If I have to be honest, this week joy only came in sputtering fits and spurts, squeezed in between long long long days of work, as I get ready to head on the road for all but ten days of the next three months.
Last week I had set the intention to continue really being present in and enjoying my hometown — making plans with friends, getting out and about — art openings, movies, the farmers market. That quickly went down the tubes after I “lost” the first six hours of my Monday and Tuesday at the Apple Store and on the phone with technical support trying, but not succeeding, to sort out myriad “issues” that make doing even the most mundane tasks much more odious and ongoing than they need me. (You know, the sent messages that, unbeknownst to me, never get there — and the realization a day later that I never received a response, thus delaying a task that needed to be done two days a go kind of thing.)
One of the more fascinating things that is happening is that my Contacts are spawning themselves daily, and no one — not even Megan, my delightful Apple senior advisor — can figure out why. This means that I begin the day with one Jane Doe, and by the end of the day I have 23 Jane Does. Problem is that only one of them contains the contact information I need, so if I try to call or email Jane Doe, I usually have to go through all 23 to find Jane’s address or phone number. Megan has given me a Bandaid, so at the end of the day I merge all duplicates, only to find them all there again within 24 hours.
I quickly realized that my whole week seemed to be operating in much the same way — as one To Do item morphed into 23 more, one phone call spawned another 10, one problem grew into 20. The Bandaid of ticking things off my list only created room for more things on my list. Day after 16-hour day later, I realized that joy seemed to be the only thing that WASN’T mushrooming into more.
Time to get on my Vespa!
Now what you need to know is that my Vespa has had precious little use this summer. Either it has been raining at the exact moment I have wanted to ride it, or it has been in the shop (which then closed unexpectedly with my Vespa inside it this month with the owners nowhere to be found). But this week — finally! -- my Vespa has come home and the rain has gone on hiatus.
So when I realized that I had a serious of tedious but necessary tasks around town that I had been putting off, I hopped on my Vespa in the scorching heat, and headed out!
Last year I wrote this in a blog:
I was riding my fabulous Vespa through Santa Fe, grinning from ear to ear at the sheer joy of being out in the world on a sunny Sunday morning enjoying a fast ride on a sleek Italian scooter, when I pulled up behind a beat-up old Subaru laden with well-worn bumper stickers. It was a long stoplight, which gave me ample opportunity to read all of them, most of which I had seen before. But one stopped me short. It read: THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE AREN’T THINGS. My mental dialogue leapfrogged from cynical to spiritual and back before the light even had a chance to turn green. The Devil on my shoulder snarked, “Easy for you to say driving that ratty old car.” To which my Better Angel replied, “But you know that’s the Truth–things ultimately do mean nothing. And you’ve known that all along.” The little guy with the horns had a ready comeback: “Right–like YOU, Amazon shopaholic YOU, are going to give up on things! Right! Ready to sell that Vespa you love so much?” The light turned green, and off I went, hoping to put the whole thing out of my mind. But when I pulled up to my Sunday morning tennis game, one of my friends yelled out from the court, “Sweet ride!” And the Devil grinned, feeling he had won. No way was I ready to renounce things. Things are what I do–I’m a designer, after all.
But I couldn’t get the bumper sticker out of my mind. THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE AREN’T THINGS. It’s true. And yet. . .And that was when it came to me. It’s not about the things, it’s about the qualities behind the things, the activities things allow us to partake in, the ideas that inspire the things or that things inspire in us, the feelings things evoke in us. It wasn’t about renouncing things per se–it was about resolving things into thoughts. Why do I love my Vespa? Because it is beautiful, fast, sleek, shiny? Sure. But really I love my Vespa because I am incapable of getting going for a ride on it without ending up smiling. I smile because I see and smell and feel the world as I move through it. I smile because I remember why I love living where I live. I smile like a dog smiles when it sticks its head out the window and feels the wind in its fur. I smile because riding my Vespa makes me feel alive, joyful, grateful. Those are the thoughts that this thing called a Vespa inspires.
Sure enough, on my errand excursion this week, within less than two minutes riding my Vespa had elicited that same Huge Grin of Joy and Gratitude!
I walked into my first stop with my cute flowered helmet on, the woman behind the desk complimented me on it and asked, “What are you riding?” I pointed to my Vespa, and when she oohed and aahed, commenting on what a fun way it must be to get around town, I heard myself say, “Yeah but, this has been a crap year for me and my Vespa. I’ve hardly ridden it at all."
Yeah but. . .
Those two words qualify as one of life’s biggest killjoys.
Thank goodness for my practice of witnessing, because in that moment, I actually saw those words leave my mouth in a cartoon bubble, and I even felt like a cartoon character — one of those sad-sack, down-around-the-mouth mopey ones, an Eeyore.
Suddenly I heard my dad’s voice saying, “What on earth are you belly aching about?"
That’s what he used to call it — belly aching.
Don’t you love that?! I hadn’t thought about that expression in years, but whenever he said it, it made me smile and that smile just shut that belly aching right up!
So, I looked it up in the Urban Dictionary. If you want a good smile, here’s the link: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bellyaching
For most of last month, I had had a persistent low-grade literal belly ache. I tried changing my diet, rigorously watching every bite of food that went into my mouth. The net result was that I lost weight I didn’t need to lose, and belly ached to anyone that would listen about how hungry and miserable I was, all the while my actual belly still ached. Not only that, most of my friends wanted to kill me!
This month, I decided that what needed healing was not my belly but my attitude. And sure enough, as my attitude began to change by practicing more joy around my food consumption, so did that ache.
As I stood there in that store and heard myself belly aching, I thought, Enough is Enough!
The wonderful thing about having a daily practice of joy in which I hold myself accountable to you, the readers of this blog, is that it forces me to show up for myself and others.
Rabindrath Tagore wrote, “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water."
And you certainly can’t practice joy when you’re busy belly aching.
The fact is that we are what we do, and what we repeatedly do becomes the way in which we live our lives. That’s why it is so important to choose joy. . .repeatedly. I learned that from my dad, who not only taught me to stop belly aching, but taught me how -- through his own daily practice of joy!
I recently read that Yale psychology professor Marianne LaFrance has determined that if we see a happy face for even four milliseconds, it is enough to elicit a mini emotional high!
So today, faced with my same massive To Do list that I’ve had all week, here’s what I plan to do. In a few minutes I am going to walk out the door with my wonderful dogs and take a beautiful walk. Then I am going to work a while — without belly aching — before I hop on my Vespa and run some more errands around town.
And when those pesky voices in my head tempt me to rue all the missed opportunities for riding my Vespa in the past or the fact that I only have one warm weather week left before leaving town for three months, I will silence them with my Vespa grin that sometimes leaves bugs in my teeth, but always creates joy in my heart.
And if that bug-filled grin elicits a mini emotional high in anyone I encounter today on the road or in a store, then hallelujah!
No more belly aching. Let’s all go out and practice some joy!