Practice This Cherished Memory Meditation Regularly to Saturate Your Brain With Connections That Spark Joy
During these anxious times, we need a practice to help us remember that we have the capacity to feel happy, safe, and grateful.
I could tell you why to do this, or I could show you…
Cherished Memory Meditation
Find a Comfortable Seat
Be aware of your senses. You might look around and listen, taking in the reality of your present environment without judgement. Orient yourself in the moment.
Place a hand on your heart or the center of your chest. Begin to breathe more softly, deeply and slowly. If you are comfortable, close your eyes. Otherwise, soften your gaze so your eyes are a sliver open and you’re not really looking at anything.
Recall a Cherished Memory
Remember one moment when you felt safe, loved, and beloved with someone. This doesn’t have to be a human someone. Pets count. Anyone who sees you in your wholeness and accepts all of you with love. Take your time and go as far back as you need to. It doesn’t have to be a perfect moment. It doesn’t have to be exotic or elaborate. The simple moments are often the most tender.
The memory I turn to most often is the feeling of my son’s hand in mine.
Once You’ve Chosen a Memory, Deepen Your Awareness of It
What did it look like? Sound like? Take time to build all the details of your memory and place yourself within it. Notice any sensation on your skin that you remember, as if you can saturate the feeling in through the pores of your skin right to the core of your being.
I feel the warmth and texture of my son’s hand. I recall the pressure of us both gently squeezing, and the rhythm of swinging our arms as we walk to school.
Imagine resting back into the embrace of your memory, or floating in it. Settle yourself into that moment as if there’s nothing else and nowhere else to be. Enter the snapshot without reservation.When thoughts arise of my son getting older, and naturally wanting more distance, I notice, and then return my awareness to the memory and the feelings associated with the memory. This practice isn’t about holding on to good feelings or making the present moment different. It is about our brains getting used to having good feelings.
“Scientists have found that… remembering someone we feel safe with… is enough to release the oxytocin that will restore our physiological equilibrium, bringing us back into a state of calm and trust from which it is possible to be resilient.”
-Linda Graham, MFT
Let the Feelings Wash Through Your Body
Is there a smell or taste associated with your memory? Breathe it in. Inhale it as if you can fill up with it. Savor all the ways you can drench your senses in your cherished memory.
Name the sensations you associate with the memory. Warmth, smooth sand under bare feet, the fullness after a good meal, the smell of cinnamon, sunshine on your skin…
Feel that you’re drinking in the feelings that this memory evokes. Name the feelings. Wonder, ease, love, safety, joy…
I absorb the feeling of love for my son in that simple, precious moment. I amplify my gratitude by intentionally recalling every detail of the moment.
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“It worked so well for me. I was so cozy and comfy that I could not get up from my nook. I had fallen asleep and then fell back to sleep.”
This is not about putting your head in the sand or gaslighting. This is not a practice of trying to stall time or avoid changes. It is a mindfulness meditation designed specifically to strengthen our ability to feel good.
By recalling the happy memory, I’m not trying to maintain a connection to the past relationship there was between my son and I. I’m not grasping for his hand. I know I can feel that harmony, gratitude and ease without his hand in mine. I’m remembering that I have the capacity for those feelings, and can reproduce them regardless of my present circumstances.
Repeat The Cherished Memory Meditation Often to Create a Happiness Habit
You can end by orienting yourself in the present moment as you did at the beginning. Look around, listen and notice all of your senses awake to this moment, without judgement.
Commit to returning to the same cherished memory often. Creating a new habit takes some effort and repetition. If you enjoy it, that will motivate you.
Whenever I want to, I can feel my son’s hand in mine and awaken the positive feelings. They are mine to enjoy. Even when he’s being a snarky tween, I can recall the underlying sweetness between us. That sparks my joy.
The Science Behind the Meditation
Do this often to saturate your nervous system with the hormone oxytocin, and to strengthen the neural pathways your brain creates as you experience positive feelings.
Stephen Porges and Dan Siegel have researched the relationship between the nervous system and connection extensively. The prefrontal cortex, vagus nerve and the entire autonomic nervous system are fascinating to study but even more wonderful to experience through practice. Linda Graham writes books on resilience and mindfulness, and how the brain is affected by feelings of connection and trust.
“Oxytocin is the naturally occurring neurotransmitter and hormone of safety and trust, of bonding and attachment… Neuroscientists are discovering that any time we feel safe, warm, loved, and cherished, we release small does of oxytocin in the brain; even thinking about, imagining or remembering being loved and cherished is enough to release this oxytocin.”
-Linda Graham, MFT
Our brains have a lot of practice being stressed, angry, sad and worried these days. Use this meditation to help your nervous system get better at experiencing good feelings like connection, safety and love.
Practice meditating with a cherished memory to strengthen neural connections and stimulate the release of oxytocin. When we add touch and breath, that effect is amplified. Place your hand on your heart and take a few deep breaths, recall your memory if even for a moment. Notice how you feel. Take a few minutes today to grow your capacity for connection and joy.
A version of this article was originally published in Age of Empathy.
Hi, I’m Kate! I can’t wait to walk this path alongside you, sharing the tools that have helped me feel calmer.
I’m a yoga teacher and mindful parenting coach who helps highly sensitive parents self-regulate so they can enjoy parenting their atypical kids. I love teaching simple calming tools that you can access no matter how chaotic your life is.
My mindfulness practice has helped me become more present and patient with my family, and with myself, most of the time. It has also made my brain more available for learning, connecting and communicating. That’s what I want to share with you. A regular mindfulness practice can build hardy neural pathways that you can rely on during a crisis.
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