Finding The Light
(This was a post that I wrote 2 years ago just after Trump had been elected. The message is still very apt)
I don’t think it’s a small coincidence that the outcome of this presidential election comes at a time when we are going into our darkest days of winter, and as we seek to bring light into these dark days, so too must we find light in the midst, of what for some of us, is political darkness.
This is critical because we need light to help us know what direction we need to take. Even dim light is better than total darkness in helping us to move forward. It’s the light, not the darkness that will lead us to a better place.
So how do we do this? How do we find our way out of despair and hopelessness during this and other difficult times? Truthfully, we are much better at finding darkness; finding the evidence for proving that we are in danger, that the world is dangerous. This is called “negativity bias”, and it has served an important evolutionary function. Our ancestors had to look out for danger-wild animals, arrows and spears. They wouldn’t have survived otherwise. We wouldn’t be here had this not been the case.
So if we are genetically hard-wired to see and remember the negative, the darkness, and for many there is an abundance of that right now, how do we find the light? It’s critical that we do because it is the light, the positivity that will help us to be resilient, to react from a place of hopefulness that things will get better and to realize that good does exist in our lives even in the midst of true darkness.
The well-known author and psychologist Rick Hanson talks about steps we can take to help our brain lean away from negativity into positivity. This is not about denying reality of the struggles we face. It’s about simultaneously noticing the positive, the good and savoring it and “sliding over” the not so good.
The first step is to look for good facts and turn them into good experiences. For example, notice the taste of a good meal or how it feels when you put on your cozy sweater after a day at work. Count these small things as positive experiences and seek them out during your day. Hanson suggests that we try to do this at least a dozen times a day. It takes more positive experiences to lead our brains towards the light than negative experiences towards the darkness.
Notice any resistance to looking for positivity. Things like “how can I feel happy when there is so much wrong in the world?” Or thinking that a small good experience doesn’t count. It’s not about denying difficult realities. It’s about making a choice to consciously take note out positive experiences and the small simple ones are the easiest to find.
The second step is once you have noticed a positive experience, take time to savor it. Let the sun warm your face. Enjoy the smell and taste of your morning tea or coffee. Relish these moments for at least 30 seconds. Brain research has shown us that the longer we savor these moments the greater the likelihood that the corresponding neurons will form a new pathway-a pathway towards light.
Finally, take this experience into your body. Imagine that the warmth of the sun is flowing through all your muscles. Visualize the positive experience as a light moving from the center of your body outwards. Do whatever works for you to really internalize the experience.
It’s critical that we find ways to notice the good, to savor it, and to bring it in to our body, mind and spirit as fully as possible. It is only through this practice that we can grow the light, and it’s the light that will give us the strength and vitality to mobilize into action.
Happy Hanukah to those who celebrate it.
We must sit on the rim of the well of darkness and fish for fallen light with patience. ~ Pablo Neruda