The individual who is sensitive to fear will be the first to tell her hunting and gathering comrades that she smells a pride of hungry lions down on the savannah, the first to warn of war whoops coming from those nasty neighbors in the adjacent cave. Because of this, says Hanson, who is quoting the latest neuroscience, our nervous systems velcro to negative experiences and teflon to positives.
“Most good experiences,” says Hanson “are wasted on the brain.”
When we were hunters and gatherers we felt acute fear and then we dealt with it — found another cave or threw our own spears at the invaders and then roasted them or whatever. After that we had long periods of rest, recovery, and playfulness down by the riverside. The few stone -age bands of homo sapiens who still exist live this way today. And, when presented with modern life, they can’t wait to get back home. Modern life does not allow for long periods of rest and recovery. We live with chronic, low-level stress.
What is to be done?
Hanson presents one answer he calls taking in the good. Here is a way that it can work: Let’s say you’re seated outdoors on a cool summer morning and you’re drinking a really good cup of coffee. Install it into your nervous system. Feel the perfect summer air, the tart taste on your lips, the way your body feels this moment from your toes to the tendrils of hair on your head. Feel this moment throughout your body for ten seconds, twenty maybe, even up to one minute, but ten seconds is good enough to make this exercise effective. Like other aspects of Buddhist psychology, it’s simple but not easy; our brain and our intention just love to go roaming.
If you can do it, you have just sealed a good moment into your nervous system. If you can’t do it, try again. Eventually you will. Do this once a day, do it more if you get excited about the possibility. You are doing for your nervous system what Moms Nature did not bequeath our species. You are installing the good.