Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #167 How to Bring the Good Times Back
About this episode

Recalling positive sense memories creates connections in the brain that reinforce positive, joyful times instead of fear or anxiety, and that's what Martha is talking about in this episode of The Gathering Room. Tune in for the full episode, where Martha will also guide you through a powerful Space, Silence, and Stillness meditation to help you drop out of matter and connect with the deepest sense memory. Join her!

How to Bring the Good Times Back

Martha Beck:

So welcome, welcome to The Gathering Room. You will hear me cough. You have already heard me cough. I’ve been coughing for the last several days. I do not test positive for anything gnarly, but I have lost my sense of smell and taste. I don’t know if any of you have had that delightful symptom. It’s not something I’ve had before. When I was reading about how it happens to some people, I thought, boy, if I got that, I hope it doesn’t happen to me. Well, it did.

So here I am without a sense of smell or taste and I’m thinking life is less fun without a sense of smell or taste. I am sure those of you who’ve gone through the experience would agree. It can happen that even after one gets over infections, the sense of smell and taste do not come back. So I have been researching how I can make this come back even when my sinus is ever clear, which is an open question at this point.

I found the most interesting thing and it connected with a lot of other stuff that I’ve learned about the brain and neuroplasticity and the connection between the body and the brain. We think culturally about the body being something physical and separate, just an object, and then the mind and cognition being something airy, fairy, and neurological, yes, but not that connected to the body.

Well, if you want to get your sense of smell back and yours is gone and you are no longer hacking and coughing as I am, one thing they recommend is that you get something you like to smell, like a lemon or I have my favorite pine scented natural candle that I love that I burn at Christmas time to get that smell of evergreen in the house you’re supposed to expose yourself to that smell. So hold the lemon up to your nose or the pine thing up to your nose, and then while you breathe in the smell, which you cannot smell, you remember smelling it before.

This is so interesting to me because it’s the remembered experience of that scent which is stored in, I don’t know where in the brain, but it’s now causing the chemical that is coming in through your nasal passage to be reconnected with the experience of having that smell. I thought that was so fascinating. I can’t try it yet because obviously I have not yet got clear sinuses, but I’ve been using it on other things and it’s amazing how well it works.

So I call this bringing the good times, back because I think this methodology can work for us in a number of different ways. So for example, there are times when I get so wired I cannot rest. I’m not good at falling asleep, I’m easily stimulated and I can stay awake forever unless I’m properly medicated. So one thing that is hard for me is the state of rest, but there have been times in the past when I have rested very, very deeply. So I can remember specific naps that I had.

I remember getting on a plane once at the end of a book tour when I was completely exhausted and I just had a nine shot cappuccino. I was so full of caffeine. I got on that plane and by the luck of the draw I got one of those rows where all the seats are empty and I was the only one on the row and I was able to stretch out. So I drank this massive amount of caffeine and went sound asleep for about five hours. The flight attendant when she woke me up, she’s like, “You are tired.” I was like, “Yes, I am. I was, but I’m not anymore.”

So today I was like, it’s hard to sleep when you’re coughing a lot and all of that. So I’ve been feeling a little unrested. I lay down, I put myself in the same position I was in on those four seats and I deeply remembered what it was to let go so completely that my whole body went limp, despite the caffeine, despite the discomfort, despite the noise, despite the fact that I was dressed in uncomfortable clothes and I just went into absolute relaxation.

So I tried that today. Gluck. I really was able to rest deeply. Then my joints were hurting, and one thing I’ve heard from a physical therapist is when your joints hurt, remind them of times they didn’t hurt. She told me this, I looked at her like she was crazy. Remind my knees of times they didn’t hurt. She’s like, “Just try it.” So my joints were aching.

I remember being a kid and climbing the same tree over and over and over again. For some reason I was obsessed with getting the right technique to climb this one tree and I had a certain path up the tree. I think they do this kind of thing at rock gyms now, at climbing gyms, but I remember doing it over and over and over and I didn’t have any pain anywhere. I was 10. The pain started when I was 12.

