One of the benefits of mindfulness practice is that we can become aware of how we relate to whatever experiences or emotions arise and interact with them in a way that offers greater freedom and clear-seeing. This applies to the full spectrum of what we experience and feel as human beings.
When I teach mindfulness meditation, it seems like I emphasize applying the skills and tools to the more challenging stuff – unpleasant emotions – in the interest of easing suffering. In last week’s sessions, for example, I focused on mindfulness of shame and humility and how mindfulness offers immunity against what Eckhart Tolle calls the “mental viruses” of our times. Awareness is the first step of freedom.
However, the unpleasant end of the spectrum is only part of the picture. We can strengthen our capacity to be with what is pleasant, too. To slow down and become still enough to really take in a pleasurable moment. Doing this helps our brain build new neural pathways and balance its hardwired, inherited negativity bias that scans for and overfocuses on danger – whether actual or perceived.
I recently learned of an obsolete, Old English word, apricity, defined as: the warmth of the sun in winter. It instantly became my new favorite word, right up there with neuroplasticity and inspiration.
I’m a great fan of apricity. In fact, I’m enjoying it even as I write this. My standing desk on wheels is positioned right in front of a sunny window, and the sunlight coming through the window is bathing me in warmth. It feels amazing!
Whenever there is sunlight (which hasn’t been often lately), I roll my desk to a sunny window and follow the sun from window to window throughout the day. This is one of my favorite winter delights, and how lovely to finally have a word for it! Why that wonderful word became obsolete is beyond me.
I have a health condition for which I’ve been instructed to apply a warm compress to my eyelids daily. When I let that treatment regimen lapse, I inevitably become aware of its value – when my eyelid becomes inflamed again. It’s just like when your meditation, yoga, exercise, etc. practice lapses, and the absence and contrast make you aware of its benefits. You realize that you feel better when it’s part of your life than when it’s not.
The warm compress treatment is simple enough but feels tedious. The most challenging part is making time for it. The other day, I heated the water and prepared the compress. When I was all set, I saw that my son was on the couch, where I had intended to lie down and do the treatment. So I went on the sunporch and noticed how wonderfully warm the sun felt coming in through the windows. Seemed like a perfect spot to plop down.
I had intended to make time to meditate before doing a live Zoom mindfulness session that day, but the warm compress therapy would cut into that time. And then it occurred to me that I could fit in meditation by incorporating it into the eye treatment and focusing on apricity and warmth in general. Warmth of the compress on my face and apricity on my skin as I lay on my meditation cushion – just like a cat, as my son pointed out.
The practice was simple: When the mind wanders off to thoughts of past or future, or even to thoughts about present conditions, acknowledge the wandering, and guide awareness back to the sensations of warmth. In other words, warmth was my meditation anchor, my home base.
It transformed a somewhat tedious health routine into a meditation practice that was a true joy.
Although the sun is shining brightly today, this rarely has been the case in recent weeks. As my recently completed yearlong river sunrise photography project confirmed, January and February are the months when we in the Northeast tend to see the least sunlight. But eventually the overcast days pass, and the sun comes back out – like today. After a long string of dreary weather days, we appreciate the sunshine and blue sky even more.
And when the sun isn’t out? We can practice generating our own sunshine. Perhaps go on a treasure hunt, indoors or outdoors, for what gladdens the heart. Kindle gratefulness.
For example, earlier this week when the sky was overcast, I was delighted to rest my eyes on the orchids on my meditation altar and the 11 tiny buds (yes, I counted them) that will blossom in the spring. And my beloved jade plant and the numerous smaller jades I’ve been propagating. The sound of the water fountain in the corner of the room. The plants on the window shelves I created last year that always gladden my heart.
In the absence of apricity, I made a cup of fragrant, herbal tea. I held my mandala mug (my current favorite) in my hands and felt the warmth of the tea – even held the mug to my body to warm more of me. Again, the sensations of warmth were my meditation anchor. When I drank the sun-ripened tea, I consumed sunlight and joy.
So if you need one, consider this your permission slip to switch up your meditation practice and experiment and play with an anchor that generates warmth and joy!
© 2024 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.