Buried Joy

Buried Joy

“Be joyful because it is humanly possible.”  Wendell Berry has written a lot of words that eloquently illustrate basic truths, but I think these seven words are some of his most important for humans to hear and embody.  Everyone has the opportunity for joy, even if it’s fleeting or hard to recognize or stuck under melancholy. The joy that is stuck or buried is even perhaps the joy that persists when things are challenging – it’s the joy that refuses to let go even when our human experience is wrought with hardship and despair and searching.  It’s the joy that is still there even when we can’t see it, or when we let our focus go to the thing with the loudest voice – sometimes joy tends to be soft spoken.  This is the joy that makes us human, the joy that is the love at our center, the joy that reminds us that though our emotions are real, we don’t have to let them control our life experience.  We don’t have to let our life situation and how we feel about it dictate how we perceive what happens, or what doesn’t.  We can be joyful simply because it’s  possible.

Years ago I worked in a fitness facility that was set up to support the efforts of people affected by physical disability.  There were special adaptive machine settings to accommodate wheelchairs, straps to secure a weak grip onto a bar and a warm water pool for bodies that craved the way swimming allows for limitless movement.  The facility attracted all sorts of people – a lot of older adults recovering from stroke, children who were learning to live in a body that just wouldn’t cooperate in doing activities of daily living, and individuals who needed a place to exercise that saw them as whole instead of broken.

There is one woman who I will always remember.  She was in her mid 40s and came rolling into the fitness center every Thursday at about 2pm.  An accident 10 years prior left her with no use of her lower body, and limited use of her torso and arms.  We spent the hour she was there each week moving from one piece of equipment to the next, and I helped her get situated by swinging the seat out so she could roll into place and strapping her hands to the bar or pulley so she could manipulate it.  Every workout was the same – I don’t remember ever increasing the weight or seeing any progress in her strength or ability.  She just showed up every week, did her circuit and moved on to the rest of her day.

What makes me remember her is that she didn’t convey frustration or anger.  She never showed disappointment in the lack of noticeable physical progress.  She didn’t complain about the ice in the winter and how her wheel chair slipped on it, or about how long it took to get in and out of her van, or about having to move from the home she loved because she couldn’t get to the bathroom on the second floor anymore.  She spoke of her life before the accident not with longing and regret, but with gratitude for the experiences that she had when she could walk.  And she spoke of her current life in the same way.  Not with longing for her past, or with anger that she no longer had a body that would do what it once did, but instead with gratitude that she had a body that could carry her through life, and the new experiences and opportunities that occur because of the change in that body.

She took the joy that could have stayed buried under grief and hardship and used it to move through a really difficult transition.  She took what could have easily become an avenue into bitterness and turned instead onto a path paved with beauty and appreciation for what the world can be .  She didn’t let the accident and its outcome shout louder that the joy that was a part of her core essence.  She didn’t let her life situation and how she felt about it dictate how she responded to what happened, or to what didn’t.   She chose to be joyful because it was possible.

Gifts of the Ordinary

Gifts of the Ordinary

Kahlil Gibran once wrote, “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.” There is not a day that goes by that I do not have the opportunity to dwell on 30 seconds of disappointment, or 2 minutes of worry, or a half hour of wishing I was somewhere else. There is ample challenge, heartache and disappointment to be found in all sorts of places if I want to find those things. The world can be a place of fear and grief, of anguish and loss, or of longing and dashed hopes. When we dwell on what’s not right in the world, when we shut out the beauty that persists despite the hardships that pepper our experience, and when we don’t open the gift that ordinary offers, the world aches.

I can remember glancing out the front window during a lull halfway through my work day this past September and seeing my husband swing our one and a half year old daughter up onto his shoulders as they made their way to the garage. The sun was filtering through the newly yellowed leaves on the maple tree, and a gentle breeze was ruffling them, hinting at the coming of autumn. Nick walked slowly up the stone path. Eva rode tall on his shoulders, happily smelling the tiny green blanket that goes with her everywhere and occasionally hooting like an owl. They rounded the corner and were out of my sight lines in about 30 seconds.

It was only 30 seconds, but it was 30 seconds of pure joy.

One tiny slice of joy, added to the other tiny slices that infuse themselves into my consciousness over the course of a day eventually bind together into contentment. Sometimes it takes a while, but at the end of the day, contentment somehow settles into my veins. Those little slices of joy force me to acknowledge that when I look for gifts in the ordinary, when I notice what’s right in the world, and when I see the beauty that punctuates every moment, the world gets better. When I choose joy, the world weeps in gratitude, and the ache subsides.

