The days are getting shorter, and the nights, a bit cooler. I can smell the change already in the air. Summer is fading. And this knowing leaves me a bit wistful.
Now, that’s not such a bad thing. Part of what helps us appreciate what we have is knowing it’s not ours forever. And so I find myself spending more time outside, lingering in the garden until dusk, wanting to savor every last bit of what’s left.
In a recent episode of Hidden Brain, psychologist Fred Bryant talks about the benefits of savoring. To savor is to relish in the moment. Which is different than holding on. Holding on is something we do with the past, while savoring only happens in the present. That means there’s no chasing, either. In fact, it’s all our rushing and cramming things in that makes it impossible to savor at all.
Imagine you’re at your favorite restaurant with a few of your very dearest friends. You’d never just gobble and go. Or take out your phone and start scrolling. You wouldn’t bring work to the table to do between dinner and dessert. All that sounds quite ridiculous, right? And yet, we do it all the time.
Savoring is the opposite. To savor is to become every server’s nightmare as you drag out the evening by taking your time, lingering over every moment and morsel.
Slowing is the first part of savoring. And it’s something I wish I would have done more when my kids were little. So much of those years are now but a blur. It wasn’t time that passed too quickly, but me. I regret that, quite honestly. But not to the point that I will be myself up. I won’t wallow in my remorse.
Because that’s what we do, you know. Our brains are already hardwired to retain the negative, and then we help by feeding it our energy. And so it’s that one biting comment, the mistake we made yesterday, or some past rejection we record and remember. Meanwhile, all the positive stuff — the words of praise, our many accomplishments, those the subtler, happy experiences — get pushed into the background. These experiences are much harder to recall and rarely is such detail as the negative. But that’s only because we often pay them no mind.
By attending to positive experiences, we begin to retrain the mind. Or at least level the field. It’s noticing when we feel happy and leaning into that joy; to dwell in the delight rather than the other way around.
And it really does take practice and a true conscious effort. Happiness is a lower vibration, so it won’t make the same impression unless we turn it up. Plus, it often comes to us in the most ordinary of moments, the kind we often take for granted. Maybe it’s coffee with a friend, meandering in the garden, listening to music, or watching the sunrise or set.
I think back to Meghan’s last day here in Montana. We walked the pups up the mountain much further than we’d intended and ended up finding a huckleberry patch. The rest of the afternoon we spent chatting and foraging, then returned home with blisters on our feet and fingers blue from picking. I know, it probably doesn’t sound like much to you. But it’s one of my happiest memories of summer.
Every now and then, I would pause, feel that overwhelming sense of joy, and take it all in — the smell of the pine, the sound of her laugh, the sun on my back. I remember thinking how lucky I am to have made such a friend in my daughter. Even as I write this, I feel that happiness all over again. This is also part of savoring.
One of my favorite Yoga Sūtras is in the first chapter, verse 33, which begins by telling us to cultivate a friendship (maitri) with happiness (sukha). And that’s really what savoring is; it’s creating and deepening that same connection.
Here’s the thing: as yogis, we give suffering a lot of attention and energy. Some will even wear hardship as some kind of badge. Still, it’s often with the assumption that happiness is what waits on the other side. As if the opposite of suffering is joy. Only it’s not. The opposite of suffering is simply not suffering. Happiness is something separate. It’s nothing we must suffer for, and rather ours to choose
And so this is what I am doing these last days of summer — gathering flowers from the garden, some to keep fresh and others to dry, basking in the abundance of daisies and dahlias that still stand in full bloom.
I’m not alone, either. There is a bunny doing his own kind of savoring, nibbling away at my daisies. I let him eat and don’t shoo him away. There’s still plenty here for the both of us.
As I’m watching the rabbit, the tiniest hummingbird I’ve ever seen suddenly darts in and perches on the edge of a hanging basket just a few feet from where I am standing. I’ve seen it in the garden before, but never this close. And never still. The seconds feel more like minutes before he flits away.
I make my way over to the vegetable garden to harvest a few tomatoes and beans. But before I even open the gate, I hear that familiar buzz and know he is back. Once again, he perches himself right beside me, this time on the branch of a tree.
The hummingbird is always a positive sign, a symbol of joy if ever there was one, as it dances and dashes about. But this one does neither. It’s simply there as if keeping me company. And I wonder if this is my message.
Bryant says that while suffering will hunt us down, with happiness, we must do the hunting. But I’m not so sure. Perhaps happiness is not so elusive, nor something we must chase at all.
For in this ordinary moment, it is joy that’s found me. It is in the familiar scent of sweet peas gathered in my basket and the taste of a tomato, fresh off the vine. I even hear it in the distant rumble of thunder and feel it in the chill of evening air. The hummingbird has left, but the feeling has not. It is pure summer magic. And as the light softens on the mountain, I pause to soak it all in.
This is happiness. And it is everywhere.