Doing walking meditation on retreat, I focused on the sensation of walking. Noting the lifting, moving and placing of my feet. The solidness of the earth. The shifts throughout my body as I moved from foot to foot. This kind of detailed focus on the present moment experience over the focusing on thoughts and impulses coming and going is the hallmark of mindful walking.
I also was periodically noting the sensations all around me – breeze, sun, sound of birds, colors of the stone walk. Noting these sensations can be a bit of a slippery slope as they invite story, memory, wondering, wishing. Once the mind sets off on a story, I can be lost for minutes, many, many minutes sometimes. Lost? Yes – lost in my thoughts. Far, far away from the present moment of sensation. Strict adherence might have me stay in the lifting, moving, placing of the body moving through space, and releasing all else that arises.
And then as I was walking, a little bird flitted by and landed on the ground nearby. A bluebird. And my heart smiled; my mind immediately echoed (and labeled it) a Bluebird of Happiness. Somewhere in my childhood, I learned this phrase and attached strong positive feelings to bluebirds. On a visit to a nature center with my mother as a young adult, we learned more about bluebirds. We read about them and connected regarding their sweetness. This was not an especially happy period in my life – so I bought a beautiful glass Bluebird (photo) that deepened my sense that these little birds (sparrow size) bring joy and a smile wherever they go.
So, on the retreat mindfully walking, I felt a bit pulled – maybe I should return to the walking? Another part of me knew it was important to immerse myself in the experience of joy and happiness. To SOAK it in. Rick Hanson writes about the brain’s negativity bias and the need for us to intentionally BE with moments of joy, happiness, and peak experiences. This focus on the sight of the bird, as well as the sensations of joy: curiosity, tingly chest, warm sensations in chest and arms, and a smile, helps develop positive neuronal pathways. The more I notice all the “Bluebirds of Happiness” in my daily life, the more I can draw upon them when feeling low, and the more often they will arise unbidden rather than fears and worries.
I am grateful for this experience of sharing my bluebird story with you! I am smiling from ear to ear right now! I wonder what joyous or peak experience may grab your attention today? When it rises up, stay with the experience for several breaths. Help the brain soak in the good!