I have a friend who put herself on a news fast at the beginning of this year. She did this because she was sinking into despair over the current state of affairs and our future as a species. She realized that part of her situation was that as a news junkie, she was constantly bombarded with problems and disasters and stories of people behaving badly. So she stopped reading the newspaper and watching and listening to the news, and she unsubscribed from the many news/special cause related emails that would fill her mailbox everyday. Did it work? Was she able to stay current with important news events without having to consume antidepressants? In a word, yes. She found that she felt much less stress and anxiety with her news fast and at the same time was able to stay on top of important events through friends, discussions at work, and word of mouth. She has since gone back to consuming news but in a much reduced manner. She looks for balance and seeks out places to find positive news stories.
Neuroscientists have discovered that we are biologically programmed to notice and absorb difficult experiences more keenly than we do pleasant ones, and that negative events register on our neuro-pathways with more significance than positive ones. This makes sense as it's more critical to our survival if we remember the roaring lion on the path in front of us than the pretty daisy growing at our feet. We're hardwired to notice and be influenced by the intense and difficult stuff much more than the things that are pleasant.
So in order to find a life with some balance and happiness, it's important that we pay attention to our positive experiences, to really let them in and register in our minds and bodies. This is why I often talk about awareness in the kitchen, a place where many wonderful things happen. It's great to see beauty in a museum or at the ballet, but it's even more important to find beauty right beneath your feet, or right in your hands. Cooking is an extremely intimate and sensual activity. Combine that with the fact that it happens at least once, if not several times, a day, and it's the perfect opportunity to absorb and integrate some positive experiences.
It's really quite a simple task (so simple that it's easy to forget!) to notice your surroundings. Our senses encounter beauty and pleasure all the time and the trick is to let yourself get snagged, let yourself get caught for a moment or two. And in that moment look closely and acknowledge what you are experiencing. You don't have to necessarily stop what you are doing; just allow that ping of pleasure to really sink in.
Look for the way the light hits a pile of chopped onions or the plateful of plums on your table. Notice the way things smell when you're chopping them (this is one of the reasons working with fresh herbs is so wonderful) or the way spices change and intensify when you toss them into a hot pan. You really don't have to do anything extra except pay close attention and let it all in.
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If you're looking for some good news to help lift your spirits, then check out
this post about a group of young entrepreneurs who have figured out a way to quickly get surplus food to hungry people; this essay from Andy Griffin, an old-time farmer who is happy to buy a crop of potatoes from a young farmer just getting started, thanks to a program called ALBA; and this film being made about the many people around the world who are working to, and succeeding at, fixing our broken food system. Watch the video!
Related: Weekend Meditation: Appreciation
(Image: Dana Velden)