Bad Eisenkappel, Železna All Right, Austria, Jezersko

I’ve written recently about the practice of “glimmering,” which focuses on activities that bring us calm, connectedness, and joy. A good example for many of us in Missoula, Montana and similar places this time of year is sitting in warm grass with the sun beating down on us. Does this practice transport you to your childhood? Does it make you feel at ease in the world, despite whatever stressful things might be going on in your life? Perhaps a walk on one of our local trails outside of town will enhance this feeling.

Around 15 years ago, when I was just starting my Ph.D. in Buddhist ethics at the University of London, I moved back to Missoula to take up work at the university’s Center for Ethics. I lived with several other students at a house near campus and just a block or so away from a trailhead on Mount Sentinel. For many months, I made a point of hiking some distance up the mountain to watch the sunset.

The feeling was sublime. I would sit on the hillside gazing across the valley below me. I could hear birds behind me and the distant hum of city-life below and in front of me. I could observe the changing of the foliage around me: new growth in early spring, then buds and flowers. The trails would go from hard and frozen dirt to dark mud and then hard again and dry as the summer pressed on.

At a time of great transition in my life—and I had so many of these in my 20s—this practice tied me to something greater, something stable. I was not only looking out over a city, growing slowly and steadily, but I was also sitting on a mountain shaped by tens of thousands of years of geology.

From passive glimmering to active savoring

These glimmering moments are part of all of our lives, even if we don’t recognize them as such. It can be helpful to remember these in our moments of stress or in particularly stressful times in life. Just this mindful recollecting can help bring calm, whether we are on our way to one of these special places or sitting at our computer in an office or in a room.

People, Father, Daughter, Smile, Happy, Hug, Carry

If you are able to a glimmering activity, or even just recall one vividly, you can take an additional step to enhance the process. This step is known as savoring.

Jennifer Smith, a psychologist and director of research at the Mather Institute said recently that savoring isn’t an emotion in itself. It’s a process that can be used to regulate our positive feelings. This is important, because we feel positive emotions a lot in our daily life. But we’re wired to all-too-easily forget those and focus on negative emotions. By savoring these good moments, we can increase the positive feelings, make them last well beyond the moments themselves, and provide a greater overall sense of well-being in our lives.

In essence, savoring is what happens when you bring mindfulness to your positive emotions, particularly those “glimmering” moments of deep peace and joy. To do this, it helps to have a regular meditation practice already. Developing that regular meditation practice is what strengthens your mindfulness muscles. That way, they’re strong for when we need to use them.

A Short Guide to Starting Your Meditation Practice

We’re all as busy as ever these days, but with just a few minutes a day we can start a regular meditation practice. You can start right now. Simply sit upright (or stand upright if you are standing reading this), lengthen the back of your neck, allowing your gazed to rest at a slight downward angle ahead of you. Rest your hands on your lap or knees. Take in a long, deep breath through the nose. Pay attention to the belly extending as you breathe. Exhale fully.

If you can, close your eyes and repeat this process 10 times. Allow your breaths to be mostly normal, just a tiny bit deeper and longer than usual. Count each breath, noticing the physical feelings that come with each one.

And, your done.

This whole process probably lasted less than two minutes and hopefully gave you a taste of mindfulness. Your next step is to work this practice into your daily life. If you have family members who can join, it’s extra easy when you can help each other take the time to meditate. Perhaps there is a friend who you see regularly. You can make a point to meditate for just 2 minutes each time you’re together. Or set a reminder on your phone or computer.

Practicing Savoring

Apple Blossom, Flowers, Tree, Apple Tree, White Flowers

According to studies, this practice can help alleviate depression, increase self-esteem, and boost overall life-satisfaction. And it’s easy to see why. For many, depression is a sense of being stuck in the negative feelings. Even when good things are happening, we feel bad. So this practice of actively focusing on the good offers an extra kick to our minds, hopefully pushing out the fog of negativity by amplifying the sunny good feelings.

As we practice this more, we also realize a sort of self-mastery. Rather than being pushed around by the world and our feelings, we see that we can take control. Now, it’s true that we’re never in total control, but even today as I have had to push through a headache and the remains of a week-long sinus infection, the practice of savoring good moments has shown me that even in moderate pain, I can find reasons to smile.

At the end of the day, too, I won’t focus so much on the sickness, pain, and loss of sleep from the past week. Instead, I’ll take joy in the work I’ve been able to accomplish, the time I’ve spent with my family, and the increasing number of signs of actual, real spring weather around me. This is the kind of “toggle switch” that savoring allows: moving us from any negative feeling we’re having to one of the many positive aspects of our lives right now. The more we can pay attention to the positive, the deeper the practice goes.

Default Alt Tag for this pageJustin Whitaker, Ph.D., holds a doctorate in Buddhist ethics from the University of London. He has given lectures, and taught Buddhist studies and Philosophy at Oxford University, the University of Hong Kong, the University of Montana, and at Antioch University’s intensive study-abroad program in India. A certified meditation teacher, he is a regular contributor to, and Senior Correspondent for Buddhistdoor Global. He lives in Missoula with his family.