Provision #511: Savor Silver Linings

Laser Provision

It’s easy to savor beauty; but what about the tough times? That’s when we need to look for and to savor the silver linings in life. The formula is simple: positive action flows from positive feeling, positive feeling flows from positive noticing, and positive noticing flows from combining positive intention and attention in the present moment. Unless we look for positive things, and until we believe they are there to be found, the spiral dynamic that leads to optimal fitness will not be spun. Read on to get your own dynamic spiraling.

LifeTrek Provision

Last week I encouraged you to savor beauty; this week I am encouraging you to savor everything else. It’s easy to savor beauty, although many of us fail to take the time. Beauty is a delight to behold, by definition, and savoring beauty is a great way to relax. But what happens when things aren’t so beautiful? Some respond by bearing down and toughing it out. Others throw up their hands and quit. There is a third way, however, and that’s what this Provision is all about.

The key is to respond to stress with relaxation, rather than with resistance. Both bearing down and giving up are forms of resistance, either against the situation or against ourselves. As such, they both take a tremendous toll on our health and wellness. They leave no energy for exercise, fitness, or anything else.

Just as people and other animals ideally live with a healthy, daily rhythm of waking and sleeping, so too do we ideally live with a healthy, daily rhythm of working and resting. Unless we override our natural instincts, the two intrinsically lead to each other. This morning I went out for an enjoyable two-hour run; the temperature was mild, the sky was overcast, and I took along my MP3 player for the first time in months. It was fun. Afterwards, I enjoyed lunch and conversation with my wife before we took a nap together. That too was fun.

And that’s the way it has worked since the beginning of time. We push out and pull back, we work and rest, we exert ourselves and recover, we expend and renew our energy. That is not only the path to optimal fitness; that is optimal fitness. Optimal fitness is practicing vital rhythms of activity and passivity. Too much of one or too much of the other leads to problems. Just as athletes have to watch out for both overtraining and undertraining, so too do the rest of us have to pay attention to the wisdom of this integral practice. Lest we burn out or rust out, we need to get in the groove of those rhythms.

So what does this have to do with savoring beauty and silver linings? Perhaps we can take a hint from the lyrics to George & Ira Gershwin’s 1930 classic, “I Got Rhythm:”

Days can be sunny, with never a sigh
Don’t need what money can buy.
Birds in the trees sing their day full of song
Why shouldn’t we sing along?

I’m chipper all the day, happy with my lot.
How do I get that way? Look at what I’ve got:

I got rhythm, I got music, I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?
I got daisies in green pastures
I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?

Old man trouble, I don’t mind him
You won’t find him ’round my door
I got starlight, I got sweet dreams
I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?

Oh, I got rhythm, I got music
I got daisies in green pastures
I got starlight, I got sweet dreams
I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?

There’s the connection. If we learn to not only savor beauty but also the silver linings around storm clouds, if we take pleasure in love, daisies, and starlight, then we can be “chipper all the day,” “happy with our lot,” and undeterred by “old man trouble.” Savoring life, all of life, is what gives us the energy to show up for life. It makes us chipper, happy, and determined. By appreciating the best life has to offer, whatever that may be at the moment, we end up generating the best we have to offer. And so the rhythm goes, for life.

The need to relax rather than to fight our way through difficult situations comes up on a daily basis. For every two instances of beauty, there is at least one instance of ugly. Take last Saturday. I was flying from the East to the West Coast of the United States. The flights were safe and smooth (two instances of beauty) but on our approach to Philadelphia (where I had to make a connection) they closed the airport and ended up in Wilkes-Barre (one instance of ugly).

By the time we got back to Philadelphia, I had missed my connecting flight to San Francisco (one instance of ugly), leaving me to spend the day in the Philadelphia airport. That time in the airport enabled me to finish a beautiful Provision (judging from the reader replies) and then to get on a plane where I had three seats all to myself for a more than five hour flight. Talk about being able to rest on an airplane, there’s nothing like being able to stretch out and lie down. That counts for more than two instances of beauty!

By the time I got to my destination, I was more rested than I would have been had I made my original connection. That rest woke me up in the morning with the energy to go for a run in the hills of Berkeley. I discovered a fire trail with blooming spring flowers the smell of eucalyptus (two instances of beauty); I also heard what sounded like a large, wild animal loudly whooping and coming toward me. That scared me (one instance of ugly) but also got me to run faster and further than I might otherwise have run (two instances of beauty).

Later that morning, I was introduced to a beautiful poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. Although I have long enjoyed Rilke’s poetry, most notably The Swan Click, I was not familiar with this poem and it really touched a chord. It’s definitely another poem to commit to memory:

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

How’s that for a poem that does even better than Ira Gershwin at making the connection between letting things go (relaxation) and taking things on (activity)! Fitness comes neither from forcing things nor from holding things back, neither from over nor from under reaching, fitness comes from freeing what waits within us and wants to come out. Then, and only then, will we sing “as no one ever has, streaming through widening channels into the open sea.”

