My Inner Mystic

reflections and insight into my healing, transformation, and journey of the heart <3

Connecting with Joy

Washington apples

Washington apples

Biting into a crisp and juicy Fuji apple, I had a small revelation about my relationship to joy.

I was enjoying my apple.  I was telling myself how much I love apples.  (Of course I love apples.  I live in Washington, the apple state, after all.)  Recently I discovered Jazz apples and Lady Alice apples…so delicious and so fun to try new varieties!  As the sweetness and crunch of this Fuji apple filled my mouth, I became intrigued by its “imperfection.”  The color of the skin was not uniform – one side of the apple was a light yellow/dull green and the other side a dull, streaky red with yellow splotches.

As I munched joyfully on my apple, something I said to someone in an open moment came to mind.  I remember saying, “because of everything I’ve been through, it’s hard for me to feel happiness and joy.”  My remembrance of uttering this statement has gnawed at me for months.  I’m not a gloomy, dark, negative person.  In fact new people I meet often experience me as bright and cheery.  Despite my projection of brightness, there are times I feel an inner gloom, when sadness takes hold of me.  As I reflect back on this moment, I offer myself compassion and recognize that I expressed this self-observation during a darker season, literally darker outside and darker inside (the transition from fall to winter was hard for me and I struggled to hold on to my inner light).

For the last several years as I’ve progressed from the heaviness of devastation and grief from my relationship ka-boom to less heavy to lightness and a growing brightness, I’ve been contemplating and cultivating a connection with joy.  At times I’ve doubted my ability to feel joy, as my statement above illustrates.  Other times I’ve been felt bewildered.  “Joy?  What’s Joy?”  To myself I’ve wondered, “how can I feel joy if I don’t know what joy is?”

I remember asking myself once during my journey out of the sadness and heaviness of grief, “do I even know how to be happy?”  I actually sat down a year ago (probably on a day or a week where I was struggling to connect with a feeling of happiness) and wrote down a list of everything that brings happiness, and yes, joy, into my life.

Here is a snapshot of my list:

  • birds (their songs, playfulness, and curious behaviors)
  • sunshine
  • nature – wildflowers, blue sky, clouds, sunsets, mountains
  • cooking and eating my creations
  • time spent with my friends
  • interacting with the kids on ICO outings and witnessing their discoveries of nature
  • learning and self-discovery

My small revelation, my moment of insight, emerged in the space just after remembering my declaration, “because of everything I’ve been through, it’s hard for me to feel happiness and joy.”  It’s not just that I’ve been through a lot of hard stuff in my life (a tough childhood, the death of a sibling, a tragic and traumatic end to the most important relationship of my life) which has undoubtedly darkened my perception of my experiences and my reality, it’s also, and quite significantly so, that joy was not modeled for me during my childhood.

My dad was an angry, scary man.  He was also a workaholic and so often put an end to our play – instead we were barked at and commanded to do work.  I spent a lot of my childhood, along with my siblings, stacking fire wood, weeding the garden, and helping my dad corral the sheep he raised.  My mom was and still is a very timid person and lives in a chronic state of fear and depression.  She typically represses her feelings and emotions and “suffers in silence.”  My mom is also quite negative and often expresses her belief that something will go wrong, always assuming the worst, not believing in the possibility of the best.

These were my behavioral models:  anger and aggression from one parent; fear, negativity, and timidity from the other.  Sadly, there was not a lot of joy experienced or expressed in my family.  It’s no wonder that I’ve had such a hard time connecting with joy.  Joy, for the most part, has been a big unknown for me – obscure and elusive.  I’ve had to discover joy on my own and for myself.  And then I had to re-discover joy as I emerged from the heaviness of my grief, from heart wrenching pain.

I now celebrate that joy is no longer so elusive and bewildering to me.  My enjoyment of my apple, the pleasure I experienced eating it and taking it all in, splotches and all, illustrates my ability to connect with and feel joy.  More and more I experience joy in everyday life, whether noticing a dog at play, a crow burying its food in my back yard, a perky and cheerful daffodil, or a notable moon rise.   In each of these noticings and much more, I feel joy permeate and fill my being.  Hooray for that!

