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)
- 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?