unpacking pleasant

Unpacking Pleasant

In touch with your feelings?

Do you feel more “in touch with” feelings that are challenging in nature or those that are easier? If there was a spectrum from sorrow to joy, do you feel more aware of one end or the other?  

Personally I’ve always felt drawn toward the shadowy side of things. I feel like I understand my sadness with more nuance and granularity than I do my happiness. It’s almost as if I’m more comfortable exploring pain than pleasure.  

When I go back and read what I’ve written so far I think Quinn, this kind of sucks for you! You’re over here exploring hurt with gusto and leaving the rest of your experience relatively unexamined.  

Brain Science

Oh, but I’m aware. And because I’m aware, I can do something about it. I can intentionally notice, even unpack, the easier, joyful, happy, and pleasurable feelings in my life. Just as much as I endeavor to unpack the challenging feelings.  

The brain is wired to prioritize danger, right? Our bodies are survival machines underneath it all. Anything that stands out as a threat in our environment gets our most directed attention. This serves our species well, of course. We successfully escaped the saber tooth tigers and poison berries of yesteryear and survived to tell the tale.

It’s that now the threats our brains perceive aren’t just of the life-and-death variety. Unfortunately, our evolutionarily engrained hardwiring can’t tell the difference between stressors. A threat’s a threat, whether it’s a near-miss car wreck or your roommate breathing too freaking loud omg go away.

The good news is that our brains have evolved the capacity to differentiate between danger and annoyance. We just have to apply ourselves to the task. We have to learn to soothe that fight-or-flight part of our nature. To respond instead of react when the situation calls for it.  

It comes as no surprise to me that I’m drawn towards analyzing and understanding my unpleasant feelings because I know that I’m hardwired to notice these more. It’s comforting for me to know that I’m also wired with the capacity to direct and redirect my attention. Brain science tells us this, as does the system of Yoga.

Practical Practice

Here’s one of the tools I’m using to do this. I’ll set it up with a scenario:

I wake up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning. I come downstairs to a sink full of dirty dishes and proceed to spill my coffee all over the floor. My partner asks me how I slept and I say something passive aggressive about the dishes. His feelings are hurt and he tells me I’m rude.

Just as my muscles begin to tighten and the fighting words start to bubble up I have one split-second of awareness that shows me in a flash what’s happening. I seize the moment and shut my mouth.

I soften my shoulders and do 5-4-3-2-1. I look around me and notice 5 things I see, 4 things I hear, 3 things I feel, 2 things I smell, and 1 thing I taste. This takes a little bit of time and now I’m present in my body and in the moment. I’m in my “right mind” so to speak. I’m able to apologize for being rude. Crisis managed.

Now that I can see the forest through the trees, I look up from my little annoyances to notice at least one thing I’m grateful for. The warm air of the house on my skin that I felt, or the rain against the window I heard. The warm air is cozy. The rain is soothing.

I speak these pleasant things to myself, I think full sentences about them. And I start to unpack the things that bring me pleasure, instead of those that challenge me.  

It’s a practice!  


Image by Anete Lusina from Pexels