On last week's 1,800 mile drive through Texas and New Mexico, I found myself thinking about everything I have learned while creating and living this daily practice of joy. Much of first half of the drive from Santa Fe to Austin is particularly devoid of visual interest -- although the recent monsoons here in New Mexico have created a lush green landscape that we rarely enjoy here in the desert Southwest. After a gorgeous first hour of red cliffs, green pinon trees and mountainous landscapes heading south out of Santa Fe, the rest of the four-hour drive through New Mexico is flat, flat, flat, empty, empty, empty, and nary a tree for miles. Very tempting to dismiss as boring. But having had a father who considered boredom a cardinal sin, I just don't do boring. (Imagine the prospect of Vincent Price haunting you for life, and you wouldn't either! LOL!)
In all honesty, I try my best never to be fooled into dismissing anything as boring. I know that's one of the mind's tricks -- to lull us into the kind of stupor that prevents us from appreciating wherever we are and whatever we are doing at any given moment. On top of that, slipping into the temptation of boredom will quite literally lull you to sleep. As it tried to do with me for the first four hours of my drive last week, when I could barely keep my eyes open.
So, I called on all my resources to practice joy on that four-hour stretch, and in the process, I realized I have already created quite a joy tool box for myself.
Here are my top five go-to joy resources:
Gratitude: This is pretty much the first step of any spiritual practice. Saying, feeling, being in "thank you" always always connects me to joy, because instead of being duped into thinking I am lacking something (you name it -- money, companionship, health, understanding, home, work), gratitude allows me to see everything I have right here and right now.
As Melody Beattie has taught me, "Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a hoe, a stranger into a friend". . . and a long stretch of seemingly endless flat miles into a road trip to remember.
As I got out of my car about two hours into the trip in order to stretch my legs, I suddenly realized that I was surrounded by our ENORMOUS luminously blue skies with white Michelangelo clouds, green fields on either side as far as I could see and a quiet stretch of country road leading into the distant horizon, where my heart just sang out in freedom.
"Look at this incredible state in which I live!" I found myself exulting. It was a straight JOY infusion!
Which brings me right to the second go-to tool in my kit. . .
Being in the Now: Right here. Right now. Not when I get where I'm going or where I've just been. This one has been so hard for me all of my life. I am a planner, because I've thought it assuaged my worry and alleviated my stress about the much to much I always seem to have on my plate. HAH!!! Another big trick of the mind. In fact, the more I think about what's ahead of me, the more I worry. But when I realize that right here, right now, right where I am, everything is fine, my shoulders lower, my chest relaxes, I breathe. In fact, it's more than fine, it's perfect.
My friend Pat taught me that. "Think about it," she said to me at a time in my life when the future loomed ominously ahead at every step. "You're scared of what is going to come based on your experience of what has happened. But right now, RIGHT NOW, it's always fine. Stay in the now."
On that drive, I began a new kind of driving meditation. No looking at the clock. No setting the nav system for number of miles or minutes to the destination. No checking the gas tank or odometer. No imagining the meal I will have, the walk I will take, the people I will see when I get there. Just looking out the window being RIGHT WHERE I AM.
Eckhart Tolle remind us: "Stress is caused by being HERE but wanting to be THERE."
When I remind myself to be right where I am right now, what do I find? Not stress but JOY!
Curiosity: As my father taught me, "If you are always curious, you will never be bored." It's easy to be curious when you're driving through cute little towns with picturesque storefronts or beautiful landscapes dotted with horses or antelope. My whole life I have written stories in my mind. When I travel, I love nothing more that to bring a book to a restaurant, pretend I am reading, and then listen and see -- writing the stories of people's lives based on what I witness. It's a lot harder to drum up curiosity on a long flat stretch of road without a tree or building for hundreds of miles. But there is always something to see. . .you just have to try a little harder. A bumper sticker on a passing car, a huge bird's nest built on a telephone pole, an unusual cloud formation, a low-flying plane in the distance. It's about being willing to look a little harder, a little more deeply, and really find a way to see where I am when it seems like there might be nothing to see. That's never true. And that's a lesson for all the days of our lives when we're tempted to tell ourselves we're stuck in same old same old. Spark that curiosity, and open up a world of wonder. And what is not joyful about that!
Exploration: Curiosity always naturally leads me to exploration. It reminds me that neither life nor a road trip are a straight line from Point A to Point B. Curiosity reminds me to take my blinders off and really see. As I crossed over the border from New Mexico into Texas, my handy new Apple Watch reminded me to Stand! I looked at the temperature outside. 103 degrees. I looked at the landscapes -- flat, hot, dry, and the deafening sound of cicadas. Really?! I thought. Do I have to? And then I saw it: Walmart. Yes, you read that correctly. Walmart. My most loathed shopping emporium. All 200,000 air-conditioned, fluorescent-lit square feet of the Pecos Walmart beckoned to me. I parked and went in, and walked its jam-packed aisles for 15 minutes, leaving with a bottle of water, a packet of handy-wipes, a renewed ability to sit for another six hours, and a glimpse of Pecos, Texas, that I never would have had without curiosity and an open-mind. I could have shared hundreds of more scintillating stories -- adventures on Chinese hilltops or Costa Rican volcanoes -- but I'm here to tell you that I will never forget that Pecos, Texas, Walmart. A glimpse at life in the oil-rich desolation of West Texas that I might never have had with a less open mind. And stories that kept me going for many more miles that day.
But there comes a time when we need help in our joy practices. . .when the cupboard of our inner resources seem a bit barren. And it's then that we have to pull out our big guns! For me, the Swiss Army knife of my joy toolbox is. . .
Music: Thank goodness for playlists and satellite radios. Whenever I need a joy booster shot, music is my savior. If someone were to ask me the one thing everyone needs in their joy toolbox, I would recommend a playlist filled with the music that ALWAYS ALWAYS makes you want to roll down the windows, crank up the volume, and sink at the top of your lungs -- even if you make up half the lyrics.
I keep a playlist that I call Sing Along Songs -- they range from the 1970s to the present. And they save my bacon on almost every road trip. The miles fly by and all I feel is joy! Satellite radio is a godsend as well -- radio roulette always reveals a song I haven't heard in decades. And when I can't remember what I had for dinner the night before, I am stunned and gratified to know that my mind is still filled with the detritus of junior high -- lyrics to truly bad songs that take me right back to driving home on Ventura Blvd with one of the senior girls blasting oh, let's say, Gerry Rafferty, and sneaking a cigarette with all the windows rolled down so our moms wouldn't know!
I can't write or express it often enough -- my gratitude for all that this daily practice of joy is bringing to me. But a huge part of it is sharing it with you -- reading your comments, getting your emails, chatting with you face to face. . .Why is it poets have always already spoken the truth before the rest of us understand it? John Greenleaf Whittier wrote: "The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you."
So, I thought this week I might try something new. For those of you who are willing, I would love to hear your top five go-to tools in your joy toolboxes -- and/or the songs or musicians who make you want to roll down your windows, crank up the volume and sing at the top of your lungs!
Because three weeks from today, I am going to be driving that same four-hour stretch of flat treeless road through New Mexico to Texas, and I would love to travel with you by trying out your joy tools and cranking up your joy playlists -- seeing, feeling, and sharing your joy!
Thank you from the bottom of my joy-filled heart!