I took off my shoes and walked into a gentle stream with pebbles beneath its clear, shallow water. The tiny stones pricked my feet prompting me to step on the sandy soil on the water's edge. It was a nature trail, a symphony of trees. The melodies of birds and the gentle murmur of the nearby stream intertwined and formed a harmonious orchestra within the depths of the wilderness.
A few paces ahead, my eyes widened not just in surprise but also in appreciation of the intricate choreography of existence — a kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttering all around. Common Mormons sitting in groups mud-puddling, wavering their wings at a shutter speed of three-thousand frames per second, some of them sipping nectar from the flowers. A few of them circled me as if asking me to be a part of their rituals. It was such an unexpected find – a little butterfly haven. I stood there, utterly captivated. I forgot about the waterfall I set out to see. It wasn’t important anymore.
That was one of my prettiest glimmers. A core memory that I will revisit every time I see a butterfly.
Glimmers are the opposite of triggers. It is a cue that brings one back to a sense of joy or safety. Think of it as a micro-moment of pure joy that instantly lifts your spirits. This word, ‘glimmers’, was popularised by Deb Dana in her book, The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy.
Glimmers aren't supposed to be big events. They are tiny, little, micro-moments in life that bring calmness to our body and mind. Feeling sunshine on a cold day, basking in nature, petting your dog, rocking your body, humming your favourite tune, the smell of rain after hot weather, and more - all warm, fuzzy feelings that give rest to overwhelmed life and thoughts of existential crisis.
Your glimmers can be different from my glimmers. While you might find joy in watching a cackling baby, I may not necessarily share the same sentiment. No offence to babies. My slice of heaven comes when I encounter a singing canary, a new flower in my garden or upon touching the bark of old redwood trees. Go ahead, here's your chance to roll your eyes at me.
Our joys come from different sources, one has to discover what gives them that calming joy and moves the body and mind into that feeling of safety and connection. On the nervous system level, it is called moving into the ventral vagal state.
We have a remarkable sensitivity to emotional cues around us, often responding instinctively to signals of safety or danger. Triggers signal a potential threat. The opposite, glimmers, are cues that signal safety.
When we feel threatened, our bodies have two ways of reacting: fighting or running away (fight or flight), or freezing and shutting down (freeze). This can make us feel angry, want to escape, or just shut down.
Glimmers activate our ventral vagal nervous system putting us in a relaxed state. Glimmers are like the bright spots that bring us a sense of peace and make it easier to feel close to people and the world around us.
We hear "enjoy the little things" so often that it has reached the cliché phase status, but research suggests that this phrase is meaningful. A 2012 study showed a link between greater appreciation and increased life satisfaction. Taking time to appreciate the simple pleasures of life boosts satisfaction even when things don’t turn out how we hoped. These positive emotions lead to improved heart health, These positive emotions improve heart health, strengthen our immune system, and reduce pain and stress.
The good news is that these glimmers are all around us. A penny found in old pants, stumbling upon a dried rose in an old book, your cat cuddling with you, a rainbow, a cotton-candy sky, a stranger dog greeting you with a wagging tail, a beautiful flower on your nature walks, an old song you loved and grew up listening to, unexpected kind words or a gesture. The list is never-ending. The task is to observe, learning the art of noticing.
Noticing small things, and being mindful of the world around us, can be the answer to regulating our overwhelmed nervous systems.
We are on a hedonic treadmill and missing so many joys that life has to offer. We are in a culture of multitasking. Everything is being accomplished in a hurry with stress over the impending gong of a looming deadline, even when there is no real need for it. Where is the time to pause, reflect, and enjoy?
Mindfulness comes from cultivating it as a habit. Once it draws upon us, there is no need to compel our minds to return to the present moment from the futile, whirling thoughts that divide our attention. This enables us to appreciate the joy inherent in this singular moment.
This focused attention is also called ‘savouring’. This term was coined by Bryant and Veroff in 2007, defining it as attending, appreciating, and enhancing positive experiences that occur in one’s life. It is the counterpart of coping. Savouring need not be only of the present moment. One can reminisce about the happy moments in the past or visualising the future. It is positively associated with higher levels of subjective well-being.
When we know things are short-lived, we start enjoying them to the fullest. The last day of the vacation, the last bite of your favourite sweet, your last day of high school. And we forget that life is transient too; it passes us by so quickly and we just don’t know for how long it will last. So, why don’t we savour each moment each day? That’s what will turn us into the inherently blissful being one is supposed to be!
What is your glimmer that you savour?