“Beautiful Moments”: A Mindful Gratitude Practice
When I began my daily mindfulness practice a year and a half ago, I also began daily journals reflecting upon my practice and my life experiences. These books have become some of my most beloved possessions. I have used them in my writing to capture a moment in time that has passed, and I have used them to gain a new perspective when I was unsure which way to more forward.
They are a record written in my most personal moments, and yet strangely, they are also a source of objectivity for me. There are moments when I go back and review the pages to find kernels of wisdom I need at the present moment or to gain a sense of “what it was really like” when I feel like a time was particularly “good” or “bad” in my life.
My journaling has changed over time. My research on the benefits of gratitude evolved my writing to include more positive experiences. In short summary, individuals with a gratitude practice have more positive emotional experiences overall and live seven to nine years longer on average (Graham).
I began by recording anything for which I was grateful in a list form. This was helpful at first but over time became redundant because I listed many of the same things each day. Here is an example of a gratitude journal:
“I am thankful for blue skies full of clouds, starry nights, full moons, morning haze, beautiful sunrises, dark birds in the bright sky, tears, poignant songs, perfect words.” Dec. 2014
By the time I taught the Mindful Gratitude workshop, I had changed to what I call a “Beautiful Moments” practice, which is similar to the gratitude practice but focuses more on recalling specific moments in as much detail as possible. Here is an example of a beautiful moments journal.
“Beautiful moments: watching the cloud-swirled sun peeking through the blue and white in a fuzzy haze, noticing the interwoven roots of a riverside tree tangle on the banks and reach to the water, seeing a teacher love in the face of a difficult student.” Mar. 2015
This particular journal is very visually focused, but in general, the beautiful moments journals might include all kinds of imagery: sights, but also smells, sounds and sensations. This is because the more sensory detail included in the memory, the more the neural pathways of positive experience are activated. Some details that appear for me often are the sensations of cool, smooth sheets on my skin; the roasted, nutty smell of a cup of hot coffee in my hands; the sounds of chirping birds and rustling leaves coming from an open window; and the tingle and warmth of a giant hug from my five-year-old son.
(Sub-note: the last one is my favorite! Parents may know the sensation of simultaneous urges to protect and consume your own children. What is it about a small, adorable child that makes you want to eat them or squeeze them to the point of pain? A teacher with whom I used to work said puppies made her “want to punch something” because they are too cute. Same thing I think.)
Without conscious attention, these moments would be lost, and recalling specific details again is actually activating the parts of the brain that created those moments, training your brain to notice these experiences more often. In addition, pondering and reflecting upon positive experiences strengthens the neural patterns that create positive experiences in general, which fortifies resilience in individuals in times of difficulty (Graham). Basically, the beautiful moments practice can make you healthier, happier and more resilient. In addition, it is so much fun, especially when shared with others.
My best friend Melissa and I began sharing our beautiful moments in pictures and photos throughout the days via texts. Here are some of them.
Mel: Ok. Just tripped out in my backyard while eating breakfast and having my coffee. Watching the sun radiate through the trees. The light would flicker then burst forth depending upon the movement of the trees- it looked like someone talking to me and the way the sun changed, it was a though it was, at any given time, a mouth or the crinkles of smiling eyes or the beaming of someone’s heart. Then I watched the particles of pollen dance through the sun rays in a gentle migration (up, down, sideways in current), and then I watched the leaves rustle so slowly they were soundless. Seriously beautiful this morning. : )”
Brandi: You just brought me a little tickle of joy this morning. We are driving back from Hoover Dam right now. Also a lovely morning.
Mel: That is “dam” gorgeous.
Brandi: Moon photo.
Mel: Hauntingly beautiful.
Brandi: Well phrased.
Brandi: Talk soon. Enjoy this rainy day.
Brandi: This is the same place Venus usually appears.
Mel: I love that the sun is where Venus lies. : ) A subtle synchronizing of celestial bodies.
Mel: Sitting here by myself staring at a giant flower in Denver. Seriously, the best people watching spot- the exit at an airport terminal. Infinite amounts of hugs, warm embrace, and kisses.
Brandi: I love people watching in airports. I am weirdly fascinated with “travel clothes.” (Note: Mel may surpass me in the depth of our shared beautiful moments practice- and otherwise.)
The beautiful moments practice eventually evolved into what Mel and I describe as a “Why Not?” practice, which shall be described in a later post. I hope to also have Mel visit as a guest blogger soon!
Until that time, I would definitely encourage anyone interested in bringing a little more joy, awe and appreciation into their lives to start a Beautiful Moments practice. And if you are lucky enough to have a Mel, it doubles the experience to share these moments with someone else. If not, feel free to send your “beautiful moments” to me via the “Contact” page or post them as comments in this post.
For more information on the research source cited here, check out Linda Graham’s informative (and dare I say life changing) book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being.