So I was walking along today just reminding my knees of climbing that particular tree and I actually went and put my hands on the branch of a tree in our yard that’s about the same size as one. I would jump up into this tree and grab a certain branch. So I grabbed this branch in our forest here and I remembered climbing that tree and having no pain in my body, and by gum, the pain in my knees receded noticeably.

I thought this is the problem. When we get sad, desperate, anxious or ill, we go into a memory state that is separated from the times we’ve been well and that can get entrenched, especially because it’s scary. What if I never get my sense of smell back? That’s a very strong emotional ramification. The thing that causes neurons to myelinate in the brain is partly the urgency, the emotional urgency we give it.

So if I’m thinking, oh no, what if I never get my sense of smell back? I can’t smell this, I can’t smell that. That is going to reinforce the idea that I’ll never get it back. If I instead relish the memory of smelling a lemon while I hold a lemon close to my nose, something I plan to do soon, or if I can make my knees relax by grabbing a branch and remembering a time my knees didn’t hurt, or when I can deeply rest despite discomfort, when I remember a really uncomfortable time when I rested deeply, I’m myelinating different circuits. I’m creating connections in the brain that are going to the times I felt good instead of the times I felt bad.

So I’ve been thinking about doing that with every aspect of my life, put myself in the same state of mind and even in the same physical state I’ve been in when I was aligned with joy, when I was aligned with connecting with other people. I have high social anxieties, but I can remember times when it was a joy to be with people socially. When I put myself in that place and remember, remember, remember, I’m myelinating those circuits.

The ultimate, the far reach of this is, I believe, that we can remember the aspects of ourselves that are not physical and the times when we have experienced even in this life what it means to be completely identified with who we are in our essence, who we are in our consciousness, in our souls. For that reason not be so worried about all the little problems like, I don’t know, illness, loss, war, death, the little problems that beset us here on this planet. If we can touch into the memory of what it was to be completely unafraid, what it is to be pure spirit and then bring that into the body and into the brain. We can start to create a brain that can go to the place of no suffering, can go to the place of deep wisdom, can go to the place of the peace that passeth understanding and it restores us to who we were before.

I also think you can do with little things like a birthday party. You don’t like your birthday anymore. Remember a birthday party that was wonderful. Bring the good times back. So the steps are simple, notice a place where you’re not having a good time, remember a time that was good, recreate some of the circumstances, the physical sensations, the situations that remind you of that time, and then go to that situation and vividly, vividly remember what it was like to find joy.

I remember a time coming out of a very long depression and the moment that something connected with me in my brain and I felt like I was connected to the world again. Just sitting here imagining that I can feel my whole psyche really, really expanding. I think we can all do this and I think we all need to do this. We need to bring the good times back. Even if there were a thousand terrible memories for every good one, find the good one, find the moment when things were beautiful and recreate it, reconnect with it, and it begins to gain a momentum. A momentum that we typically only get to negative things.

All right. Dr. Donna says, “What if anxiety blocks the memory like I get anxious when I attempt to think about enjoying teaching.” Well, go to a sensory impression of it, and if anxiety comes up, then you can say thank you anxiety and still go back to the memory of what it felt like to enjoy something. If you just say thank you anxiety, you are there. I see you. You are not fully identified with the anxiety at that moment. If you think that you are your anxiety, if you are fully blended with your anxiety, you’re believing something that is not true. You know that anxiety is in your natural state because it feels horrible.

There have been times when you have not been anxious right before you fell asleep. A moment with a kitten purring in your lap. It doesn’t matter how small it is. You zero in on that and you recreate circumstances and you remember, while you sense. I’m hoping this works with my nose and I’m really excited to try it with anything else. You remember while you sense that’s the key.

