There is Kindness in the Natural World

Taking a moment to enjoy the beautiful can help undermine the ugly

This is a beautiful story of what’s really important.

Beautiful story with a twist–thank you oxytocin. Enjoy. Tip ‘o the hat to me mum for this one.

Why Lucid Gratitude?

[grat-i-tood, -tyood] noun, the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful. In an article entitled In Praise of Gratitude, according to the Harvard Medical School,

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done a great deal of research on gratitude. Their research has concluded that gratitude do so much good because it, according to Dr. McCullough, “More than any other emotion…is the emotion of friendship…It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person. Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did.” For more on gratitudinal research, click here. Also check out a great piece by Ocean Robbins on the neuroscience behind the benefits of gratitude click here.

Take the time to take dwell in the wonderful things, people, places, creatures, in the world.

Details of life that you might normally overlook. Drink them in, deeply, as if your very life depended on it. One could argue that it does–if one is to be truly happy, that is. This is what the vaunted “mindfulness movement” is all about, really. There are many methods for getting there, but much of it all boils down to seeing the world as it is, non-judgmentally, and enjoying the heck out of it while you can. You can’t slow down time, but you can experience and internalize the moments that comprise time much more fully. It doesn’t require that you meditate (although you should try to develop that as a habit; it will help facilitate mindfulness). But mindfulness is available any waking moment, literally: Just look around outside, at your loved ones, at those whom you feel close; listen to that moving piece of music; gaze at those pictures that make you smile; whatever your particular happiness zen, it’s available anytime you want to stop and notice, fully, gratefully, actively. It’s called “taking in the good” and it’s freely available to you anytime you want it by internalizing the good. Mindfulness and taking in the best experiences can actually rewire your brain. But hey, don’t take my word for it, the brain is plastic and malleable. In fact, those who meditate consistently actually physically change their brains for the better, as research has clearly shown.

A Note about Mindfulness

Mindfulness, as you may have heard, has been sweeping the land. But what is mindfulness? It often depends on whom you ask, but here’s a brief summary:

Being in the Moment: Children are, Adults, not so much. The truth of the matter is that we are comprised of actions and behaviors that become largely ingrained in our brains as “habits.” As I like to say, the more you do something, the more you do something (in neurologist-speak, “neurons that fire together, wire together”) And it’s true. The brain doesn’t care what it is that you do, really, it will just record those actions–really really well–and urge you to repeat them, especially if you do them over a period of time. It’s funny, children haven’t really developed habits and are blank chalkboards in a way. Notice how a child experiences something as simple as a toy or a treat–it’s as if they’re experiencing nirvana, because for them, they are. They are fully, and freely engaged in that moment and experience. That’s mindfulness. It’s open. It’s clear. It’s unfettered by unnecessary thoughts. And here’s where we go astray as adults: we think a lot about the past, and a lot about the future, but we don’t give the present moment “all that much thought. Kids do, though. They’re steeped in the moment. They do the backstroke in an olympic-sized pool of mindfulness. But as we grow older, and as we become more “set in our ways” (just a euphemism for ingrained neural networks, which are, in effect, habits), we become more and more removed from the moment; more and more removed from mindfulness. I have a simple definition for mindfulness. Mine may not be like yours, but nonetheless, it goes like this:

mindfulness meme

Mindfulness often makes time seem to “go away,” and creates moments of the “endless now.” For some people, they achieve full mindfulness in running. For others, it’s gardening, for others, it’s meditating. Or some combination of any number of activities or “non-activities.” And through it all, there is a sense of “noticing awareness,” of not judging what’s occurring, but simply experiencing and observing it.

Ancient and Modern. Mindfulness is, in a way, contrary to the modern–Western–way of life where the main goal of the game of life seems to be to: a) work incredibly hard, b) make lots of money, c) buy nice things, d) worry a lot about everything, e) retire, f) die. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but have you noticed that as you get older, time seems to be moving…faster? There’s a reason for that. I believe, based on all the research I’ve read and everything I’ve steeped myself in to learn about mindfulness, that the older we get, the less mindful we tend to be. Our habits begin to define who we are, and we often don’t “stop to smell the roses,” let alone notice that there are roses at all in the first place. Modern-day mindfulness is, common wisdom has it, harder to come by, simply because there are so many well-known distractions: smartphone; Internet, on-demand everything; music anywhere, anytime. It’s as if we’ve built a culture of externally induced Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. The Internet, especially, is a well-known distractor that keeps us “out of the present.” Or it can, at any rate. As ancient bipeds, however, we lived much more in the moment. We had little time to develop ulcers thinking about the future or worrying about the past–there was, by and large, only the now, and, of course, shelter and our next meal and trying not to get killed. These ancient tools were useful for keeping us alive, but today, they’ve created a bit of a civil war in our bodies and minds. Today, our survival mechanisms lead to and feed off of worry, anxiety, and stress. Something that the more ancient part of the brain loves, unconditionally, and with abandon, and the modern parts of the brain attempt to “fix” the problem of worry, anxiety, and stress with modern tools of reason and logic. For most, this works out fairly evenly, but for many, the more ancient parts of the brain can win out, leading to a host of ills, mental and physical.  The good news is that mindfulness can help calm our warring inner selves through focus, concentration, and a willful action toward not figuring out a damn thing, by simply observing, non-judgmentally, the moments that we inhabit and experience. That’s it. That’s the big secret: mindfulness is simply being present in the moment and dwelling in what could be considered the most banal things possible: breath; bodily sensations; hearing; the touch of another, and it does amazing things to our bodies and our brains, from lowering blood pressure, to decreasing anxiety; from strengthening the parts of the brains that “filter out” bad news that the ancient part of the brain might otherwise grab hold of, to boosting our mood.

Lucid Nation
About Lucid Nation (18 Articles)
Mare Gouger, the founder of Lucid Nation, has a Master's Degree from GWU, has worked on Capitol Hill for a decade, and has closely followed politics since 1982.

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