The world wants to get better, and it does when we remember to see beauty where yesterday we saw nothing in the ordinary events that took place. Little bits of the world start to heal when we remember that we are the universe, and the universe is us. The world’s ache transmutes into peace when we remember that there is no light without darkness and when we accept the oneness that wants to flow through us.

The world is better when we acknowledge 30 seconds of pure joy on a Monday in September and when we replace worry and longing with the gifts of the ordinary.

“The world is filled, and filled with wonder. To see this is to be made free. There is transformation in the beauty of the ordinary. The grace, the light of a brief encounter, of the greening weeping willow, of coffee brewing. There could have been nothing, but there is something, and that something is very good. We forget that, in the drudgery of life. We forget to look around with the amazement of a child. We forget to be kind to each other and make apple pie and plant trees. I want to remember.” -Ellie Roscher [adapted]

Living well through small steps.

Living well through small steps.

Do you live well?

It might take a moment to decide how to answer that.  Most of the time, I feel like I do live well.  For me, living well means finding a way to be true to the things that I value most: leading a life of simplicity, being satisfied with enough, embracing the natural world and empowering those whose paths intersect with my own.   It means being able to adapt to the misfortunes and troubles of a human life, living fully in each moment, and holding a sense of joy at my center.   Resiliency, along with a joyful presence, allows me to be fully alive, fully engaged in my every day, and fully able to be the person I am called to be.

Caring for myself, creation and others allows me to live as whole person – mind, body and spirit.  Wellness is multi-dimensional and requires alignment of our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual bodies.  Finding our balance between these areas helps us to live fully: As a joyful, resilient people that can achieve wholeness in the midst of a sometimes broken world.

What is most important to you in regards to your wellbeing?  What might you need to do differently to keep working toward being your best self, full of joyful presence and living well?

The following questions can be helpful in figuring out a plan to move forward toward making optimal wellbeing a reality:

1)      What’s working now in my health and wellbeing?

It can be tempting to go straight to what feels wrong with your lifestyle, or what isn’t working right now.  As you begin thinking about what you might want to do differently, take some time to reflect on and acknowledge what you are doing well already.

2)      What’s my vision for change?  What is making change important?

Identify what is causing you to desire something different in the first place.  It is one thing to say, “I want to lose weight.”  It is another to say, “I am at a healthy weight and have a renewed sense of self, increased my energy and am able to participate fully in my life with confidence and ease.”  When you figure out what is making you want to do something differently, your choices are fueled by inspiration, and your intent becomes reality.

3)      What strengths can I bring to my change process?

Everyone has unique qualities and strengths – think about what you do well and what allows you to be successful.  Maybe you have a knack for remembering people’s names and thrive on challenges.  Maybe you are detail oriented and like structure.  Maybe you are an empathetic listener and need alone time to think.  Whatever makes you you is something that can be identified and drawn on to set the stage for success.  When you know what you do well, you have a foundation on which to build.

4)      What are my greatest challenges to changing, and how can I work around them?

Most of us have things that get in the way of moving forward with our desired changes.  Make a list of the challenges that might get in the way and identify possible ways to work around them.  There are no wrong or crazy ideas.

5)      What are my first priorities for change?

Figure out what needs to come first.   Maybe you want to lose weight to increase your energy, but you aren’t sleeping well at night and tend to stay up too late which makes choosing healthy food and getting any exercise that much more challenging.   Perhaps your first priority will be to avoid screen time after 9pm and spend your last waking hour in dim lighting, doing something peaceful to ensure a refreshing night’s rest.  Getting to the root issue is essential to lasting success.

6)      How ready, confident and committed am I to taking the first steps toward my vision?

Setting realistic goals and backing up those goals with firm commitment is a cornerstone of moving in the direction you wish to go.  Do whatever it takes to build confidence in yourself, even if it means starting with a 5 minute walk, once a week, or smiling at the person stuck in traffic next to you.  Every success has to start somewhere.

7)      What will I do this week?

It’s up to you.  No one else can decide what you need to live well, and no one can live for you.  What are you going to do for your precious self, as you awaken to your own abundance through taking small steps?

Remember that no success is too small to acknowledge and celebrate.  Joy is on your side, so you should be, too.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver