The scoop on savoring practices

From Embracing the Good, a chapter in the Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook (Neff & Germer, 2018):

“Savoring involves noticing and appreciating the positive aspects of life – taking them in, letting them linger, and then letting them go. It is more than pleasure – savoring involves mindful awareness of the experience of pleasure…” (p.161)

Let’s be honest. How often do we miss opportunities to savor because our minds are nowhere to be found? To be distracted, to wake up breathing this morning (hooray!) and yet to find ourselves pulled in a hundred directions before our feet hit the floor – welcome to the experience of being human. So it’s for good reason that we call this the practice of mindfulness, the practice of mindful eating, the practice of savoring. Guess what? We get our whole lives to strengthen these skills. 

In March of 2018, I attended the Mindful Self-Compassion Intensive, a week-long training held in Sedona, Arizona. After a savoring exercise, our facilitators invited us to step outside to savor an object in our environment. I chose a tree (first left, in picture). I’m especially fond of arboral skeletons during winter. I love how life is revealed to us differently, in each season.20180312_140503

I opened my gaze to what I later described as “the long fingers” of branch, reaching into blue desert sky. With my hands, I caressed the rough edges and soft contours of bark. I was quickly beginning to think of it as “my tree.” So proud and majestic. I felt the awe that is often buried deep in the experience of savoring, even as my stomach grumbled for lunch and I missed my family back home. In those moments, I felt intimately connected: to my tree, and to my body, which stood gazing + listening + touching + smelling + breathing + loving.  I was reminded of the first time I saw my daughter, sleeping on her birth family’s sofa and wearing the tiniest Winnie-the-Pooh diaper I’d ever seen. How I felt awe then, too. How grateful I was to be present in that moment. And in this one.

In recent years, scientists and educators have focused increasing attention on savoring practices, in an effort to cultivate positive emotions and to combat our inherent negativity bias, which often leaves us preoccupied with experiences that are difficult. According to Rick Hanson, Ph.D.:

“The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” 

So true, right?

If mindful awareness and self-compassion are the soil in which we grow, savoring is the sun that warms us and buffers against the cold, painful elements of our existence.

At the beginning of 2020, I finally gave in to the experiment of a “gratitude jar.” At a minimum, it reminds me to check in regularly and to acknowledge what went well, especially if I’m struggling.

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However, savoring isn’t about the avoidance of suffering (“just be happy” or “only think positive thoughts”).

In fact, we know that acknowledging painful thoughts and feelings, with compassion, is just as important as acknowledging positive events. We can also bring a savoring perspective to difficult experiences, as Barry Boyce states in an article on savoring for Mindful.org:

“…In a good moment, though, I can glimpse the fact that pain, whether physical or emotional, is something that lets us know we are alive.”

I can relate. If I’m having a tough day, I’m still grateful that I’m alive to experience it – and my mindfulness training reminds me that this difficult experience, too, will pass.

I get a little squirmy when savoring practices are promoted in popular media as a way to achieve happiness (although who wouldn’t want this), because mindfulness practices in general are most beneficial when we’re willing to show up for the full range of our experience (the good, the bad, the ugly); when we invite our friends self-compassion and curiosity along to help us out.

We’ll be talking about savoring practices quite a bit in the future. To end for now, how can you begin to “embrace the good” on a daily basis? How can you show up more fully to what is pleasurable and nourishing, in your life, in your body, and in nature?