On my journey I have discovered that curiosity is the pathway to joy.  Curiosity, being inquisitive, being in a state of wonder, helps us to discover (or perhaps uncover) the essence and the fullness of joy in all things, in all experiences.  When we are curious, we are open to receiving the fullness of life.  Additionally when we are curious, we are fully present in each moment, squeezing and savoring every last drop out of JOY in each moment of life.  The pathway of curiosity is the path of mindfulness.

How does JOY live inside me?

When I feel joy my heart feels light and buoyant, the corners of my mouth and eyes turn up into a smile, I feel playful energy stir within me.  When I feel joy, I feel an inner brightness. 
When I feel joy, I AM bright!!!

How does JOY live inside YOU?


6 responses to “Connecting with Joy

  1. Shelly April 25, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing your struggles and your discoveries. I can relate with so much of what you wrote. Difficult childhood, emotions not modeled appropriately, relationship struggles. I have also had to determine what brings joy to me and actively recognize, be aware, and seek out those little things that do bring me joy. This year I’ve had a more difficult/longer lasting late fall until now stretch of the doldrums interspersed with lots of anxiety. I have to continually bring myself back to present and be mindful about being HERE right now. It takes a lot of energy in trying to make it a habit. Curiosity…it’s what my therapist continually reminds me to do…really see…look at it from all angles…be curious…note…don’t attach. I look at struggles as something precious, they help me become (or maybe realize) more of who I already am. The practices of self-compassion and mindfulness are the two gifts that I’ve been given in the past year by my therapist. I use them and treasure them especially during the tough times.

    • myinnermystic April 25, 2013 at 9:34 pm

      Hi Shelley – Thank you for reflecting back what you received and heard in my post and for affirming for me that yes, practices like curiosity, compassion, being present, awareness of our thoughts and internal struggles, that these are indeed practices and tools of mindfulness that are of such great service to those of us who struggle with anxiety, depression, periods of sadness or inner darkness, and so on. I am wishing for you that you’ll make it through this stretch of dullness and anxiety and feel spring come to life inside you. Even in the painful stretches I call upon Pema Chodron’s words, “the present moment is our greatest teacher.”

  2. Basia April 25, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Hi 🙂

    The contrast is so important. As Brené Brown says, we cannot selectively numb our feelings so if we try to numb the tough stuff (i.e.. sadness, grief, loneliness, etc.) we will also unfortunately numb out the pleasant stuff (i.e. joy, happiness, connectedness, etc.). Perhaps your courage and ability to feel the tough stuff fully is now making room for joy! “Your tears are there to leave you with a brighter pair of eyes” (Sarah Slean). You are discovering how to feel joy! Yay! I’m happy to hear of your joy.

    A few things that make me feel joy:
    – feeling deeply connected
    – Spring
    – Flowers
    – love
    – humour and laughing….

    Thanks for sharing 🙂


    • myinnermystic April 25, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      Hi Basia ~ Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think you and others are probably right in observing that it is the vast contrast of our feelings and emotions (grief and sadness vs. happiness and joy) that accentuates our positive feelings. Thanks also for sharing what brings joy to your life. Flowers….I’m loving the smell of the lilacs that are starting to bloom in Seattle. And…the full moon tonight is especially joyful! Yay for the full moon!

  3. Dave May 16, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    It’s been too long since I’ve read your blog, but this was a wonderful blog for my reemergence! It reminds me of just how talented you are at taking something as simple in life as eating an apple, and “juicing” as much emotion and thought out of it as possible. You look at every minute detail of the physical nature of the apple and turn it into a exposition on joy, delving in deep to the core of some dark and personal stories in your family life, and leaving the reader with a high respect for your openness and regard for how you can transform darkness into light. Loved it!

    • myinnermystic May 17, 2013 at 11:49 am

      Thanks, Dave. Such lovely reflections. It’s really wonderful for me to have my talents mirrored back to me, to see them and hear them through another. I love that in your comments you incorporate fun images of an apple, like “juice” and core. I really did get to the root, and the seeds, ala the apple core, of the unfolding of joy in my life. My small revelation has been quite liberating for me and has helped me to cultivate deeper self compassion. I have more delving to do into other aspects of my being where I’m needing to cultivate self compassion. Perhaps another blog post will emerge out of this inner work.

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