Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Finding Joy (follow up post to 'Cultivating Joy' 3/21/13)

"True refuge is that which allows us to be at home, at peace, to discover true happiness. The only thing that can give us true refuge is the awareness and love that is intrinsic to who we are. Ultimately, its our own true nature."
Tara Brach

In 'The Universe Has Your Back', Gabrielle Bernstein writes, "Empowering intentions bring us joy, and joy is the catalyst for all that is good in this world. The more joyful we are, the more light we shine on the world, the more power we have to express our presence, and the more positive energy we put out. That place of power is the source of the energy necessary to show up and serve, the inspiration behind creative solutions for seemingly hopeless problems, and the access to generosity for giving more when there is need. Even one person's presence of joy has the capacity to leave a massively positive imprint on a local community and a global landscape. The energy of peace, love, and joy has the power to shift the world."

What does it mean to source joy? In what ways can we tap into the power of joy? Is joy a force strong enough to help us persevere during dark times, sadness, grief and loss?

Over the last few years, I have been thinking hard on what finding joy and happiness mean to me. I posted a few years ago on the blog, first day of Spring 2013 about 'Cultivating Joy', a topic that I still wrestle with in my thoughts. Spring is a season of unfolding beauty and strength, joy and happiness are a curious theme that still holds a need for me to explore.  I find inspiration in nature, the sprouts that push through a cold, thawing Earth, the resilience of the roots and stem to rise up against the harsh conditions of snow, wind and rain.

By definition, joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness, synonyms of joy are delight, elation, and glee. The act of having joy is to rejoice. Joy has the power to be cultivated internally, remaining in a more consistent way as sensation within the body and mind. Happiness is a state of being; cheerful, satisfied, and content. A state found externally through people, places, things and experiences or events.

As an introvert and over thinker, I question everything about my ever changing feelings and emotions. If happiness is a natural state of being, why do I feel such a struggle in finding it? As I have experienced sorrow, grief, anger, shame and guilt, it's hard to turn the corner towards brighter thought patterns. There are days when I have to drag my body out of bed, all my muscles are sore and my bones feel stiff and rigid. There are nights when I can't sleep at all. I lie in bed going down shadowy paths of fear, worry and anxieties only to finally fall asleep and awaken from a horrible nightmare!

In a broader sense, I have ups and downs like many other people, but I don't feel these emotions for an extended length of time. I am not writing this to bring any direction, suggestion, or judgment towards those who truly struggle with mental illness. I remain aware, compassionate and supportive of those who are living a life of challenge. But yet, as a mother I have to address my healthy mental-emotional relationships with myself, my children, my husband, family and friends.

My strength of will gets me up in the morning, I have two children that need me. It's a sleep deprived survival mode of tasks. I have to work, earn money, pay my bills, and make important decisions that impact other lives. These responsibilities feel like a heavy weight on my shoulders, it can be a constant drain on my energy. As my tired aching body and busy mind longs for stillness and rest, I rise up and continue to live, love and experience the vast possibility of life. I am here, now. My time is now, it is what I make it, sad and sufferable or joyous and exciting. Like the hardy crocus of spring that thrives, continuously reaching toward the sun, I need to find the light, I need to find my joy.

These words come from a place of not wanting, I have healthy food, clean water and a cozy home. I am living in freedom. Freedom to marry who I love, to work, live, and share my personal beliefs, morals and ethics with my boys as they learn and grow. I do not underestimate that gift at all. I can't close my eyes to the struggles of the world. We are all one, connected, living on Earth. As a family, we openly discuss the truth of the world. Poverty, violence, conflict, inequality, discrimination, disease, pollution, lack of natural resources, education, safety, security and well-being. The list can go on, but if I can serve, help or care for those in need, I won't give up in trying. Ubuntu is a beautiful Nguni Buntu term meaning "humanity". It has been translated as a phrase into "I am because we are," and also "humanity towards others". It is a South African philosophy that references "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity".  Sharing the knowledge of this word and its philosophy helps me bring light to dark, awareness into action, peace and justice to all who deserve it and continue to fight for it. Sealing in the words of Gabby Bernstein, "Even one person's presence of joy has the capacity to leave a massively positive imprint on a local community and a global landscape. The energy of peace, love and joy has the power to shift the world."

Motivation, inspiration and perceptions keep our blessings from turning into burdens, which requires an active effort of seeking. What inspires me is different than what inspires others. That delicate harmony is a unique art of association that binds humankind. It is a fragile network of philanthropy, compassion, sympathy, tolerance, kindness, consideration, and understanding. Find your truth, find what makes you happy, seek out your inspirations. Turning passion into genuine work is demanding, and no one can make you happy but yourself. What interests me is creating a powerful source of energy that taps into environment, experience, and connection with others.

As a nurse, I have the privilege of caring for humans who need my guidance, observation, action and wisdom to heal. As a yoga teacher, I lead meditations to help shift awareness into the present moment, share ways to breathe more deeply, safely move the body, and gently relax the mind. These paths of service and giving fill my heart with joy.

Finding happiness is more transient, and can be dependent on external sources. I'm definitely a person who is highly influenced by the energy of my surroundings. Have you ever been around someone who is truly happy? I have experienced subtle shifts when I am out and about with people who engage in life with a patient playfulness. I have friends who look on the bright side of life, and are able to speak easily and directly about positivity, leading with a true arrow towards their goals. It feels good to be around this energy, contagious, and inspiring to open up and tap into other people's joy. This radiating hopefulness reflects a desire to cultivate joy from the inside out and prolong a state of happiness. To live with a lighter heart, feel the beauty of the Earth, and my experiences within it as a whole person. I want to say yes more, I want to give my time and attention freely without feeling depleted, especially towards my children.

The practice of meditation has helped me to accomplish this, and sparked an internal awareness that goes beyond joy and happiness. It has gifted me with a sense of calm in chaos, a momentary pause before responding or reacting, and a general increase in self esteem and self care. I don't put a lot of effort into my daily meditation practice, some days it may appear differently to those who think meditation is sitting still and quiet on a cushion, blanket or block for a period of time. My daily meditation is more of a mindful awareness. In the morning, the moment my mind wakes up, I stretch my body, and place both hands over my heart. I close my eyes and take three deep breaths. With each breath I think of three gratitudes. This simple act has opened me into a state of happiness, grace, trust, and appreciation for all I am, and continue to be, and for all I have in my life.

"When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy. To love." Marcus Aurelius

In honor of this first day of Spring, a time of renewal, rebirth, and new beginnings, I want to make an affirmation: a statement of truth which one aspires to absorb into their life. It is a hope for the future.

To feel happy and loved, I give happiness and show love.

Recently, I was asked to give some advice to new parents. I came up with this. "Hug them, love them, share your joy with them."

Here are some words from my sweet children, who are an eternal spring to my source of joy.
"Laugh hard and often!"
"Love can be messy, let's just snuggle."
"Everywhere is home when you are with your family."
"Be love, be kind, be happy."

If you are interested in learning more about how to practice meditation, start with guided meditations. They are easy to find and easy to listen to. I love Tara Brach, she is a psychotherapist, meditation teacher, and author who has numerous articles, videos, hundreds of recorded talks, and guided meditations.  tarabrach.com

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