In the final session of the 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion training program there is a teaching and practice on savouring pleasant experiences. After 7 weeks of learning to lean in to discomfort in a self-compassionate way, Session 8 is all about gratitude, appreciating beauty and savoring pleasant experiences. I usually feel that Session 8 is a little fluffy; simply a gentle way to wrap up the program in juxtaposition to the previous sessions’ focus on learning to respond to suffering.
The pandemic experience is teaching me that savouring is more than a fluffy topic and it has actually become an essential component of my equanimity practice.
I have been struggling off and on during this pandemic despite using all of my usual self-care and compassion practices. My attitude shifted after reading an article which reminded me that self-care strategies that work during “normal life” might be less effective when in crisis. I began experimenting with adapting and changing my strategies. I had been feeling the weight of all of the bleak news lately so one new practice involved bringing spring flowers into my house and intentionally enjoying the experience of their colours and fragrance.
At first glance, savouring a pleasant experience like admiring a spring flower seems a pretty simple task. However, it can be fairly challenging to shift our focus towards pleasant things because we are neurobiologically hard- wired to automatically notice negative things. This instinct was a very useful skill in cave woman days where our very survival depended on the speed for which we could perceive danger in our environment.
This negative perception bias is even more pronounced when we are suffering from low mood, as many of us are during this pandemic. To shift this we need to focus for 20 – 30 seconds on a positive event in order for the event to even register. Intentionally taking time to savour something pleasant may help to balance our perspective as we deal with the daily barrage of negative events. Savouring practice may help to lift our mood and foster equanimity, allowing us to weather the storm around us.
Back to my flowers…I am trying to savour the scent and beauty of my lily and hyacinths several times a day – as I do this I linger for at least 20 seconds and gaze at them, I savour the scent, I feel the leaves and notice the intricate details of these beautiful spring plants.
This experience reminds me that spring continues to arrive despite this virus and that the beauty of the natural world is all around me if I take the time to look. This is savouring. This one tiny practice may not be enough, but it is a start. I invite you to find something pleasant and try your own savouring experience. And if you feel like dropping me a line let me know how it goes I would love to hear from you.