My friend Jini shared a lovely thought in a comment one day: that as I scan the world to find delights to share, I’m essentially rewiring my brain for joy.
We know about the plasticity of the brain and how, even as we age, our brain has the stunning ability to form new connections between neurons and actually reorganize itself. We continue to learn new things all the time. And even though we might not exactly remember the details of the book we just read (ahem), we gobble up and retain information continuously.
Jini’s point, I think, is less about retrieving information and more about acquiring it. We know the Gospel saying, “Seek and ye shall find; knock and the door shall be opened to you.” Jesus is nurturing faith and our relationship with God. Yes. And the saying also aptly describes our emotional relationship to our personal world view. And the choices we make each day in navigating what happens to us.
For better or for worse, when we’re moving about, we tend to see what we expect to see. Experts talk about confirmation bias — of harvesting selectively, if unconsciously — to validate our perspective. Or they talk about seeing through the lenses of countless eyeglasses, acquired from countless hurts, that we pile over our eyes; yes, we see, but the distortion from so many lenses piled together — each, perhaps, useful in its time — separates us from what’s actually there before us. We think we see with crystal clarity. Maybe we do, maybe we don’t.
Since beginning My Year of Delights feature 5 weeks ago https://fashionedforjoy.com/category/my-year-of-delights/ I’ve discovered delights tumbling onto me like puppies. I’d feared scarcity of material and, indeed, launched the feature to challenge myself. Now I suffer the choices I need to make. (I even have a reserve, in case I experience the unlikely day with no delights at all.)
How is this happening? Because I’m keeping my metaphorical eyeglasses sharp and because my brain is actively looking for material. Mine are not rose-colored glasses: the tints I see are true life colors, not feel-good distortions.
At first, and still a bit today, I’d walk about literally asking myself, is this a delight? Or that? Now I feel like a part of my brain is busy scanning my environment for pleasing things while the rest of me attends to the official business at hand. And my brain bleeps every now and then to report its findings.
This may be nothing more than the practical art of paying attention or the spiritual discipline of being fully present. Certainly, it’s those things. And I maintain it’s far easier than those things. All I’m doing is looking for joy, or a moment of delight, or a tiny incident, a view, a tableau that becomes sea salt-and-almond dark chocolate for my soul.
In five short weeks, my aging brain has stretched its hamstrings, rolled back its shoulders and loosened its hips to stretch in crazy directions. Starting in the springtime helps, of course, but it’s more than that. My brain — all limber and juicy — has even organized categories of delights: nature, people, laughs, surprises, histories, mysteries and beauty.
In fact, while writing this, while savoring the cool morning and gazing out the window (the original smart phone distraction), I saw a chipmunk dart about the road as though trying to decide whether to approach the squirrel resting comfortably there. How close would he get? Would they have a bit of small mammal communion? Two yards, and no: the chipmunk scampered back. (I guess that’s like me not taking a chance with an elephant.)
A distraction, yes. And a delight.
I find myself watching how dogs move their legs and noticing the companionable talk of the people walking them. I look for minnows in the creek and the tiny white water splashes caused by creek-bed rocks. I listen to the birds, stray music from car windows and a magnificent contralto on the radio. I notice my heart respond to Mozart and the pleasure of detecting evening woodsmoke through an open window.
These things pile up with carefree abundance. (Oh look: a scarlet finch dancing with a sparrow, then perching on our conical arbor vitae like a Christmas tree angel.)
So I ask two things of you. Be patient with me as I share ordinary things that bring me outsized delight. And give this a try.
The delights are there all around us, waiting to be plucked and inhaled. Waiting to change how our brains experience the world, waiting to soften our clenches and ease our muscles just a little bit.
Look for one delight each day. You may be surprised how many tumble into your lap.
I wrote this piece for Five Minute Friday, a faith-based community blogging site at https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/06/13/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-goal/ Scroll all the way down and check out the other short essays on the topic of “Goal.”