Happy New Year!
Don't we all love new beginnings -- the freshness of the possible, the hope of a blank page?
These early days in January are usually a time both of contemplation and of slowly gathering steam for the year ahead. I love them for the opportunity they provide to feel more conscious of my intentions and more connected to myself.
As I have for the past five years, I chose to spend my holidays in almost complete solitude. I received many lovely presents from people around the world, all of which have remained piled neatly on a chair in their brown paper or their priority mail envelopes. I haven't been ready to "open" anything. I just wanted to take my time "closing" the books on the past year. I turned off my phone, didn't check email, and mostly stayed off social media. I unplugged, got quiet and took stock of everything.
What I found inside myself was a lot of jangle, clutter, garble, gook, fear, folly and funk that hadn't had time to surface in my year of rushing from pillar to post, of waking up in one city and falling asleep in another, of 250+ nights on the road. Sitting still and listening to everything I had told to "wait till later" has been no mean feat. . .but showing up to myself, however imperfectly, felt like the truest holiday gift of all.
I love setting New Year's resolutions. I try to keep them simple. This year, they were all about joy, kindness, gratitude and fun. You see, all the gunk and funk that surfaced during the holidays brought something home to me that I hadn't really wanted to admit: When given a choice, I will be mean to myself, hold myself to impossibly high standards, and work myself like a plow animal. And then I will wake up and do it all over again.
For years I thought that was what I "should" do in order to be a "good" person. That only by pushing myself to be "better" would I contribute anything meaningful and worthwhile to the world. In fact, what it has done is the complete opposite. It whittled away at my innate joy and love of life and locked me inside a cage of impossible perfectionism. My best friend Pamela calls it the "bondage of self". There's precious little you can do to help anyone if you're spending all your time trying to pick the lock of your own self-imposed handcuffs.
You know, when I started this Daily Practice of Joy nine months ago, I had no idea whether it would "work" or not. My idea was simply to commit to practicing joy every day for myself as a means of healing my bludgeoning workaholism, and hold myself to some accountability by writing about that practice in this blog.
I started this because I had to. . .and I am sticking with it. . . because I have to. Sometimes this commitment to joy is the only kind thing I remember to do for myself all day. . .but when I do, it changes everything. For me, Joy is the Ultimate Cleanse. No matter how much gunk and goo, funk and fear are roiling around inside me, I just have put one foot in front of the other on this journey back to joy.
As I've written before, my go-to joy practice is walking. I walk every day, rain or shine, cold or heat. I walk in silence or with music. Sometimes I listen to audiobooks. And I always bring my camera or cell phone and photograph whatever I see that speaks to my heart. I am always always a different person at the end of a walk than I am at the beginning. . .a happier, freer, more hopeful person. . .Cleansed by joy!
Lately I have been taking my photographs and pairing them with poems or other inspirational passages and posting one a day on my Facebook page -- Victoria Price: This One Brave Life. This has brought new joy to my morning spiritual practice which, for the past twenty years, has been reading and journaling about inspirational writing. Now each morning, I look through my over 40,000 digital photographs from the past decade and cannot help but be filled with gratitude for the amazing life I have been so privileged to lead. When I find a poem and picture that speak to one another, heart to heart, I post them. As my friend Mary would say, Oh What Fun!
One of the thing I most enjoy about photography is what it teaches me about myself. I photograph from a completely unconscious place, struck by beauty, symmetry, or color. It is not until I download my photos later that I find that I am often having a conversation with myself about something that needs to surface.
One visual conversation has come up over and over again since I re-started my seminary program in the fall of 2014. I thought that, for this week's reflections of joy, I would share it with you. Let's call it -- finding my path. Because starting that fall, I began obsessively photographing paths . . . all kinds of paths. As I saw these pictures download, something downloaded in me. I realized that I have spent much of my life believing that there was One Right Way. It was just a matter of finding it. . .but surely if I could, everything would fall into place.
