How Quickly Small Grows

Walking to a lunch with friends today, I thought back to my experience at Limontaur, last week, traveling from the beach back to the parking lot. I remembered how, starting out, I was already impatient to arrive, how I caught myself and began paying attention to each step I took. Simply recalling that experience of two weeks ago, I found myself slowing down. Ah, that’s the beauty of small. Each connects me with all my preceding experiences of small.

Reflecting on the interconnection, I wondered if I might have misled readers into thinking that small was the only way to think. That you had to perpetually think small to benefit. So I want to set the record straight: What I’m suggesting—and have been suggesting—is taking only a few minutes a day to think small.

Here’s how thinking small works: During the course of your day, notice any time you feel a boost of pleasure. It might be, as it first was for me, a beautiful leaf curled on the sidewalk. A smile from a passer-by. A sudden gentle breeze wafting over you on a hot day. A measure of music. A delicious strawberry.

We all experience moments of pleasure like these, but our habit is generally to notice them and move quickly on to the next moment in our life. To think small, you hold on to that pleasure for several minutes, letting it penetrate deeply into your spirit.

That’s all. Two minutes to meditate on a moment of pleasure. And if you make a practice of this, you can slowly transform your life.

Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, writes in his book “Rewiring the Brain for Happiness,” that we can gradually change the circuitry in our brains by allowing pleasurable moments to stay with us for several moments. We humans come into the world wired for flight or fight, as a result of originally living in a hostile environment. However, Hanson tells us, this fight-or-fight response is no longer necessary. We are not constantly surrounded by dangers. And by deeply noticing pleasure, we can literally rewire our brains.

My personal transformation began in just this way. Before I had ever read Rick Hanson, I discovered that the pleasure of a fallen leaf remained with me as I walked around my block. Realizing the longevity of this pleasure, I decided to practice “seeing small” for the next year, and to notice how this practice affected my life.

That’s the first half of my “program” of seeing small. All you have to do is let moments of pleasure penetrate, allowing their sillage to swirl around you. Once you’ve integrated this practice into your life, you can learn to purposely think small at moments of stress and anxiety, disappointment or depression. But first things first. Right now, go for a walk, and stop to listen to the song of a bird, gaze deeply at the bloom of a flower, or greet a stranger who is walking toward you. Then stop and close your eyes for a minute or two, allowing the pleasure you just enjoyed to repeat itself within you, like an echo repeating across a mountaintop and over a lush green valley. It will feel exquisite, I promise.

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