It takes the body an average of eleven seconds to absorb a positive experience.
Can you guess how quickly we take in negative energy?
Half a second.
Since learning this piece of bio-wisdom from a wonderfulEnneagram Intensive last month in Boulder I have been cultivating a new practice called “breathing in the good.”
When something lovely is happening I try to bring my awareness to the actual embodied experience of that moment and soak it up on a cellular level—to literally “breathe it in.”
Earlier this week we went on a walk to the community garden. Coleman, our 6 year old, led the way pulling a wagon full of our picnic dinner nestled among marigolds, tomato, pepper and strawberry plants for our plot.
I followed with my girls in the double stroller, and Francis our faithful rescue doggie by our side.
The whole way I watched my children interact– taking several stops to trade the job of pulling the wagon or to pick some flowers — and felt the fullness of my heart.
Oh OK sometimes I had to fuss at them and say things like: “you said you wanted to walk and I can’t pull the wagon and push the stroller at the same time” or “I’m hot and need you to stop picking flowers and start walking.”
Nothing is perfect—but the really magical thing for me was that I was managing to savor the moment as it unfolded.
So often I recognize how great something was only in hindsight.
Over the past few months I’ve come to realize that one of the noblest goals of cultivating a meditation practice or nurturing the inner life is really quite simple: to be able to catch the moments of our days as they come down the pike.
These good experiences are the fuel which enables us to face the intensity of living in an open and honest way.
The walk to the garden—I caught it.
And felt the joy and rush of living the very life that is being called out of me.
Now before I caught the moment, I dropped it—or at least I dropped my expectations for the experience.
There have been many days when I brought home seedlings or child-size garden tools with a fervent hope that my children would join me in planting herbs in our garden boxes or turning the compost pile.
Many if not most of these days my kiddos have been totally uninterested.
And at those times I get to practice different lessons: letting go of disappointments, reminding myself of the power of modeling something in a spirit of invitation and letting that be enough. And I get to just enjoy gardening all by myself at my own pace and rhythm which is pretty nice too.
This relaxing of expectations seems to be an essential part of the pattern of catching the good moments as they come. For if I go into a situation wed to an idea of what I want to unfold it usually doesn’t.
But if I can manage to take steps in a direction while simultaneously not attaching to a particular outcome then sometimes my heart’s desire is gifted back to me— often when I least expect it!
Breathing in the Good is a way of honoring the awareness work which has predated that moment. Consider the last time someone gave you a compliment. Likely it was in the context of a relationship you have cultivated and as a result of you sharing your gifts in a way which was meaningful to another.
Did you stop and breathe it in?
Or shrug your shoulders and let it roll off your back?
Or smoke it real fast so you get a brief buzz then are left wanting another?
The next time someone says something nice to you—consider breathing it in for 11 seconds. You might be surprised how much time that feels like. You can even tell your friend what you are doing— I’ve found people to be interested in the 11 second idea and appreciative of a moment to share a nice connection.
Meditating, doing Enneagram work, taking time for retreat in busy lives: these are not choices we make simply out of a sense of duty or obligation—they help us cultivate our awareness muscles so that we can be more fully present to enjoy our lives.
So breathing in the good helps to complete the whole cycle. And the gratitude which rises up so naturally in such moments opens the door for appreciating more positive experiences down the road.
Breathing in the Good also helps us recognize that we have beauty and truth to share—in countless ways throughout our days.
What helps you to catch the moments of your days?
What good experiences have you breathed in lately?
Can you sense any good moments you might be invited to breathe in today?
Courtney Pinkerton, M.Div & M.PP, is a holistic life and leadership coach and the founder of Bird in Hand Coaching. She holds dual masters degrees from Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Kennedy School, is the host of the Summer of Meditation Challenge and publishes a weekly e-newsletter on real-world mindfulness practices. Courtney teaches regularly on the Enneagram, meditation, and conscious approaches to leadership and parenting. She lives in Oak Cliff, Texas with her husband Richard Amory where they try to keep up with their three young children and remember to water their garden boxes. Courtney can be reached at email@example.com or you can schedule a complementary conversation to talk more.
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