Making the decision to enter an interfaith seminary in which we explore spirituality not only through all of the world's traditions but also through various forms of healing and through our connections with one another, with nature, with animals, and with the world as a whole, I have come to realize how stuck I was. . .and how freeing it has been to recognize that the only right way is the way on which we find ourselves at any given moment. We knew this when we were children, when we loved discovering hidden passages, forging our own shortcuts and making new trails. As children, we knew that the joy of finding our own way is the truest path in life.
So, as I've looked back through my photographs of paths, I've realized that each of them came with a story. . .and each story was a story of joy. . .visual proof to myself that each time I have followed my heart, I have found myself exactly where I needed to be.
Here are a few of the paths I have walked. . .in no particular order:
I found this park in Pittsburgh through a wonderful woman who recommended spots where I could see birds as I drove cross country for five weeks in the fall of 2014. It turned out to be a ten-minute drive from my hotel. I have been there numerous times now -- in fall and summer. It is one of the most magical places I have ever been. But that first day was the most magical. . .wide green swathes of dewy grass, deer peeking out from deep in the woods, the first touch of autumn on the hills, apples ripening on heavy-laden boughs, a cozy fog swaddling the hills, and chirruping birds everywhere. With not one other person there but me!!!! I have taken so many beautiful pictures there. . .but this one was taken about fifteen minutes into my first visit -- at a moment of utter GLEE! I felt like a little girl who had discovered a secret garden full of magical animals, that I had entered the world I had been dreaming of finding my whole life. . .And, in fact, I had! A world of joy just waiting for me to say Yes!
Summer was coming to an end and fall, my favorite season, was teasing herself with a few yellow leaves and her glorious golden light. I found these paths along a winding river near an old 19th-century fort in Southern Colorado, and began to wander. I couldn't help but imagine those early settlers, heading West to try to create new lives for themselves. In the Southwest, where water is scarce, a river means life. . .and I felt the presence of all who had come before -- the Native Americans, the soldiers, the settlers, the birds, and animals. I thought of all the beings who had walked where I was walking, and I felt my life joined to theirs, following, as they all had before me, the winding curves of a muddy river looking for home.
Santa Fe River
I walk this path almost every day. This picture was taken last year, and I have had some fun playing with it digitally to capture the surreal quality of that day. . .because sometimes it feels easy to trick ourselves into believing that we have to go someplace else to find our joy. When in fact, more often than not, the path we need is right under our feet already. We just have to learn to see with new eyes. On this day, snow was just starting to fall. The sky was a glowering grey, and all the colors seemed to vibrate as the huge flakes came down. It was utterly quiet. I was struck in that moment with such gratitude for where I live. . .not for the usual reasons -- the sweeping vistas of the mountains on which I usually keep my focus. . .but rather for the quiet beauty of being exactly where I was, doing exactly what I was doing, in the completely safe and comforting cocoon of now.
Every year Santa Fe celebrates Christmas Eve on the old streets of Canyon Road and Acequia Madre with a farolito and luminaria walk -- paper bags with candles and bonfires -- lighting the way for thousands of celebrants sharing Yuletide joy and singing carols. I prefer the tiny back alleys and little dirt streets where people serve cider and open their homes to strangers, where we gather around the fires and share the warmth. Every year I am struck with the quiet beauty of the starry skies, the adobe walls, the luminous fires and glowing candles, and I am filled with gratitude for my home of the past 22 years. Every year I light my path back to joy.