Colette says, “Would this also work with other things like trying to remember what it was like to make enough money? I’m struggling financially at the moment and find it hard to imagine ever making enough money again.” That’s a really, really good example. I genuinely that money is primarily energetic. It’s a thought form that humans have thought up. Even gold isn’t really worth… It’s not much. If you’re starving on a desert island, you could have all the gold in the world and it wouldn’t help you. We assign value to things and it’s the value we assign that makes it valuable, makes it money.

So you have the essence of money as part of your imagination system, and when you remember times that it was abundant, I really, really believe, and I’ve seen this many times, you behave in ways that are more consistent with actions, but bring money into your experience. You have better ideas. You strike up better partnerships. You make better things. If you’re living in this joy of richness, money is one of the riches that finds its way to you.

When you’re struggling and cramped around it and all you can remember is being poor, it’s very hard for money to get in. It really, really is. So it sounds odd to imagine and remember feeling abundant when you’re feeling like there’s not enough. Our culture says, no, you got to focus on the not enough and that way you’ll be motivated to work, work, work. No. Creates all the wrong synapses. It creates all the wrong behaviors to bring value into your life. If you can remember living in rich abundance, you will be much more interesting to people who have value to offer you. Yeah.

So I have some friends who are wonderful people who have always lived in a sense of abundance, whether they had much or little, and they just by surprise came into a huge amount of money and I’ve just been giggling and happy for them ever since I heard, because these are people who just live abundance. It doesn’t matter whether they have it or whether they don’t. They always seem to believe and act as if the earth is full and there is enough to spare and everything’s going to be fine. I do think that is the kind of energy that brings in more wealth, not to criticize you if it hasn’t happened for you yet.

Zenful Mama says, “How can we get in touch with it? Simply by deep relaxation?” I think relaxation is the pivot point. Because the moment you stop relaxing, you’re trying to control the way your thinking goes, and this is not control based. The doctors who are trying to help people get their sense of smell back, didn’t say really focus on smelling and really try harder to smell things. They said put a lemon by your face, breathe through your nose and remember smelling lemons. Don’t try. Just associate. You get that? You don’t. Sense and remember, sense and remember. Put your hands on the tree and remember your knees not hurting. All of us have the thing of imagine a time when things were good, but to add a sense experience seems to anchor it in something that we’ve actually been through. So deep relaxation is a big part of it, but try a sense connection of some kind. Something you can smell, taste, touch here, see, and really zero in on that.

All right. Tracy says, “Is this a similar mechanism as gratitude?” I’d say similar, but not identical. Basically, what happens is as you start to go into the memory of something that was good, even before you get back the thing you want, the gratitude for the past experience starts to flow. I don’t know about the metaphysics of gratitude. There’s a lot written about it, about how it brings things in, but I do know about the psychology and the psychological research on gratitude, which says that it is the single thing that makes us most likely to feel happy. If we can generate feelings of gratitude, then that happiness is going to last much longer than if we don’t experience feelings of gratitude. So maybe let’s add that in. Put a lemon by your face and remember smelling lemons. Then be so grateful for the times you smelled lemons instead of being afraid of the times when you won’t be able to taste a lemon or smell a lemon ever again.

All right. So Kate says, “It’s a fine line between using this technique to connect a positive time and living in the past. How can we resist the inclination to live in the past and use the technique to enhance the present?” That’s a great question. So the only thing you’re bringing from the past is a sense memory. So it’s something a dog or cat would remember. It’s not that you remember eating lemons on the porch with your grandma and now your grandma’s gone on to the next stage. The house she lived in has been bulldozed and you sure wish that house were back and you sure wish you could just talk to grandma one more time. That’s getting lost in the past.

The taste of lemon, the smell of lemon is not connected to any specific time in the past. You’re bringing up the scents that you experienced in the past. It’s just a thing. It’s just a solid, real world, five senses experience that you’re having. As you start to think, oh, I wish I had the situation that was there in the past, that’s the time to say, hey, stop it now. We don’t need to go back to the past. What we need to do is know that this experience is always available to us.

