I went for a walk with a friend the other day. We walked and talked about what it means to be human, what it means to be a parent, and how can we make all of it easier.
"It's so overwhelming" she said "I feel like all I do is work through my triggers, support my children to work through theirs, and then we get up and do it all over again. What else is there?" And then, laughing, she asked "What is the opposite of triggers?"
"Glimmers!" I almost yelled out. Well, not almost, I did yell out.
Glimmers are the exact opposite of triggers - they are "small moments when our biology is in a place of connection or regulation, which cues our nervous system to feel safe or calm." (Deb Dana)
Glimmers are not big moments of massive joy, winning the lottery or hopping on a plane to go for tropical holidays. Rather, they are micromoments when we feel content, safe, connected. They happen all the time, but most of the time we don't even notice them.
And of course, the more we focus on glimmers, the more we will find and notice them in our lives.
Finding glimmers for ourselves
Parenting can be overwhelming - for some of us sometimes, for some of us a lot of the times.
Some things that add to our nervous system feeling overwhelmed are:
our brain's negativity bias (tendency to only notice the negative) - that is there for us all;
not enough of an experience of safety (emotional, relational, physical, social) earlier in life;
being prone to worry;
Glimmers are a way of pausing and letting our nervous system take in the goodness, however small it may be, to counterbalance some of the above.
Finding glimmers and learning to notice and savour them takes time. That is because our brain is not wired to keep us happy - it is wired to keep us alive. From an evolutionary perspective it made perfect sense - if we don't stop and smell the flowers, it's not such a big loss, maybe there will be another opportunity. But if we don't notice a predator, we were not likely to come out alive.
But we can teach our brain to notice those safe, positive, connected moments, and the good news is that it only takes a few seconds a day.
By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience—even the comfort in a single breath—you’ll help turn a passing mental state into lasting neural structure. (Rick Hanson)
Helping our children notice glimmers
Children are naturally fabulous at noticing micromoments of happiness and joy. And then life happens, and they might have had a bad day at school, or a challenging interaction with a friend, and suddenly it is "the worst day ever". Having a basket full of glimmers over time doe not mean they will not encounter or react to these - but it does mean that they will have a more balanced experience of what life is. A little bit of everything, most of the time.
Helping our children notice those small moments will help them resource their nervous system. It is like collecting little golden gems we can look at when times are dark. It is also like playing the yellow car game - do you know that one? We play it a lot when we drive, we start noticing yellow cars on the road and after a few moments there are so many of them! That is because the more we pay attention, the more we notice.
And the more we stop and help our children notice those tiny golden moments, the more their brains will be able to do that.
So, while we notice and talk about our triggers and our children's triggers quite a lot, it might also be a good idea to introduce glimmers into our daily experiences.
What glimmers will you stop for today? What are the golden gems you will collect, for your safety, connection and joy?
Here are some of mine:
drinking a lovely coffee as the sun was rising this morning
two students who came to say "thank you we had such a good time in your classes"
the smell of air in the morning
the way my favourite cardigan feels on my skin
birdsong outside my window
the taste of persimmon
What are yours? I'd love to hear, so we can share some of the goodness.
With care and joy,
Glimmers were first described by Stephen Porges in his Polyvagal Theory. More here: https://www.stephenporges.com/
Deb Dana has been working on bringing Polyvagal Theory into therapy, and making it accessible: https://www.rhythmofregulation.com/
Rick Hanson's work cited above can be found here (among many other places): https://www.rickhanson.net/books/hardwiring-happiness/
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