Last Christmas I bought myself a new camera. I had researched like crazy and settled on what I hoped would be the "perfect" one. I had tried it out at home, but was eager to test it out on the road. Which I did in early January on my way to Dallas, when I stopped in Amarillo. I have spent a lot of bleak days and nights in Amarillo -- stuck in ice storms, on my way from one part of the West to another. . .and January is a particularly bleak month. But that day was a harbinger of warmer weather, and I wanted to stretch my legs. So, I Googled a nature preserve nestled between the empty plains to the north and a homogenous subdivision to the west. I began to walk and think about the year ahead -- the travel, the creative projects, my seminary. The hardest part about Januaries for me is the fear that comes up. . .the unknowing that an entrepreneurial life always brings. At the beginning of each calendar year, I battle my future fears, so as I walked I indulged in the comfort of calendaring -- trying to calm my head whirring with "stuff" by planning my chronologies. But the further I walked, the harder it was to stay in my head. The wheat-colored grasses and dormant trees seemed to shimmer like a surreal mirage under the Texas sun, and slowly but surely, I came back into myself, where I was, a place of peace in the not knowing. Acceptance. Trust. A few days later, when I downloaded my photos in Dallas, I realized that they were all overexposed. . .every single one of them. Bleached out with a light that LOOKED just the way I had FELT that day. This photo captures it best -- the blinding light, the path going who knows where, and the trust that the only thing we can really ever do is keep putting one foot in front of the next and move forward. When we do, we walk in beauty.
I love this photograph. To me it captures everything I want from a path -- a clear road forward and the exciting hope of something unseen over a hill. . .unseen but imagined -- because I knew what was over that hill: The ocean. A ending and a beginning. The infinite blue where sea and sky meet and everything is possible.
There are places we hold in our hearts as the safe spaces we can go in our hearts and minds when we need to be held by nature and find our way back to center. This preserve in Massachusetts is one of these places. My morning there was one of the most incredible mornings of my life. I took this photo on my way out. Behind me were the chickadees, nuthatches, owls, hawks, deer, streams, ponds, reeds, fall trees that had magicked their way into my soul. This was the path away from a place I didn't want to leave. But when I looked back at the photos I had taken, this was the one that most captured the spirit of the place. So even that path was perfect, maybe especially that path was perfect-- because it reminds me that we never leave the places we love, as long as we carry them in our hearts.
I took this photo with my friends Katie and Todd on an early morning in West Virginia. They had brought me to Morgantown where they had created an amazing dinner celebrating my parents' cookbook. Katie knew I loved nature, so she and Todd got up early before work to take me to one of their favorite places -- the place where they had gotten married. It was a foggy morning and the roads were closed, so we parked at the gate and walked down the road. For someone who lives in the Desert Southwest, being in huge trees and deep green is always a mystical experience. The trees felt like Tolkien trees, huge majestic beings accompanying Katie, Todd and me as we spent a magical early morning talking about life and nature and love. I took this photo of our path to remind me that I never walk alone.
This is my most recent path photo. I took it the other morning on my usual morning walk with my dogs. It is not the prettiest picture, nor was it taken in the prettiest location. In fact, to be honest, it was taken after stopping at the trash can where I throw away my bags of dog poop. But it was only because I stopped to discard my detritus that I noticed these three diamonds. I had never seen them before. . .the sun was casting a shadow on three signs indicating the end of a dead-end street onto a concrete path. And by the time the dogs and I made our way back twenty minutes later, they were gone. I love shadows. I love threes. I love patterns. I love surprises. I loved these diamonds. They made me smile, and I took a picture of them with my cell phone. Sometimes joy is just that simple. But always always always (those threes I love!) joy is that magical! We just have to remember to stop long enough to see the magic and say Yes! to it.
So, it's another January. A time of fresh starts. A time of open-ended unknowing. A time to clean out the gunk and goo, face old anxieties, and commit to new ways of being. They say that everyone makes New Years Resolutions, but very few people keep them. That's probably true. Keeping my resolution to practice joy every day and write about it once a week hasn't always been easy. There have been more than a few days when I have kicked and screamed my way back to joy. But I tell you what! It's been worth it. Practicing joy has proved to me that joy is not some ephemeral fantasy, but something inside each of us just begging for our Yes!
The paths to joy are many! That's the good news. . . You can't miss 'em. You just have to say Yes! and put one foot in front of the other.
Happy New Year to all of you, my fellow joy journeyers. I hope you will keep joining me on our paths to joy. May we all know that we never walk alone. As Gary Zukav reminds us, "We have much to do together. Let us do it in wisdom and love and joy. Let us make this the human experience."