Fitness is our natural birthright and true self. Inside each and every one of us, regardless of our current condition, is a fit and healthy person who loves to be active and connected. All we have to do is to get out of the way and that person will slowly emerge. The body is a healing machine, but it takes ease to overcome disease and savoring to overcome sloth.

That’s why it’s so important to see the silver lining around every storm cloud. The more we notice the silver lining, the more gratitude we feel, and the more energy we have. Notice the positive, feel positive, and act positive. Those three dynamics, systematically practiced and applied, are what make savoring so fundamental to fitness. There’s no way to sustain positive action if we don’t sustain positive feelings, there’s no way to sustain positive feelings if we don’t notice the positive dimensions of the present moment, and there’s no way to notice the positive dimensions of the present moment if we don’t take the time to look for and to savor them.

“Haraka, haraka, haina baraka,” is a Swahili proverb that means “hurry, hurry has no blessing.” It also has no efficacy when it comes to health and wellness. Only by slowing down and noticing the positive dimensions of the present moment will we experience the blessings such noticing has to offer. Only by savoring both beauty and silver linings will we generate the spiral dynamic of integral transformation.

In the May 2007 issue of Dr. Andrew Weil’s self-healing newsletter, he asked ten mind-body experts about their favorite techniques for slowing down, centering themselves, and savoring life. Here is a quick summary of their various practices:

  • Expressing gratitude for both the blessings and challenges life brings.
  • Going outside and looking at the natural world.
  • Meditating (sitting, standing, walking).
  • Brisk walking at a fast pace for about an hour.
  • Deep abdominal breathing.
  • Reflecting on what is going on and what is called for now.
  • Listening to music.
  • Guided imagery.
  • Remembering loved ones.
  • Ending the day by thinking of three good things that happened during the day.
  • Doing yoga, especially to greet the day.
  • Finishing small projects.
  • Breathing slowly while making a whispering sound in the throat.
  • Chanting or saying a repetitive prayer phrase.
  • Exercising aerobically at least four days a week.

Notice how many of these are practices, things people actively and consciously do on a regular basis. They don’t just involve someone thinking about something, much less saying they believe in something. They rather involve the body, mind, heart, and soul in activities that make savoring more likely. By practicing such activities on a regular basis, sometimes more than once and at intervals throughout the day, we become present to the presence of goodness in everyday life.

While in California I had the opportunity to hear and meet George Leonard, a pioneer in the field of human potential, author of twelve books, and co-founder of the Esalen Institute. At almost 84 years of age, his well-honed message was simple: practice, practice, practice. That is how people get good at things. The secret is to practice what you love to do, rather than what someone else tells you to do.

The secret is also to not practice to exhaustion. Leonard, a fifth-degree black belt in aikido, knows all about the power of savoring. “The winds of grace are always blowing,” he quotes an Indian mystic, “but we have to raise our sails.” To do so, he writes, “involves the unlikely marriage of trying and not trying, of zeroing in and letting go, of focusing intentionality and surrendering ego.” That’s when we get into the zone where miracles tend to happen. That’s when we allow savoring to lead to flow.

Optimal fitness requires us to savor the good things in life. Then and only then will we have what it takes to get well and to stay well. Then and only then will we recover from the inevitable stresses and strains of life with the energy for positive change.

Coaching Inquiries: When times are tough, do you focus more on storm clouds or silver linings? How could you more often come from a positive frame? What practices would you like to adopt, on a regular basis, that would assist you to slow down and center yourself? Who could be you partner on the journey?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..

Your recent Provision, Savor Beauty, was inspiring. I miss having friends nearby who I can talk with freely about life and poetry. Poetry speaks in such essential ways to me, but there are few that I am aware of who can talk about it. Often it is a conversation stopper when I bring it up. But you share my love for poetic expression. What a treasure.

I praise you for all the efforts you have taken to produce your inspirational weekly articles for all these years. What a blessing!

I am most interested in the information that you send to us. I am an LCSW in private practice as a psychotherapist, as well as an exercise physiologist, and am working on my 500 level registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance in order to enter yoga therapy training to become a yoga therapist.

In my studies with Gary Kraftsow and Dr. Mohan, MD, they teach the ancient breathing methods (Pranayama techniques) which I am beginning to use with my patients as well as my yoga students both in the poses as well as in the seated (axial extension) position. According to these most authoritative sources, breathing never originates in the belly. It originates in the chest as the diaphragm moves downward and the chest expands.

The air comes out of the lungs when the abdomen is contracted and the diaphragm moves up and forces the air out. The mouth is never, used only the nostrils, and the air moves over the glottis, making a sound like the ocean. This is called ujjayi breath.

I believe that we will see more trained wellness professionals using the breathing techniques with their clients and patients in the future, so I want the correct information to be there for us. I hope this helps. I look forward to your newsletter and really enjoy it. (Ed. Note: Thanks for the information. Breathing originates, as you note, when the thoracic diaphragm moves down into the belly. In my own practice, I find it helpful to think of filling my lungs up from the bottom. As my belly rises and my chest expands, relaxation ensues. As for ujjayi breathing, I have recently been reading about and practicing this myself. Interesting synchronicity.) 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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