Savoring the Season
Updated: Dec 31, 2021
“But I also say this: that light is an invitation to happiness, and that happiness, when it's done right, is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive.” — Mary Oliver
We’ve made it. We’ve reached December and the end of another year. As the days grow shorter and darkness seems ever present, it is no wonder that so many different celebrations at this time of year focus on the beauty of light. Diwali, Chanukah, and Christmas have all been linked to the term “Festival of Lights,” and though their origins are very different, they all seem to represent the innate human drive toward hope and faith that light will come again even in the darkest of seasons.
But what exactly does it mean for light to overcome darkness? So much of this season seems focused on connecting with the positive and celebratory states of happiness, joy, and abundance, from the music played and parties planned to the meals prepared and gifts given. Yet, these states of mind and heart can be hard to connect to for individuals who may also be experiencing hardship and difficulty this time of year.
For many, 2021 was just as challenging, if not more so, than 2020. We were still reeling from the trauma of the onset of the pandemic the previous year, which included the loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, loss of the overall feeling of safety and stability. Yet this year, we were still expected to forge ahead, to fall into a new normal without ever stopping to allow time to process and fully grieve what we experienced and lived through. It makes sense then that the pressure and expectation to be joyous and celebratory this time of year creates a stark contrast with the reality of the moment, a disconnect that only serves to highlight loss and intensify the grief that is present.
With all that we have been through, it seems more important than ever to find ways to connect with the feeling of light overcoming darkness. But how? When exploring this idea on an individual level, so often I hear it phrased as letting the light in, as if we can only find the positive and celebratory states of happiness and joy from external sources. However, the more I study and practice mindfulness and mindful self-compassion, I have begun to think of it as an uncovering of the light from within, a shift in perspective that suggests that joy and happiness are already present within us. We just have to turn our attention to them. And by doing so, we give these positive states the space they need to not only shine but to continue to grow brighter.
The Practice of Savoring
One practice that helps make this rather abstract idea more concrete and practical to the every-day is the act of Savoring. Savoring shows us how to find pleasure, and yes even joy, in the smallest of moments. By simply pausing and bringing our awareness to these moments, as well as how we feel in these moments, we begin to increase their frequency and thus magnify their effects.
How to Practice Savoring
Find a natural pause in your day, a quiet moment where you begin to slow down between crossing items off your to-do list, a moment such as brushing your teeth or washing dishes, going for a walk outside or winding down for sleep.
Stop and take a deep breath, signaling to your body and mind that this is a time to slow down, rest, and reflect.
Think back over the past few days and ask yourself, What did I do that brought me a sense of pleasure or purpose? The smaller and more specific the action or moment the better. Some examples could include the glow of lights from your holiday decorations, enjoying a warm cup of coffee or tea, sharing laughter with your child, or making cookies for your friends.
Make note of the sensory experience of these actions. What colors could you see around you? What did you hear at the time? What could you smell or taste? Take a minute to paint the full picture, the full experience of moment.
As you continue to think about what brought you a sense of pleasure or purpose, notice how your body feels. What does it feel like to think about these small moments of your day? Perhaps there is a feeling of warmth, of gentleness, a softening that occurs both in the body and mind.
To close, offer your body another deep breath and offer yourself gratitude for having experienced this small moment of pleasure and purpose as well as its memory.
There are a couple of really important things happening here. To begin with, this practice of Savoring is simplifying the act of connecting to joy. By breaking down this positive state to something more easily identifiable like a small moment of pleasure or purpose, we can more easily connect to and access the sometimes illusive feeling of happiness, even when other other more difficult emotions are present. Then by intentionally turning our attention to these small moments, we train our mind to notice them more often, to see the good that is already there. Finally, by noticing the effect these experiences create within the body, we begin to connect more fully with the feeling these pleasant moments evoke, thus transforming some of the simplest and most routine moments of our days into something that lasts much longer.
In this way, through Savoring, we can begin to rediscover the light within, the happiness that is always present, always a part of us even in the darkest of times.
Resources on Savoring & Cultivating Positive States
Click below to receive a free mindfulness practice on Savoring recorded by Catherine!
Tara Brach - Trusting the Gold: Uncovering Your Natural Goodness
Rick Hanson - Just One Thing Newsletter: Simple Practices for Resilient Happiness
The Atlantic - How to Build a Life: A Column About Pointing Yourself Toward Happiness
Resources for the Holidays
The New York Times Well Newsletter with Tara Parker-Pope
Alexandria Art Therapy Blog
This article was originally written for the Breathing Spaces Caregiver Connection Newsletter. Breathing Spaces is an organization dedicated to providing resources and support for caregivers, both family and professional. For more information, please visit breathingspacesfc.com.