Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. ~ Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows.
I spent my childhood summers in a red, fiberglass canoe. By the time it was put to rest decades on, it was mostly patches, many of them thin and almost transparent. It had carried us through lakes and reedy marshes, by shorelines where loons hunkered down on their secret nests with their eggs and chicks, where moose waded up to their knees for an evening drink as we silently glided by, and eagles stared down at us from their lofty perches.
At sunset we would paddle in silence, watching, listening, and soaking in each moment. Here I learned to see, hear, feel, and appreciate this watery world. Awe and wonder.
When my children were young and the fears and worries of childhood came close, I would lull them to sleep with stories of drifting on peaceful waters. The dreaminess of floating in a leaf under a starry dome.
There’s been some wonderful research into brain function recently, especially neuroplasticity. We have learned that what happens in our mind changes our brain, both temporarily and in lasting ways, and what happens in our brain changes our mind. We can do small things inside our mind that will lead to big changes in our brain and our experience of living.
During our evolution, human survival was aided by focusing on and remembering danger and unpleasant experiences. While useful at one time, having brains that are wired for a ‘negativity bias’ now leads us to overlook good news, highlight bad news, and experience anxiety and pessimism. We need to intentionally attend to the good.
In his book, Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson shares how we can create new neural pathways to support our well being by practicing ‘taking in the good’. We can use our minds to wire our brains for greater happiness and well being by allowing ourselves to deeply absorb the good in our lives. This isn’t ‘positive thinking’, which can make us feel worse, but being present for the good when it’s happening. While having a positive experience, linger with your good feelings, absorb them fully, let them soak in deeply, and remember them often.
Do not think lightly of good, saying, ‘it will not come to me’,
Drop by drop is the water pot filled,
Likewise, the wise one, gathering little by little, fills oneself with good.
~ Dhammapada 9.122
The peaceful rhythm of paddling through still and silent water.
Pausing in my kayak on a calm lake, I soak in the world around me, paddle at rest, eyes closed, breath deep. The space between the inner and outer worlds narrows. Drifting with the movement of the water ~ the distant sound of air moving over water and earth, the nearby sound of water meeting kayak, and the inner sound of breath ~ weather on skin ~ light ~ warmth ~ peace.
Here in this moment, changed.
Learn more about neuroplasticity and hardwiring for happiness here.