When we think of emotions what words come to mind? Sadness, Joy, Fear, Excitement, Anger, Gratitude, Shame? There are a lot of emotion words, but one emotion we often overlook is Anticipation, an emotion we feel throughout the day as events, predictable and otherwise, ensue.
Let’s consider the power of Anticipation. First, it’s a bodily phenomena; you feel it in your face, your neck & shoulders, your belly. Your heart beats more powerfully, you breathe faster. Your body recognizes that something is about to happen. But all emotions have two aspects: a bodily response unique to that emotion, and that emotion’s typical mindset. In the case of anticipation, there are two mindsets to consider.
Are you optimistic in the moment your body senses something is about to happen? That is, do you have a positive cognitive spin in the moment of anticipation? Then you will likely name what you are feeling as “hope.” On the other hand, if you are pessimistic in that moment, if you are putting a negative spin about what is about to happen, then you are likely to name what you are feeling as “dread.”
Hope and dread are two sides of the anticipation coin. But there are two questions you might consider when you feel either hope or dread. First, is this feeling useful for me in these circumstances? Second, is there data that supports my cognitive spin?
Both hope and dread are legitimate feelings depending on the circumstances. But if we fall into dread too easily when we might be experiencing hope, then we run the risk of falling prey to unnecessary fear, which can be debilitating. It turns out that optimists are not as accurate in their assessments of their present reality as pessimists, but they also turn out to be overall happier people. Pessimists are more often better realists, but they pay a price in their well being.
How often is your dread the result of automatic ways of thinking about things that assume the worst will happen? Sometimes those automatic negative thoughts become self fulfilling prophecies, which not only become causal to a poorer outcome but then serve the purpose of reinforcing the automatic negative thought. Having a positive outlook, finding the possibility of goodness in each moment, disrupting negative assumptions from their capacity to take hold of your mind; all of these cognitive skills promote the experience of hope and enhance better well being.
One of my favorite books is a 17th century travelogue by the Japanese poet Basho titled “Narrow Road to the Interior.” I find his opening paragraph to be an exemplar of Anticipation transformed into hope. I hope you enjoy it. Today’s meditation is a short exploration of “chair yoga;” quick ways to relax and energize the body. The video and audio can be found below a few words from our friend Basho.
“The moon and sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. From the earliest times there have always been some who perished along the road. Still I have always been drawn by windblown clouds into dreams of a lifetime of wandering. Coming home from a year’s walking tour of the coast last autumn, I swept the cobwebs from my hut on the banks of the Sumida just in time for New Year, but by the time spring mists began to rise from the fields, I longed to cross the Shirakawa Barrier into the Northern Interior. Drawn by the wanderer-spirit Dosojin, I couldn’t concentrate on things. Mending my cotton pants, sewing a new strap on my bamboo hat, I daydreamed. Rubbing moxa into my legs to strengthen them, I dreamed a bright moon rising over Matsushima. So I placed my house in another’s hands and moved to my patron Mr. Sampu’s summer house in preparation for my journey. And I left a verse by my door:
Even this grass hut
May be transformed
Into a doll’s house.”
Matsuo Basho; 17th Century Japanese poet; from “Narrow Road to the Interior”