The interesting thing about memory to me is that I think it defies the… Well, it doesn’t defy the physics of time, because the physics of time say that everything is present all the time under certain conditions. So it allows us to get out of the trap of the arrow of time that is part of the condition of having a human brain, thinking that we are moving forward at a certain pace from the past to the present and that the past can never be recaptured and that the present is always slipping away from us.

Those are things that make us attached to negativity. When you are just in a sense impression and you know that lemons have been tasted by people for thousands of years, they may be tasted for many years to come, it has nothing to do with the line of time. It is just the taste of lemon, and then you associate that with something that you’re doing now, I think you bridge the gap between the present moment and the experience you had in the past. What it does is it reignites the ability to experience that thing as an ongoing event.

So I think that we should go into our meditation now. My assistant here keeps getting up and making me think there’s something that I need to pay attention to. Okay. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to go into the meditation and those of you who’ve been here before know the meditation that and those of you who haven’t can just play along. This is something that I think actually we can link into the experience of being nonphysical.

One of the things that’s interesting about being raised Mormon is that Mormons believe that we all existed as identities before we were born. It’s called the pre-existence. So from my earliest memories was told that I existed before I had a body and will exist… Well, actually Mormons believe you’ll have your body forever, but the idea that I existed before I came here seemed perfectly natural to me and it never really went away when I left Mormonism. So I do believe that there was a time when in some form all of us were consciousness prior to being physical.

The thing about the space, silence, and stillness meditation is that it drops us out of matter and into an experience on this planet that may be similar to what we had going on before we had any physical aspect at all. Maybe this is the way of going back to the deepest sense memory, the memory of no thing, the memory of no time, no action, the undergirding of everything that we see as physical.

So let’s do the meditation. I’m going start by getting really relaxed, as relaxed as we can. Then asking the question, thank you to Les Fehmi from the Princeton Research Center, is it possible for me to imagine the distance between my eyes? If you’re looking at the computer screen or at your phone, instead of looking at my image on the screen, look at the space between the image you see and your eyes. Look at the empty space between.

Is it possible to imagine the distance between my eyes and the back of my head? Can I imagine the space inside the atoms a huge component of space inside the atoms, between the crown of my head and the nape of my neck? Can I imagine the distance between my right shoulder and my left shoulder? Can I imagine the space inside the matter that makes up my chest, my heart, my lungs? Can I imagine the consciousness of space filling these empty, empty spaces where there is no matter? Can I imagine the space inside my legs, the emptiness there and the lack of necessity to carry any burden at all, the openness inside my body?

Can I imagine the space inside my heart flowing seamlessly to connect with the space inside the hearts of everyone on this broadcast from all over the world? Can I imagine the space inside the planet between me and someone who is watching this broadcast on the other side of the earth? Can I imagine the empty space inside the atoms of the earth, between the two of us? Can I imagine the absolute peace and stillness that embraces every action, every vibration through this whole planet, between me and everyone else on this broadcast? Can I imagine the silence under every sound? Can I hear it?

By using imagination, this is another interesting product of real scientific research, Les Fehmi found that by asking these questions about the emptiness and the space, we calm our brains and the brain calms the whole body. A very calm person in a room can calm the whole room. A room full of people, like a gathering room full of people spread out across the globe, if we can come into space consciousness, remember what it was like at the best of times, all the best of times, silence, space, and stillness were there, holding us outside of time and completely absolutely secure. We are absolutely safe in space, stillness and silence.

So that’s how we bring the good times back. I hope that you all go out and do what I’m do as soon as I get my smell back, which is I’m going to smell all the good things the world has to offer and really, really appreciate it. In the meantime, have a wonderful, muah, wonderful week until Meet again on The Gathering Room. Love you. Bye.

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