A few months ago after a student of mine finished playing a song, I looked at him and said, ‘That was so beautiful it gave me goosebumps.’ Now, each time he after he finishes a song he turns to me in anticipation and asks, ‘Was that goosebump good?’ It makes me laugh because while he doesn’t always play ‘goosebump good,’ this expression has somehow motivated him to practice harder and brings out his best performance with anticipation I will say, ‘Yes, that was goosebump good.’
It also makes me smile because it’s one of those mysterious human reactions I don’t really understand. It’s a strange, inexplicable sensation that just seems to spontaneously happen to me, sometimes when I see something as simple as a beautiful flower or feel the powerful emotions of a great symphony.
I get goose bumps often these days. For me, many of my ‘goosebump moments’ have been while listening to or performing music and since I live in a town where music can be heard on most every street corner, it makes sense I experience them regularly. But on my drive home yesterday I started to think about the other times in my life when I can vividly remember feeling goose bumps: sitting on a cliff in Cinque Terre watching the sunset with my best friend, learning to waltz in San Marco Square, watching my dog Wolfgang blink snowflakes out of his eyes, singing songs with a group of strangers and a very out of tune piano in Cape Town, watching my two grandfathers laugh together at a fourth of July picnic.
It made me wonder what underlies this physiological response in our bodies. Is it a connection to a higher power? Love? Joy? Inspiration? I was surprised that when I looked up the definition of ‘goosebumps’ (bumps on a person's skin at the base of body hairs which may involuntarily develop when a person experiences strong emotions such as fear, nostalgia, pleasure, euphoria, awe, admiration and sexual arousal) that all of the examples that followed were related to fear, the kind that makes the hair on our arms stand up straight when we are in a dangerous situation and elicits a ‘fight or flight’ warning.
But it’s equally as important to pay attention to how our bodies feel when the goosebumps are signaling something good, bringing awareness to something that make us feel loved, connected and happy. I had a long conversation the other day with a friend who feels so trapped in his job due to economic and family obligations that he actually referred to himself as an ‘indentured servant.’ I feel so much compassion for him because I was there myself for years, trapped not only in a job that I was a slave to but also in a very unhealthy relationship. I know the feelings of sadness and anger, of hopelessness and of not knowing where to even begin to make the changes necessary for a happier, more fulfilling life.
I wanted to help him, but wasn’t really sure what to say. Then I remembered something a friend had suggested to me when I was in that dark place; to keep a gratitude journal. I pointed out some really great aspects of his life he was overlooking and then suggested he might want to write down five things each day that he was grateful for. The next morning I got a text from him that read, ‘I’m grateful for feeling rested and for this beautiful day.’ It made me smile and made me so thankful that I had shared this little piece of advice. Even though he only wrote two things, it was a start. For me, there were days and even weeks when what I was grateful for were the same five things, over and over, because they were all I really felt thankful for at that time. Until one day, I came out of my apartment and saw a little lavender zinnia that had popped up overnight. It was so simple, but so beautiful that it gave me goosebumps and gratitude, hope and a smile.
I think I get goose bumps more often these days because of the shift through this practice of keeping a gratitude journal that helped me grow into living from a place of appreciation and love. Even on days like today when I burned my English muffin not once but twice because I was so focused on writing this blog, I am grateful. Sure my life is still work in progress and I still have challenges (bigger than toasting an English muffin) and changes to live through, but I wake up every day thankful and excited for the adventure that lies ahead. And that truly is something to be grateful for.
Tune In: When was the last time you got goosebumps? Write down a few times in your life when you felt them. Then ask yourself, what were the feelings underlying that sensation? Love? Surprise? A spiritual connection? Appreciation?
What are grateful for today? Be open to the wisdom of your body. You just might find that the more you practice gratitude, the more you will experience moments that are ‘goosebump good.’