– Carlos Santana
One of the best parts of our Aussie adventure was being “unplugged,” away (for the most part) from internet, cell phones and news reports. As the weeks went by, we experienced a deepening, soul-lightening sense of relief. It just felt so wonderful to remember what it feels like to be….joyful.
Which, to be fair, may bring up a response something like, “Well, sure, you felt joyful because you were fortunate enough to be traveling in gorgeous places for a couple months, with very few of life’s usual demands pulling on you, on hiatus from all the craziness going on in the US, and in the world.”
“But how can I possibly feel joyful when _______?” (Fill in the blank: “…the country’s going to hell in a hand basket, families are being torn apart at the US borders, I’m working sixty hours a week just to try to make ends meet.”….or whatever.)
It’s a question I’ve been pondering a lot lately. How can I maintain the sense of present moment awareness, the sense of perspective, the sense of connection and, yes, joy we were so blessed to experience on our trip?
No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, most Americans would agree that anxiety, uncertainty, a sense of helplessness and even hopelessness (to name but a few), are creating an oppressive, divisive energy that many, many of us are experiencing on both overt and subtle levels everyday.
In the months leading up to our Australia trip, I often found myself struggling to not succumb to the heavy, depressing sort of energetic weight that hangs in the collective consciousness these days.
I also found myself questioning, mostly subconsciously, “Is it even okay to be happy, or feel joyful, when so many people are suffering, and so many things seem to be going so very wrong? Wouldn’t that be appallingly unaware, self-centered or ‘entitled’ of me?”
Yet I know in my heart, my always-more-intelligent-than-my-head heart, that choosing joy is not unaware and self-centered – it’s actually just the opposite. Not only is it okay to be joyful, it’s one of the most important choices I can ever make.
The Greatest Gift
The greatest gift (of many) we experienced during our Aussie journey was that we were in love. More than just with each other. We were In Love. Period.
We were relaxed and present enough to just simply be, and in so being, we became emissaries of Love. Not because we were trying to be. Just because we were joyous and radiating that energy. We had beautiful connections with all sorts of folks – all ages, races, nationalities: rental car agents, hotel managers, a very pregnant woman on a park bench. People we met while hiking, or on trains. Aussies who opened their hearts, and even their homes, to us.
We challenged ourselves to make the grumpiest of the grumpy smile. It worked. There was the airline ticketing agent who looked downright menacing while we waited in line, but who responded big time to our smiles and compassionate remarks. In fact, she totally lit up, showing us iPhone photos of her recent vacation, then emailing us insider travel tips over the next several weeks.
We made lifelong connections with folks, including Sue and Steve, the couple we met at the Karajini Eco-Retreat (see gorge/lizard photos above). After spending only a couple hours together, they invited us to stay in their home in Melbourne, later insisting we stay for the whole week! I learned so much about how to make guests feel truly welcome from these lovely folks.
Same applies to “End of the Rope” director, Tom Peach, whose family and menagerie of feathered and furry animals left a lasting impression of down-home Aussie hospitality.
And there’s Tarryn, the very pregnant S. African woman on the park bench, whose miner husband was working many hours away, leaving her alone with her 4-year-old, no friends or family around, ready to pop any minute. We talked for a bit, and then I offered to be there if she went into labor while I was still in the area. “Really?!!” She gratefully accepted. (Turns out she had an easy birth about two weeks later, but in that moment, she needed to know she was not alone. We’re still in contact. And her baby (left) is beautiful!)
And then there’s Dominic, the hotel manager from Singapore, who spent over an hour in our room talking with us, having brought up a fruit basket and box of chocolates. One of the most special souls I’ve ever met. He’s adopted us as his “mentors and life coaches.” Clearly, it’s a three-way exchange!
I could go on. And on. We just loved everyone we met. What an alive feeling that kind of organic, loving exchange is! What a testament to the fact that every present moment holds the gift of inherent joy. Too often, we’re just too busy, too tired, too preoccupied, and/or too stressed to recognize it. At least, I am.
“Where there is love, there is joy.” – Mother Teresa
So. My clear intention, now that I’m back in my day-to-day life, back on the grid and more prone to being affected by the collective malaise, my intention, my prayer, is to remain aware of each and every moment of choice; to choose to keep my heart open in compassion, but not weighted down by despair; to make choices that keep a balance in my life, allowing me time to truly connect with people, whether my closest family members, or the homeless person in the take-out place yesterday who just needed to talk.; to be able to say to a friend, “Sure, I can meet you for tea tomorrow;” to make time to stop and smell the roses.
I vow to keep remembering that joy is the best gift I can give to the world, and to have everything – everything – I do stem from joy. It’s a very lofty goal, I realize, one I will most likely fall short of daily, but one certainly worth shooting for.
“Service which is rendered without JOY helps neither the servant not the served. But, all other pleasures pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in the spirit of JOY.”
– Mohandas Gandhi
“How can I be “in the world, but not of it?”
Joy is an expansive energy. Anxiety, anger, helplessness, and all their fear-based cousins, are all contractive. When I’m stuck in fear-based feelings of despair, my energy is just that: stuck. Stagnant. Non-flowing. It feels like there’s too much trying to be held within a too-confined space.
One of the best ways I know to break out of that feeling of dense, stuck, depressive energy is to make myself think of something I’m grateful for. Just one thing. Anything. Or anyone. I’m a mom, so thinking of my now-grown children is a failsafe prompt for fanning the flame of gratitude. And since thought and emotion are magnetic forces, like attracting like, once I begin to generate thoughts and feelings of gratitude, they continue to multiply and grow in power, reigniting the pilot light of joy that lives in my heart.
I believe that pilot light of joy lives continually in each of our hearts. We’re born with it. Have you looked into a baby’s eyes lately? They don’t have to learn how to be joyful. They just ARE.
And yet, babies can also wail with despair when needed. Full-bodied, full force expressions of despair. And then be right back to full-bodied joy. Why? Because they are totally present to whatever they are feeling in the moment.
Emotions are just energy in motion. If we remain open enough, expansive enough, to let everything – the whole gamut of our human emotional experience – move through us, to not get stuck, we naturally are returned to our inherent state of joy.
“ I AM large enough to embrace it all.”
While in Australia, I was able to maintain a pretty expansive state of being. I wish I could say I’ve stayed in that super relaxed, opened state continually since we’ve been home. Lasting changes have been made, for sure, but… “life happens.” Since being back, it’s been interesting to watch what fans the flame of gratitude, what amplifies my sense of joy.
And what does not. I’ve been closely observing, witnessing what makes my stomach tighten. What makes my thoughts spin when I lie down to sleep at night. What sucks me back into being “of” the world, not joyfully “in” it.
Professional obligations and a sense of time pressure have indeed begun to gnaw, now and then, at the edges of my serenity. (Like getting this newsletter out in time for folks to know about the Self-Renewal Retreat, for instance!)
The day-to-day stuff of life – piles on my desk, cluttered closets, keeping up a home and property, endless emails and texts – sometimes seems a bit overwhelming. The news reports and tweets of any given day threatens to dampen my innate sense of joy.
I feel things deeply. And our world is full of sorrow and suffering. But it is also full of miracles and wonder. In the words of Kahlil Gibran…
“…And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life,
your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy.”
Or, as Joseph Campbell puts it:
“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.
We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”
Choosing to live in joy; speaking my truth with love and compassion; taking action to change the things I can. These are things that matter deeply to me.
Amidst the sorrows and the challenges, there is still SO much beauty to celebrate in this magnificent world of ours.We all deserve to experience true, soul joy. We have but to choose it.