Doesn't it seem like the world is in almost incomprehensibly immense turmoil right now? Like there isn't a place to turn where we don't experience or bear witness to the fear, anger, hatred, confusion, grief, blame, and doubt that seems to surround us? On top of everything happening throughout the world, here in the United States the racial and political climate has ratcheted up to a level of tension that makes everyone feel like it’s all going to snap. On top of all that, many of my friends have been dealing with sudden deaths of family members, illness, financial crises. Even nature, a place where so many of us find hope, joy, and respite, can seem to be "against us" -- unleashing massive destruction these past few weeks in floods and hurricanes.
This weekend, I was supposed to be in Orlando for a horror convention that was cancelled -- at great cost and distress to the organizers, guests, and many exhibitors who had flown in from around the world. While the majority of people reached out in support for that decision, despite taking big financial losses, there was also a fair amount of anger that surfaced. As I witnessed that exchange, I also saw a friend's posts of the massive destruction that that same hurricane brought to Cuba, and felt heartbroken for all those people, as well as for the people of Haiti.
Ten days from now, I will be in Cedar Rapids, where the organizations and businesses who arehosting my events are trying to recover from catastrophic flooding which occurred a few weeks ago. Against this backdrop of genuine trials, tribulations and sorrows, I feel like my struggle daily to keep up my daily practice of joy and not give in tothe fears, doubts and sadness that often bombard me, feels so inconsequential. But as I look around me, I realize we are all struggling not to become dis-HEART-ened.
Yet, when I share with people that I am writing a book about Joy, every single person's face lights up. This week, a wonderful book was released, all about joy. It is co-authored by two people who know a great deal about the subject -- as well as a great deal about suffering: The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (To order the book, click on the photo below.) It is impossible to read this book without FEELING joy. Their joy feels infused into the pages and comes through every word. And yet, they do not shy away from facing the hard stuff. In reading the book, I am constantly reminded that practicing joy is not a pie-in-the-sky optional activity. It is crucial for our and everyone else's well-being. Joy is the Great Connector -- and without it, we can stay stuck in the isolation of fear, grief, loneliness or anger. Without that connector, it becomes all about us, or we feel overwhelmed and fear there's nothing we can do for the other seven billion people on this planet who seem to be suffering so greatly -- and so we just give up and give in.
Despite my conviction that Joy is a Lifesaver, some weeks it's just plain hard for me to muster up my joy practice. Depression feels like perhaps the greatest enemy to joy -- casting a grey pall over everything and constantly whispering in my ear: What's the point anyway? That's what it felt like this week, as I slogged away at my walks through nature, woke myself up at 3AM to journal myself back whole, read and read and prayed and prayed. It all helped. Without all that, it would have been way worse. But even with that, I felt flat. Hopeless. Apathetic.
That last word, more than any other, is why a Joy Practice is so crucial. I had to walk myself through the most remedial steps I knew just to feel a glimmer of light. Connection with others. Reaching out in honesty to friends. Comforting my troubled heart. Asking for help. Accepting my friends’ love and advice. Spending a lot of time reading and listening to books written by people whose journeys inspire me to keep putting on foot in front of the other. Nature, nature, nature. Cuddling with my dog, Allie. (She is wedged up beside me right now on the sofa, which is making typing a very awkward endeavor. But I wouldn't move her for the world.) The occasional paleo muffin or raw 88% dark chocolate bar. A lot of prayer. Music. Poetry. All of that has helped. I feel grateful to have so much love and so many resources.
Still, I felt flat.
And then I stumbled across these four photos, while I was looking for something else on my computer hard drive.
I originally found them a few years ago in a photo album I hadn’t seen in years. They were a revelation. For as long as I can remember, I have felt like my mother was always trying to tame me, tamp me down, rein in my silliness, my propensity for oversharing all the parts of me I thought she thought were too much. And then I saw these photos. Four photos of my dad and me goofing around on the beach. I loved them, because they capture the pure joy my dad and I found in one another. But that’s not why these photos were so revelatory. It was the realization that the person who took those photos was the same mother I remembered as wanting to rein me in. Suddenly I realized that my mother hadn’t always tried to squelch my childhood joy. It was when she began to get more scared — which particularly escalated after my dad left her (us) for my Wicked Stepmother (as she called herself) — that she began to operate from a place of fear more than from that natural place of love within us all. Seeing those photos made me realize that my mother had not always been the anxious and uptight person she became. What that made me recognize was that I, too, hadn’t always struggled with the same issues that have plagued me in adulthood. Easy joy had been mine — and it still is. I just need to let go of the story I have been telling myself about my mother and about me. And I need to continue to practice joy not just for myself, but also for my mother — gone though she may be. To help us both heal.
Remembering that helped me turn things around this week. I decided to CHOOSE to allow myself more childlike joy. In short, I let myself PLAY! It’s not something that comes quite as easily to me as it used to though, and so I needed a little inspiration. I found it in the photos I have been taking all these years — and this past week, too — as part of my Daily Practice of Joy. Photos that remind me that JOY IS AN INSIDE JOB. It’s IN US. It hasn’t gone anywhere. The joy that we witness every day in children and animals is the same joy that is still in us. The joy in me recognizes the joy in them. That’s how I know all I have to do is give joy permission to laugh, sing, dance, play, explore, hold hands, and be silly. Which I did, at last, this week. I had some FUN! Imagine that. . .
Maybe giving ourselves permission to feel joy, to play, to be silly, seems utterly crazy to you in the face of all the horrors we see every day all around us. I think not. The only way we are going to survive as a planet is to want to survive -- by feeling enough joy to care about ourselves, our loved ones, the rest of the people and animals and trees and flowers and oceans on this planet. When we feel joy, it is literally impossible to feel apathetic about life. From joy comes compassion, love, connection, and the recognition that we really are all one. That is why joy matters. The childlike joy that is the pure and simple delight in being alive.
I'm sharing a few of my favorite joy photos in the hopes that they will help you feel what I felt when I took them. I hope the joy in you recognizes the joy in them — and reminds you that joy is a part of you, and of everyone you meet, and of everyone you don’t know, and even of everyone you want to hate or fear. Joy trumps hate. Joy trumps fear. Because Joy is Love and Love is Joy.
Here’s to the Joy that will save us all.