This week my Joy Practicum began in earnest, when I settled into my sweet space here in the Catskills, started catching up on all my emails and other correspondence after a month on the road, and focused on laying out my book.
Wait! That sounds suspiciously like work doesn't it? Where's the Joy part of that Practicum? Well, that's what I asked myself all week.
Of course, there are many aspects of my work that I love. Most, in fact.
I am fortunate to love what I do. I love working with my design clients, colleagues and vendors. I love public speaking -- and the travel it requires. I love writing and researching. I met with my first couple as a wedding officiant this week, which was awesome! I even enjoy figuring how to do new stuff on my websites and keeping up with all the social media. OK, Quickbooks and the financial wrangling is my least favorite, but ultimately, even that part of my one-man band work life isn't that onerous. What I dislike is HOW I work! I am a TERRIBLE boss -- not so much to the people who work or have worked for me. I think I'm pretty easygoing (if perhaps a tad controlling and anxious). It's me on whose back my own whip cracks. I have the scars and stripes to prove it. So, my challenge this week was to work differently -- by being conscious of how I was spending my days and how I was treating myself.
Early Tuesday morning, I had a wonderful two-hour conversation with my publisher about the books on which we are collaborating. At one point she asked, a bit tentatively, "So, do you know how the joy book ends?"
Many years ago, my graduate advisor passed down a piece of wisdom I have never forgotten. He said, "If you are writing your dissertation just to prove that what you believe to be true now really is. . .Stop. Don't even bother writing it. If you are asking a question to which you are sure you already have the answer, you have missed the whole point of this process. This in an open-ended inquiry, and your guiding philosophy must always be I don't know."
Over the years, that has engraved itself into my mind as my Commandment of Creativity. I've come to realize that my most honest answer to almost anything usually is I don't know. And so that's what I said to my publisher: I don't know how the book ends. Right now I am just learning how to practice joy.
So, that's what I did this week. I enrolled in Joy Kindergarten. Since there are no letter grades in Kindergarten, I gave myself a lot of imaginary stars -- shiny, tin foil, primary-colored stars, just like the ones I actually got in Kindergarten. . .for showing up, consistency, listening to myself, doing something joyful every day (more than one sometimes!), asking for help, getting together with friends, and witnessing my own unkindness to myself but not going too far down any rabbit holes. By the end of the week, I had accrued a nice new imaginary collection of them!
I even gave myself three silver stars: One for time management, at which I have historically been horrendous. This week I took the batteries out of my internal clock and tried to go with the flow. Waking up whenever I woke up -- be it the more ordinary 4 AM or the usually unthinkable 6AM. I actually stayed up late a few nights, because I was enjoying what I doing so much (from sunset watching to reading something fun!) Writing, reading, working, playing, eating, hiking, walking, even napping, whenever that happened. As someone who generally runs late, no one would guess that I am actually someone with an internal clock of Swiss precision. But it's true. I have more bells and whistles and alarms inside me than you can imagine -- and they are loud! The reason I am so often late is because I hate them, and so I rebel against them. Which doesn't work either, because then I just hate myself for being late. Lately (hah!), however, I haven't been late at all. Probably because when I turn off those belligerent bells, I run on Spirit Time -- and everything falls into place. It certainly is A LOT more joyful. So one silver star for time management for me!
My second silver star was for effort: I witnessed when I started to feel beaten up by my own work habits and I made a change. I rode my bike up the road for a green juice when I had been in front of the computer for too long. I varied my evening walks and morning hikes, even though some took more time than I had originally allotted. But my crowning moment came on Thursday, when I noticed that I was starting to get that shoulders-up-around-my-ears anxious feeling about how much was still on my plate. So, instead of succumbing to that stress test, I went to a nearby pick-your-own strawberry farm. It was so much fun! Like Oscar Wilde, my parents believed that "nothing succeeds like excess" -- so no wonder their well-trained child fell victim to strawberry-picking enthusiasm! I picked A LOT of strawberries out in a pretty field with a grandfather and grandson and their adorable Blue Merle Sheltie named Lucy. We all compared notes about which size and color were the best strawberries to pick and had a wonderful morning.
