I knew something was wrong the moment my dog began barking. He seldom barks and the sound of it was full of primal alarm. The last time I heard it was when our neighbour’s house went up in flames two years ago.
With fearful thoughts, I left my desk and looked out the window. And there he was. A bear. Not 30 feet away, meandering around our cottage property.
He didn’t stick around for long, but all day, I kept looking for him, eyeing the bushes, wondering if he was going to come back.
Then I realized what I was doing: scanning for the worst. My fearful thoughts were using up energy I could have using to get on with my day. So, I talked compassionately to the part of me that was anxious, promised to keep an eye out and did a process called ‘Scanning for the Good’.
This is a process Rick Hanson talks about in his various books on brain function. As he teaches, the brain acts like Velcro with negative stuff and Teflon when it comes to the positive (we can have a great day, but if one hard thing happens, that’s what we remember). This practice turns this orientation on its head. Here’s how you do it:
1) Notice when you are waiting for or anticipating something negative to happen, or are having fearful thoughts. 2) Remind yourself that this is just your mind trying to get a sense of control.
3) Decide to set the thoughts aside.
4) Beginning with your senses, notice what’s good around you –the colours, aromas, sounds, sensations (for example the feel of the breeze on your skin)
5) Pay attention to the processes you normally take for granted, the breath that you are taking, the way your heart is beating, the way your body is digesting its food and handling your health. As Tich Nhat Hahn says, “noticing that you don’t have a toothache”.
6) Continue scanning for what is working in your life – what body parts/systems ARE working well, what ARE you able to afford, what relationships DO feel good.
7) If other thoughts come in, and they probably will, just set them aside for now.
8) Once you have a list of good things, take a few of them and really FEEL them, really let yourself experience the wonders. Do this until your body responds with a wash of good feelings.
I felt very different once I’d done the scan. I had no more fearful thoughts and was able to move on with my day. The bear did not come back. But even if he had, it would have been okay. Bears wander around in cottage country all the time. I can’t stop them from doing that. But what I can stop them from doing is wandering around in my mind and taking over my thoughts.
Use this practise and you’ll be able to do this too. Let me know how it works. I’d love to hear.