PETALUMA, CA, June 23, 2014 – For anyone who might have been listening, the exchange must have seemed pretty mundane.
A man who has just moved to a new town strikes up a conversation with his barber. They discover they both enjoy hiking and the barber begins to wax poetic about his favorite local jaunts. He finishes cutting the man’s hair and then scribbles a few suggestions on a piece of paper. The man smiles, thanks the barber and then heads back to work.
This is hardly headline news. And yet, it’s exchanges like this that have been laying the groundwork for a brighter outlook and better health for millennia. We may just not be noticing.
Fast forward a day or so later. This same man is having lunch with a researcher from a prestigious university who describes herself as a dyed-in-the-wool optimist, “obsessed with connection and kindness.” She also runs a think tank that comes up with technology that encourages social interaction in real life, “optimized for health and wellness and a good dose of delight,” as she describes it.
It’s during this conversation that the man begins to realize the significance of his earlier visit to the barbershop.
The researcher describes a project she’s working on that prompts people to look for good in others; to find, for instance, someone who inspires them and to communicate that sentiment directly. The prompt may come via email, text or even an old-fashioned phone call, but the idea is the same: to use technology we generally associate with drawing us away from our immediate surroundings and getting us to pay attention, in direct and personal ways, to something wonderful that may be literally staring us in the face.
What’s the point of the exercise? Although perhaps not as popular as the latest drug, appreciation of others is a free and ready elixir that tends to work wonders on both our mental and physical well-being. It literally keeps us healthy.
Too often, though, we allow technology – our cell phones, Twitter feeds and Facebook updates – to fool us into believing that there’s something more important than the present moment, the present good, to be concerned about; and too often this convinces us that there’s not a whole lot to appreciate, in ourselves or others. The effect can be downright devastating, if not chronic.
What’s the answer?
Although he lived in a decidedly low-tech age, Jesus’ ability to grab the attention of his largely agrarian audiences and get them to focus on the good at hand continues to inspire modern-day listeners. “You know the saying,” he said. “‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.”
The idea of not having to wait for something wonderful to happen has a whole host of applications, not the least of which is our health. It begins, however, with a consistent willingness to “wake up and look around” – to appreciate, even in small and incremental doses, the good that’s already here.
Relating this back to our friend in the barbershop, once he had a chance to digest what the researcher had told him, he realized that not only had he returned to work that day looking better but feeling better as well. And he had a hunch it had to do with appreciation. Although he responded to his barber’s suggestions with a simple “Thank you,” what he was feeling inside was more along the lines of “You’ve inspired me. You’ve encouraged me to consider some element of good that I had no idea existed.”
Maybe this is why someone like Jesus was able heal others so quickly and effectively – by simply sharing a thought or two that inspired his listeners to see themselves differently and to accept the idea that better health wasn’t something they had to wait for after all.
For the casual bystander, these exchanges may have seemed pretty mundane. But for the one listening closely to what he had to say, the result was nothing less than transforming.
Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.