I hadn't picked strawberries since high school. The simple childlike joy of crawling around on my hands and knees searching for warm juicy berries which stained my hands and fingernails red was worth every frantic moment later that evening when I panicked about how much work was still on my plate. From that experience, I affirmed that taking time for joy will always trump any work anxiety that ensues. You can pave over the fields in which you have planted the seeds of joy, but in the end, they will always push their way up through the asphalt and find a way to become joy blossoms!
My third silver star is for food. I eat a lot. But I eat a lot of the same thing. Greens and protein. Greens and protein. With dark chocolate thrown in. However, when you're in a new place, you find new things -- and instead of telling myself no, I said Yes!
My favorite moment was last Sunday when Karen and I shared a paleo, low-glycemic ice cream at a sidewalk cafe. I don't know about you, but I believe wholeheartedly that ice cream in the summer is a foolproof recipe for joy. Have you ever seen grumpy people eating ice cream? A person might start out in a foul mood, but unless she drops her triple scoop on the sidewalk, by the time she has taken the first three bites, I guarantee you, she is smiling. It's a simple equation, as reliable as 2 + 2 = 4. Ice cream + Summer = Joy. Yet I cannot remember the last time I sat outside and had store-bought ice cream. Decades probably. It took me right back to my childhood -- in the best possible way.
But I didn't stop there! After discovering these awesome paleo almond flour thumbprint cookies at the local co-op, I decided they could be my after-hike treat in the morning. YUM! I would never have given myself to eat goodies like this at home. I'm relieved to report that the sky did NOT fall! In fact, on the contrary, I had a week of the most beautiful sunsets imaginable. Proof positive, I am pretty darn sure, that I deserve this silver star for food joy!
And, I am happy to report, that there was one giant Gold Star for Joy awarded this week. Drumroll please. . . the Gold Star goes to the Spring Farm Trailhead at the Mohonk Preserve. One of my new favorite places on the planet. From the wildflower-filled meadows to the cool forested carriage roads; from the ice caves and fissured glacial rocks to the sweeping hilltop vistas -- this place has been a balm to my soul all week.
I woke up on Monday morning shot from a cannon and anxious about getting to work. But practice is practice, so I got in my car and drove up to the Preserve for a hike. I stepped out of my car and came face to face with the first Indigo Bunting I had ever seen. Shimmering cerulean and utterly unafraid. My smile lasted all day. Since then, I have seen many more bright blue buntings, countless goldfinches, a variety of hawks, one glorious soaring bald eagle, lots of sweet sparrows, lovely cardinals, and even what I believe was a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. As anyone who knows me knows, a morning spent with birds is a perfect morning. Add to that butterflies, white-tailed deer, chipmunks and squirrels, as well as a few delightful human beings with whom I sometimes spent a portion of my hike or ended up having fascinating conversations with in the parking lot -- I was in pure joy!
On Wednesday, my friend Alison and I went for a glorious hike, where she gave me the gift of sharing EXACTLY what I needed to hear that morning. But the creme de la creme of all my Mohonk Preserve experiences came on the night of the Solstice. Wondering where I could go to see both the sun set and the moon rise, I drove up to the Preserve and climbed up to a beautiful hill overlooking a sweeping vista of mountains and valleys ad infinitum. To my surprise, slowly but surely the hill filled up with people, kids, and dogs. So, we all sat and chatted as the sun set in such immense beauty. It was an evening that I will never forget. As someone who spends a lot of time alone on the road, finding myself in such a beautiful place with such like-minded people made me feel like I was "home". What a gift!
Out of all this joy, a great deal of joy-filled production ensued. I began working on this website, and you will see that there are lots of new little tabs at the top of this page.
SEE: One of my favorite spiritual practices of joy is photographing every day -- sometimes with my cameras, more often with my iPhone. This week I figured out how my Instagram feed can refresh every day to reflect this Daily Practice of Joy. So, for some visial joy, please click on SEE
SING: I don't think I have to persuade anyone of the connection between music and joy. So I would love us all to share some of that joy together. Click on SING and share your most joy-filled songs in the Comments, so we can sing some more Joy! out into the world.
