The art of receiving goodness in life

Photo by scrappy annie on Flickr Photo by scrappy annie on Flickr

I was at a retreat the other week facilitated by the skillful Lauree Ostrofsky, and one of her ground rules for the day was that we needed to “receive the gifts we were given.”

“If someone gives you a compliment — really feel it,” she told us. “Don’t wave it away” — and here, she illustrated a waving-away motion, something so many of us do instinctively when someone thanks us or says something nice, like we’re trying to shoo it.

We should not be shooing these kindnesses, these gifts, away!

We should instead be stretching our arms out wide and welcoming these gifts closer to us.

Now, I don’t do the little shooing-away motion. And I thought I was pretty good about taking a compliment. But I’ve noticed something: Ever since that retreat, when someone says something nice to me — my husband, my daughter, my mother, a coworker, a friend — I find myself pausing and taking an extra moment to really receive it. Savor it. Soak it in.

And it feels good.

It’s like the difference between mindlessly shoving food in your mouth and stopping to really savor every delicious bite — all of a sudden, the sensation is ten times stronger.

We dwell so much on the negative in this life, and we let the positive skitter past. Let’s change that. Let’s discipline ourselves to notice and feel, fully, the kind words, the warm gestures, the generous acts. Let’s feel these things as much as — more than! — the slights and the criticisms and, yes, the hateful acts.

We are the stories we tell ourselves. If we give the negative more weight, it takes center stage. The lead role. But that’s our choice. We’re the playwrights and the directors. I’m not saying we should whitewash reality, not at all. But when we pause to fully take in the good, it can be staggering to experience its power.

Try it. This week, today, in the next hour — receive every gift you are given.

See how it feels.

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