A short practice for embodying joy

My apology in advance to any of you who were coming here hoping for a stream of erudite and academic treatises on the historical worship of Aphrodite.  While I will occasionally do that, this is a practice blog, and right now my practice is keeping me going, so today, this is what you get.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about how to lead a joyful existence.  The thing is, my mother is dying.  My mother has been dying for quite some time now, and she has lived with chronic, debilitating illness for over two decades.  We have been going up and down in panic anticipating her imminent demise for quite some time, but most intensively in the past 15 months. It has felt like intensive, punctuated shocks to the system, and I am constantly on alert, with no clear end in sight.  It is evident, though, that she is slowly nearing the finish line, so, I’m currently negotiating the final stages of her life, as well as trying to make arrangements for my cognitively disabled sister, which I can tell you, is no picnic.  And now, we find out my father in-law is also suffering from cancer. In fact, it seems that for the past five years we have been lurching from one crisis to another, mostly brought on by other people’s circumstances or just freak luck of the draw, and there is no doubt that has taken a toll on me, and my dear husband.  For quite some time we have imagined that just over this next hill lies the promised land, but a recent discovery shows me that is not a useful way of thinking about or managing one’s life.  The fact is, over the next hill is probably another hill, and that’s OK.  In fact, it has to be.

You see, in the midst of these changes and transitions that do, in fact, need to be managed, there are also some really great things going on in my life.  I’m happy with my career direction, and am involved in some very exciting and satisfying projects. My marriage is excellent, my health is good, I have fine friends, and our home is quite abundant.  In the past, I’ve had a tendency to let the challenges overshadow the triumphs, and I’ve decided that I don’t want to live that way anymore.  Yet there is no doubt that there are a number of things happening in my life which do make me very sad.  And while I am all right with embracing the sadness occasionally, it is not fair to let that dictate my disposition.  Quite simply, I am refusing to have a bad year.  And while I want my friends and colleagues to understand that I currently have some limitations and that I may not be all about the late nights (or weekly blog posts) right now, I do not want my story to revolve around these difficulties.

I admit, this has required an attitude shift.  I think women in particular carry the physical and emotional burdens of familial obligation, and to not do so can potentially induce guilt and anxiety. What I have decided to do in response is work to try to make joy more of a default state.  I don’t have to be happy all the time, that isn’t realistic, that expectation, too, is yet another societal imposition upon women, (“you’d be so much prettier if you were smiling”) but I have learned that I can take some steps to embody joy more frequently so that I can have it on tap as I need it.

I was quite inspired by Phil Hine’s writing about experiencing The Glittering. It was so resonant. So right now, whenever I see something really beautiful, or if something makes me smile, I pause, take a moment, fall into it, and lock in the way it makes me feel.  Then I try to infuse my entire body with that sensation and let it flow outside of me and beyond as far as I can extend it.  I just see myself glowing with joy. And then I remember to be thankful for having allowed myself to have that experience, and for making that choice at that precise moment, and then I continue on. These moments can be incredibly brief, just a breath’s worth, but they encourage me to be more mindful of my surroundings, the sights, tastes and smells of the world, to bring these good things into my awareness, and also to simply…pause.  I try to take note of simple sensory features, a shadow hitting just right, someone’s creative tattoo, a perfectly hot cup of coffee, a cupcake in a window.  I am hoping that with this practice I will start seeing life in a more even way. And when I need a bit of happiness, I can just reach up and pluck it out of the air, like a ripe apple off of a tree.

My empowerment is about the choices I make, and if I don’t choose really well right at this moment, that’s ok.  There is another moment right around the corner.  I don’t need to be in a perfect state of bliss all the time, but in the moments when I can choose it and feel it, no matter how fleeting it may seem, and know it is there for me, the more of it I can get on auto pilot, and share in it with the universe.

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