In summation, I feel very good about my first progress report for my first week of my very first Joy Practicum. Lots of shiny stars celebrating lots of joy-filled experiences. What I have not been so sure about is why -- in the face of so much senseless tragedy in the world, the crumbling of global economies, the regression into hatemongering, the political infighting that does little or nothing to help actual people -- why does the Joy Practicum of one privileged white woman matter at all?
I was pondering this on yesterday morning's hike, and I came back to the same answer I always do: Joy is the great connector. It connects our heads to our hearts, us to one another, people to nature and animals and the state/fate of the planet. I know this to be true because, I have now met so many people and visited so many beautiful places where I have seen and interacted with birds, animals, flowers, trees. Those people and those places are no longer mere abstractions to me, when I read about a forest fire, hurricane, flood, shooting, or protest on the news. I have connected to them. I know who they are. They matter to me! And because they matter, it is not so easy for me to slip into the apathy that has become our societal antidote to the overwhelm we all feel at the senseless devastation with which we are bombarded in what passes for news these days. Hard as it is to FEEL sometimes, I would not trade it for the false comfort of numbing. Because at the end of the day, it is not global warming or guns or political agenda that is our problem, but rather our belief that we are powerless to affect any kind of meaningless change. But Joy is the antidote to that apathy, because joy connects us everything . . . But ONLY if we commit to a daily practice of joy.
I am enjoying listening to Angela Duckworth's fascinating book, Grit, on audiobook. Yesterday I learned about the scientific research on optimism, and its amazing effects on productivity in the workplace. I have also become fascinated by all the studies being done on the importance of happiness. Happiness, as it all turns out, is not some pie-in-the-sky idea, but rather falls squarely where Thomas Jefferson knew it did all along -- at the center of the human ethos: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Three things -- and happiness is one of them! Duckworth also cites the necessity of deliberate practice if we wish to make anything we value manifest in our lives. Athletes understand this. No one wins Wimbledon without dedicated, daily, deliberate practice. But how does this translate for the rest of us? For most of my life I have risen early for my spiritual practice, setting aside an hour or two of sacred time every single morning. When I look back on the most miserable times of my life, they were when I did not keep up that practice. So, listening to Duckworth's very compelling book has reaffirmed for me why creating a daily practice of joy is not just a nice idea. It is a necessity. Because we can read, study and learn about a million things that seem to matter to us in our heads, but unless they spark joy, they will remain mere words. Joy, I have come to believe, is an internal barometer of immense importance.
Let me illustrate: All week, I plugged away writing a blog. Not this one, but one I felt I SHOULD write. When I realized that I was not writing from a place of joy, I saw that SHOULD is always the wrong tree and I had spent my whole week barking up it. The moment I began this blog, I felt joy again. And when I did, the ideas started to flow.
Joy is my inner compass, my litmus test, my scale, my balance, my soul barometer. If I don't feel joy in what I am doing, then I am just going through the motions. As with everything in life, it's not the What, but the How: No matter what I am doing, if joy is not my how, then I shouldn't be doing it.
When we find out where joy resides in us, then we come home to joy in whatever we are doing. And when we feel at home in ourselves, we move through the world from our hearts. From that place, and that place only, we will save this planet -- because we stop acting from fear and instead live from Love. Joy and Love are synonymous. They begin in the home of our hearts, and from there they ripple out to the whole wide world.
This week I wrote a poem, inspired by the joy I felt in the meadows of the Mohonk Preserve. It is a poem that I hope speaks to all the ways that living in joy can change our lives. I know it will be a poem to which I will circle back again and again to remind myself of the person I want to be in the world and how I want to live in it.
I won't always have the gift of this beautiful summertime Joy Practicum. But I will always have the gift of its memory. What I do with this time is preparing me for what I hope to be able to give back to the world -- to help others discover their own joy barometers and develop their own joy practices so that we can all begin to override this learned global apathy and give back to the world. This poem captures for me this moment in time -- and my intention to use everything I am learning now to make a difference. I hope it will inspire you, too, to begin to see with fresh eyes and to begin to commit to creating your own joy practice and listen to the barometer of joy that has always been inside you.
The planet needs our joy to survive! Let's do this thing together. . .