In search of the joy place

Somehow the subject of joy keeps bubbling up and lately it’s front and center in my thoughts. As I mentioned in a recent post, a friend and I have been doing daily “check-ins” for several years and recently added joy–a topic I’ve been exploring for a while.

It’s been quite a revelation to see what a difference it makes to consciously seek the joy moments in every day.  You see, things like joy, happiness, playfulness, etc. have been elusive for me.  While the spiritual path has brought great equanimity and a sense of peace and contentment I never had, I’m still working on letting in the happy.

Numerous practitioners over the years have told me I should play more and it always feels like they’ve just asked me to spontaneously speak Greek.  “Duh, I don’t know how.”  I was a pretty serious kid in a household in which horsing around, childish behavior (even from a child) and too much laughter were discouraged.  I folded in so thoroughly I lost the sense of how to relax and have fun.

It took a long time to realize I have some strong beliefs that say it’s not okay to be too happy and joy, well that’s just suspect, something to be wary of.  Add in a long journey through some weird and uncomfortable health/muscle issues and I’ve hit senior status with a seriously impaired joy button.

At the same time this daily joy check-in has been happening, I’ve been working on holding a peaceful space in the face of the chaos since the U.S. election.  Part of that became checking each day for posts and/or news items about the positive and great things happening in the world and sharing them on Facebook.  During a party the other night, a friend turned and thanked me for creating a space of calm and peace with my posts.

When she said it, images of the many wonderful things I’d found flooded through me and I caught on to how much joy there is finding the good and the uplifting and sharing the happy.  I’ve been excited and joyful about it ever since.

I think the thing I love the most about this is how small and simple so many of the “joy things” have been and how much noticing them spreads the joy through my being even more.  Years of gratitude practice never quite sent me to the same place but joy practice is changing my world by leaps and bounds.

Just a word change.  And it reminds me that sometimes the resonance of one word over another for a given person makes all the difference.  If you, like me, have trouble holding the happy space, consider whether the word which makes you sparkle is gratitude or happiness or joy or … you name it and then practice finding the moments when you feel it.

Joy… hmmm… what is it?

Another action shot from Christmas Day up Moel...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about joy and fun.  And whether I feel them much… or ever…  I realize sometimes I’m not even sure what joy is or how to have fun any more.  Or maybe I’ve changed so much my definitions have just changed.

I do have this one precious memory of a joy-filled moment I relive when I want to move into a joyful place.  And that’s one of the nice things about any emotion:  you can choose to go there or move out of there or to change to a different one any time you want.

This particular moment was in Marin.  My friends had asked me to house sit through two sessions of their workshops and the couple of weeks in between — seven whole weeks in my favorite place, taking care of the kitties I’d helped raise, in the place where I’d had my little apartment.

Early in the trip I went for my favorite walk on a glorious day.  After crossing through the county park that abuts the house, I came out on a little country road that curves around the hill; for a while shortly after you exit the park you’re walking under trees on a section with no houses.

I stepped into that private space, so happy to be walking there and with nearly seven weeks left to revel in being there and I started jumping around in circles with my hands in the air.  That I can identify as joy.

The thing is, the way I used to run to clubs to hear music, go to parties, hang out with crowds and noise, etc.  now seems more like a pantomime of fun.  I love music, so there was some joy in hearing great bands.  But the rest was fodder for a restless and unhappy spirit and I’m quite sure a lot of the time I mistook over-excitement and over-stimulation for joy.  Also defined fun by some perception of what was “cool” among my peers.

When I look around these days, I see huge numbers of people who are pursuing the same — to me — illusory forms of joy and fun.  In fact these forms seem really amped up now.  Restaurants are bigger and noisier than any I remember, crowds at music events are bigger and louder.  Sporting venues hold more people, turn the sound up louder.  I have to use sound reducing earplugs to halfway tolerate a movie theater.  And I find all of it energy depleting, enervating, and somewhat depressing.

Thirty years plus in on meditating, yoga, practices, releasing, soul searching, etc. many of my moments of deepest satisfaction are very quiet.  Gazing at a sunset, a deep conversation over dinner with a couple of close friends, feeding people something I’ve cooked and watching their faces light up…  None of that puts me in quite the same space I held on the day I danced around in the middle of a Corte Madera mountain road.  So are such moments joy?

I was very interested to read Louise’s recent post at Dare Boldly and note her thoughts about sunsets and walks in the park and being with friends as joy-bringing activities.  It’s bringing me a whole new perspective on what joy maybe really is.

Those activities for me bring serenity, a sense of balance, a warm feeling in my heart.  I love to be in that kind of space but I can’t decide whether it’s joy I’m feeling or something softer yet deeply satisfying.

I find myself wondering if I’m still being seduced by some culturally implanted idea that joy should equate with something exciting.  Does it have to be as big as the moment of happiness so intense it had me jumping around in the street?   [btw, hard to express how unlike me that was and how much it says for the absolute joy I felt in the moment]

I’m just contemplating, not in a place where I have any sense of an answer.  And maybe joy and it’s bigness or smallness is in the eye of the beholder.  Or maybe it has big moments and small moments…  I imagine I’ll be revisiting this question for some time to come.

For me one of the joys 🙂 and drawbacks of the spiritual journey is becoming someone new.  Of looking at an emotional tone differently and trying to decide where the current version of me stands…  seeing how much my view/feeling has changed compared to various points in the past. Most of the time being new is great and sometimes not so easy…