silliness.
Over the course of my life prior I had never quite mastered the art of practicing mindfulness and never really got around to proactively even trying until my children came along. Then suddenly I found myself immersed in a new world where these little beings would direct my attention to the small joys, the little, seemingly meaningless things I would usually overlook in my rush to be somewhere else. Suddenly I was hearing "Mummy, Mummy look at this!" as my daughter would eagerly squat down next to the footpath to investigate a dandelion at close range. Sometimes the appeals sounded like nails down a blackboard, but other times it was like a neon sign blinking brightly saying "Here is an opportunity Melanie! Pay Attention! THIS IS GOING TO BE GOOD FOR YOU!"
Lilly's persistent enthusiasm was admittedly super annoying yet incredibly contagious and it almost seemed that her requests were a direct appeal to my very distracted and over-stimulated soul, a booming voice saying "Listen Melanie, for goodness sake, BE IN THE MOMENT and SLOW DOWN." So I would yield, squat down next to her and admire the beauty of that dandelion. We would talk about it's fluffy round lollypop head and then snap it at the base of it's stem, pull it's puffy flower head towards our lips and blow until it's tiny florets floated in the wind, inciting Lilly to squeal with delight. In such simple moments I discovered how incredibly rewarding and joyful the little stuff can be and I finally started paying attention. I had discovered how it feels to be present in a moment, to savour that moment and even more than that - to MILK A MOMENT.
My dog Astrid is a master of milking a moment. She loves to play fetch,(well at least she did until her eyesight failed her a couple of years ago). But back when she had good vision she used to run back and forwards playing fetch over and over again as many dogs like to do. Astrid would only stop when you would relent and tire of throwing her ball. Even then she would protest with loud barks and incessant ball-drops at your feet. She was always so eager and excited at every toss and seemed to be in some sort of hypnotic broken-record mode. I used to watch her and admire the way she would so single-mindedly pursue her joy. Nothing mattered to her except the pursuit of fun. It felt good to play fetch so she wanted to play all the time. The simplicity of that appealed to me and made sense. When something feels good why wouldn't you want to do it all the time?
However have you noticed that for us humans the older we get the more we assume that fun moments are the exception to the rule as we strive to be productive, be responsible adults, keep busy and earn money yada yada. Since having children I have learnt that it is so important for your health and wellbeing to slow down and savour moments. I don't mean for one second that you need to have kids in order to become mindful, it's just that for me personally it took that life change to wake me up and change my the way I interacted with the world around me.
It seems to me that mindfulness is intrinsically linked to gratitude. Appreciating the beauty of a sunset, the clarity of a clear blue sky, the laughter of children, the qualities of a dandelion. Simple things like that. I consciously choose to focus on the good stuff and see the everyday miracles and simple joys. Over time, continued practicing of such thoughts has helped trained my mind to identify the good stuff more easily and to be appreciative. We see what we're looking for and when you train your conscious mind to look for the good stuff, I've discovered there sure is plenty around. Conversely, if you hold a belief that the world is intrinsically hard or bad, you will also see things that validate your belief. Again, we see what we're looking for.
It then becomes a pretty simple choice. Do I want to look for the good stuff and feel good? Or do I want to hunt for all the evidence that substantiates how bad things are?
When we are having fun, being mindful or in a state of "flow" our mind and body are at ease, in repair mode and regenerating. When we laugh our body celebrates. When we love, laugh and appreciate, we flood our bodies with natural feel-good neurochemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins and GABA. The more we activate these feelings the healthier our bodies and minds are.
"Life in the human body is designed to be a blissful experience. Our evolutionary biology insures that everything necessary for our survival makes us feel good. All animals seek pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore, our brain has a wellspring of self-produced neurochemicals that turn the pursuits and struggles of life into pleasure and make us feel happy when we achieve them. This biological design is generous, but lays dormant in many." - excerpt from The Neuroscience of Happiness
There are so many simple ways you can trigger the release of these pleasurable neurochemicals in your daily life. The feeling of appreciation is one of my personal favourites. When you really think about it, the feeling of appreciation differs slightly to the feeling of gratitude. Gratitude holds a sense of being thankful to something or someone else for providing the experience whereas appreciation is simply an acknowledgment of what is and also takes into account your personal role in it's creation. Appreciation doesn't feel as fleeting to me as the sense of gratitude does.
When you baske in the feeling of appreciation, you can feel your physiology change. For me, I notice my body soften and lighten and I feel a warmth in my chest. I feel energised and empowered. It's a lovely sensation and you don't need anything huge to appreciate, you can appreciate the small luxuries we take for granted each day like a soft pillow to lay our heads on, or the softness of the mattress we are lucky enough to sleep on.
In addition to appreciation, joy and love also trigger release of pleasurable neurochemicals. For me, hearty laughter is one of my most blissful experiences to have and so I will often be found watching hilarious youtube clips over and over to keep milking that feeling of bliss. There was a youtube clip going around last year which was a woman smitten with her newly purchased Chewbacca mask. I'm sure you know the one. I would hazard a guess that I watched that close to 50 times. I just kept on watching it over and over, laughing over and over.
I'm that person you find at a picnic annoyingly saying to everyone "isn't it wonderful that we're all together here in this sunshine, isn't it a spectacular day! Look how stunning these gardens are!" I'm sure I drive everyone mad but I'm genuinely thrilled in those moments and feel so appreciative of my circumstances and genuinely enamoured by my surroundings.
It's important to appreciate and when you find things to appreciate that bring you joy and are resourceful in nature, bask in those as often as possible. I feel however, that I need to add a caveat here. The constant pursuit of a "high" can lead people to adopt some un-resourceful and occasionally destructive behaviours such as addiction. What I'm talking about here isn't a total saturation of dopamine so that you feel good every minute of every day. I'm just talking about milking the good moments in your life and amplifying the good stuff by simply being more present and expressing appreciation.
When was the last time you basked in something or milked an experience?
What are you appreciating right now?
How do you like to interact with the world around you? What do you deliberately give your attention to? Do you notice the good stuff and savour it?