This is probably one of those “you had to be there” stories, but I’m telling it anyway.
I met my friend Carly — who is getting married this weekend, so a big shout of of LOVE to Carly and Jordan in Mexico! — at Gail Larsen’s Transformational Speaking intensive this past February. On our last day together, we each had to give a new 20-minute talk. Carly, a holistic nutritionist with a deeply integrated spiritual message, is also a Jersey girl with an irreverent sense of humor, which she uses to give incredibly dynamic talks about changing our relationship with food.
That day, she shared something that has helped so many of her clients walk away from the seductive siren call of that donut or slice of cake, which tempts us all.
Carly said, “I have a really simple acronym. It’s STOP.”
She spelled it out: “S-T-O-P.”
“The S,” she said pausing for effect, “stands for. . .STOP.”
At which point we all just burst out laughing. Including Carly.
Yup. That’s pretty much it. No acronym needed really. Sometimes S just stands for STOP.
Well, that’s how I felt this week.
After two weeks on the road, a different city almost every night, my plan was to sneak into Santa Fe, catch up on work, get my hair cut, unpack the Texas summer clothes, replace them with London autumn clothes, and head right back out to Denver and then Salt Lake City.
Then, one by one, the wheels came off my bus in Roadrunner cartoon fashion. First the oil slick, then the spilled box of nails, finally the TNT at the bottom of the cliff off which I had just fallen! By noon on Tuesday, I was an anxious, exhausted, depleted, frenetic, frantic, fearful mess!! But it never occurred to me not to change my plans.
So, I kicked it into higher gear. Worked even harder, pushed myself even more, put out fire after fire after fire getting ready to leave Wednesday morning. But new ones kept cropping up until I felt surrounded by a ring of flames while breathing in billowing smoke and hacking out fumes.
Then, finally, I heard it.
The Universe said: “S-T-O-P.”
As I write this, I was supposed to be in Utah at the Parliament of World Religions. It was something I have been looking forward to all year with immense joy.
Instead I am S-T-O-P-P-E-D.
So, why am I writing this in my Daily Practice of Joy blog?
When you feel crappy and are incredibly sad not to be with dear friends sharing a once-in-a-lifetime experience because you’re still tamping out smoldering fires, every Facebook post filled with happy faces can drown you in puddles of regret and self-doubt. That’s when having a practice to fall back on makes all the difference.
For seven months now, I have shown up every day to myself, to you, to joy. It hasn’t always been pretty, but it has been consistent.
One of the things I have learned for sure this year was beautifully elucidated by Thich Nhat Hahn: “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
In other words, what I have proven to myself through my Daily Practice of Joy is that right where sorrow appears to be, there is joy. Always. The question is, will we see it?
In her Work, Byron Katie teaches us to turn the way we think upside down in order to see through mirages that have us convinced of their reality. This week’s mirage for me was that choosing not to go to the Parliament could rob me of my joy and of having spiritual connection, when in fact, going would have created an untenable level of stress of trying to be there wholly while trying to solve all the problems on my plate. Problems that require 10-12 hour work days, not fifteen minutes squeezed in between sessions.
My friend Cynthia reminded me that self-care is also a religious experience. My friend Pamela reminded me that Divine Love had not decamped to Utah leaving me shit out of luck here in Santa Fe. My daily practice of joy reminded me that the present moment is always filled with joy.
In fact, I am home during my favorite month of the year. I missed all of last October in New Mexico while on a five-week work trip. But here I am! The skies are azure blue, the mountains covered in gold. The days are warm and the nights cool. The work is getting done, the fires are getting smaller, and when I get on the plane next week to head out for a month on the road, I will know that I will be much more prepared and much less stressed, having also had seven whole nights in my own home listening to the win ruffle then aspen leaves outside my window, sleeping on my own pillow, eating my own soup, taking time to pray and breathe and just be still.
My peripatetic life has many perks, but as my friend Darlene reminded me when I was leaving on my last trip, it has left me scant opportunity to be still. Joy is always right here, right now. But learning to be still enough to notice it requires a different kind practice.
On May 27, 1994 (what would have been my dad’s 83rd birthday, the first birthday after his passing) — the night before I left Los Angeles for good to move to Paris — my closest friends and I loaded in a limo and drove two hours to go to the Eagles first reunion concert in 15 years. As they sang together in public for the first time, I said goodbye to some of the people I have loved most in the world.
Out of that Hell Freezes Over tour came this song: Learn to Be Still. It is still one of my favorites.
I have been listening to it almost obsessively this week -- as I remember to trust Spirit, take care of myself while taking care of business, as I heal, rest, recuperate, instead of rue, regret and ruminate over what I might be missing.
Being still has never been my forte. I am almost always moving: By wheel, wing, or foot, I am happiest halfway between wherever I have come from and wherever I am going. This week, as Don Henley so poignantly sings, the flowers in my garden don't smell so sweet, so sweet. Maybe I HAVE forgotten heaven lying at my feet.
The present moment is indeed filled with joy. . .when we remember to listen, lean, and love ourselves enough to S-T-O-P and learn to be still.