This past Wednesday morning, I found myself back at the very place this blog began -- the rose garden in front of the Santa Barbara mission.
In early April 2015, I was driving back from a hot hike in the Santa Barbara hills to the AirBNB I had rented for a writing retreat. In my state of bleary low blood sugar overworked exhaustion, suddenly I saw a flash of color. Something made me drive around the block to see what it was.
Those were the very early days of my daily practice of joy, and frankly, it wasn't going well. At all. No matter how hard I tried to prioritize joy, I kept being dragged back into anxious frenetic workaholism -- the old voices in my head telling me I didn't deserve joy.
Oh no! those voices echoed in my sorry skull. Joy? When you have so much on your plate. Are you kidding? Get back to work!
And those were the nice voices. . .
But I was determined to change that bludgeoning way of being. So when I saw that the flash of color I had seen was a rose garden, I got out of the car with my camera and decided to take some photos. It is safe to say that the next half an hour -- and my decision to write about it -- changed my life.
When I hit publish on my first daily practice of joy blog, something huge happened. In retrospect, I now understand that my initial daily practice of joy blog was the first time I had ever written something completely vulnerable and true and honest and real solely for myself and then shared it with others.
I did it because I had to.
I did it because I didn't know what else to do.
I did it with no expectations.
I did it without a plan.
I certainly did not think ahead to, say, this bleary exhausted morning more than three years later when, unable to sleep after a yesterday of bludgeoning and anxious workaholism and a fitful fearful night of almost no sleep, I would know better how to pray and write and joy practice myself back to center.
Which is to say, I had no idea that my joy and blogging practice would actually work.
At first it was fact that readers responded with such powerfully loving support which gave me the courage to keep writing blog posts in such candor. I discovered a courage I never knew I had to delve deep below the surface and begin to speak a truth I had forgotten existed inside me.
I continued to feel driven to write out whatever had been longing to be uttered and released. Those blog posts were the only lifelines I had to save the only life I have -- my own.
And so I kept writing.
Just as I am doing right now in these wee hours of this morning having given up on sleep.
I continue to write myself whole.
There are times in our lives, when we find our backs to some wall we had never hoped to hit, that we either -- to use my dad's favorite expression -- shit or get off the pot. That we acknowledge that something, anything, has to change, and so we risk writing, speaking, acting, changing, loving, leaving, hoping, healing, having, letting go. We risk something that, up until that point, we have thought to be utterly impossible, risky or pointless.
In those moments we recognize that what has really been impossible, risky and pointless is living the lie-based lives we have been living and calling life.
In those moments we invite the truth of our lives to speak and we commit to listening.
In those moments we remember what it is to truly live.
So, as I wandered around the rose garden this past Wednesday, once again photographing and smelling the fragrant blooms, I took stock of just how much has changed in my life in the past three years. I took stock of all the ways my daily practice of joy and this blog have actually really worked -- how despite all that has happened, all that I have walked away from, I feel more hope and healing and genuine happiness than I would have ever thought possible.
As I walked around and photographed and smelled the roses, I felt deeply and truly grateful.
That's when I realized that it was May 16 -- the first day of my third year of intentional homelessness. How fitting, I thought.
Two years ago when I began my unexpected journey of intentional homelessness, I promised myself not to busy myself making plans, but rather to endeavor to be present right where I was doing whatever it was I was doing.
Of course, I still had to make a living and find a way to keep paying the bills, But I promised myself that I wouldn't let that become the driving force in any of my decisions. That I would show up to and as my truest self in trust, and lean on Love to guide me along my way.
That said, I still did have a plan. It was to spend two years letting the heart and not the head of my intentional homelessness lead me to clarity about what comes next.
Two years have now come and gone. And I have gotten clarity. Lots of it.
I have gotten clear that the practice of presence is a daily necessity.
I have gotten clear that we have to face down the joykills that threaten our joy, if we are to be able to sustain our daily practices.
I have gotten clear that we have to be willing to let go and let go and let go over and over and over again of all the barnacles of supposed being that have attached themselves to our truest selves and claimed to be "I". Those barnacles of fear and anger and hopelessness and anxiety and identity and accumulation and power and prestige and personality that attach themselves to us all are not us. They never have been. Underneath all that is who we really are -- but only by showing up in open-hearted honesty to each surprising new day can we remember that.
I have also gotten clear that everything I thought I would know, I don't know at all.
In fact, that "I don't know" has become one of the greatest gifts of my intentional homelessness. Instead of fearing the I don't know, I now invite it into my life every day to show me where I need more faith, what fears I have to face, and to bring me the freedom for which I have been longing my whole life.
It's not easy. I won't lie.
Living in the I don't know doesn't come with 24-hour tech support and a money-back guarantee.
Sometimes, like yesterday, the old habits come back hard and with a vengeance and I spend a day of frantic anxiety working myself to the bone. But then I remember that I have a choice -- and I make that choice: To take a walk. To see the flowers. To call a friend.
To stop what I am doing, get up from the computer after twelve straight hours, and go do something joy-filled like see this sunset.
But those barnacles don't take their job lightly. Sunset, schmunset, they say. Let's see what you do when we bombard you with every fear in the book at 3AM.
This morning, 734 days into living my I don't know journey of intentional homelessness and 1,131 days after starting this daily practice of joy blog, I finally have an answer for those barnacles.
The answer is this: Practice works.
It really works.
When sleep doesn't come, I practice,
When fear bombards me, I practice.
When the voices in my head yell so loudly that I can't seem to hear anything else, I practice.
When anxiety demands that I give it my sole attention, I practice.
My practice has come to include prayer, photography, blogging, reading, writing, loving, walking, breathing, gratitude, listening, presence, acceptance, kindness, conversation -- and so much more. A veritable tool kit that I now know I have at my disposal for barnacle eradication, old voice silencing, and joy invitation.
I may not know how or when or where I will be going next, but this I do know: Practice works.
As I write these words and imagine them going out to you later today, I feel sleep finally tickling at the back of my eyelids. I feel the constriction that had knotted itself around my heart begin to ease. I feel gratitude and hope where the fear was just an hour ago.
And just as I begin to hear the birds singing outside my window and know that the sun will begin to tinge the black sky orange then yellow then blue, I feel joy dawning on this new day -- inviting me, inviting us all not to give up.
No matter how hard fear yells.
No matter all the terrible news we read in the papers.
No matter all the I don't knows we each will face today.
Don't give up on your practice of joy.
Because trust me, it will never give up on you.
Joy will never ever give up on you.