Focus on the Joy

October 16, 2011

For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Years ago, I wrote a post called More Love, Less Fear. Today I say more joy, less fear. I think joy and love are intertwined and reciprocally generating. It occurred to me today that the way I overcame my feeling of being adrift after retirement had to do with focusing on joy rather than fear.

What is the security that Lindbergh talks about? I believe a basic physical safety, enough to eat, clean water, and community are the essentials for security. We can construct much more elaborate security needs when we come from a place of fear.

While I’m no Pollyanna, I do believe that most people hunger for true connection more than wealth and power. Many of them don’t understand the yearning and do bad things in the pursuit of security. What if they focused on what gave them joy?

What gives you joy? Can you pay more attention to that and less attention to the nagging fears that tell you to pursue greater security?


Let Your Life Speak

March 29, 2009

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. ~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces….

~May Sarton, “Now I Become Myself”

Palmer reminds us that the word vocation is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” He has come to understand vocation as a gift to be received, rather than a goal to be achieved. Watching his granddaughter during the early days of her life, he could see that she had inclinations, preferences, and her own personality from birth. He says, “We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then–if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss–we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.”

And he says: As May Sarton reminds us, the pilgrimage toward true self will take ‘time, many years and places.’ The world needs people with the patience and the passion to make that pilgrimage not only for their own sake but also as a social and political act. The world still waits for the truth that will set us free–my truth, your truth, our truth–the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God. Cultivating that truth, I believe, is the authentic vocation of every human being.

And: Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’

This small volume of essays from Palmer leads us through his choices about vocation, his depression and dark periods, and his ultimate realization that he is a teacher. He believes our shared vocation, leadership in the world of action, is an outgrowth of our inner journeys. We should support one another’s inner work by creating “communities of solitudes,” not abandoning or trying to fix each other.

More ideas from Parker J. Palmer here.


Love and Trust

February 5, 2009

One of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys of life comes from being happy over the good fortune of others. ~Archibald Rutledge

For many years, I’ve believed that what hurts one member of the human family hurts us all, and what helps one person helps us all. It is logical, then, to rejoice when another is lifted up or otherwise graced with good fortune. I am learning that, like forgiveness, this practice is something that helps the giver at least as much as the recipient.

When we are jealous or resentful of others, I think we are coming from a scarcity mentality. In celebrating another’s fortune or success, we fear losing something ourselves, whereas embracing abundance (which leads to generosity) shifts our position dramatically. Gary Zukav, in his book, The Heart of the Soul, says that we release our energy into the world from either fear and doubt or from love and trust. It seems important to me to be intentional about staying on the side of love and trust as much as we can, opening our hearts to others.

How do you see it?


Positivity

January 8, 2009

The main thing in one’s own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry. ~Maya Angelou

We hear way too much gloom and doom from the media. Yes, it’s true bad things happen in the world. But every day, so many people are doing good work, helping others, showing courage, giving and sharing, speaking truth to power, loving and caring for the world.

While it seems right to be concerned and cry (about the horrors in the Gaza Strip, the shooting in the San Francisco subway, and the other tragedies of the day), we also have to sustain our belief in goodness, laughter, community and sharing. Being human is being all those things, despite the fact that it sometimes feels a bit schizophrenic. Think how healing it can be for people to commune, laugh and remember after a memorial service, to enjoy being together, to remember the loved one who is gone, but also go on living.

I have never cared for the ideas of “positive thinking” or “affirmations” because to me they have always seemed false, a pretense. But if we are genuinely in touch with both the sadness and the joy in life, it is good to remember the things that make us laugh. May we all laugh as much as we cry.


World Community

December 27, 2008

Today the planet is the only proper “in group.” Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. ~Joseph Campbell*

The election results have had a significant effect on my outlook. I am almost tempted get that bumper sticker that says “Proud to Be An American.” But I won’t, because I don’t believe there’s any virtue in nationalism, as we are world citizens living on the earth interdependently.

Campbell’s words help me reconcile the enormous suffering in the world with our responsibility to live fully and joyfully. Carrying the weight of that suffering doesn’t help anyone. As Dorothy Day said, “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

May we live more joyfully at the same time we open to the world’s suffering with our compassion. Awake and joyful living will show us the path to our right work for the welfare of all.

*Today’s quote comes from the Word for the Day at gratefulness.org.


You Are the Gift

December 24, 2008

Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops. ~Kurt Vonnegut

There is no need to capture or hold on to anything because you are everything. ~Sasaki-Rosi

Our most important gift to others this holiday season is our full presence, our aliveness, our unique expression. I am hopeful that the economic downturn is actually helping people understand the value of such intangible gifts. Who really needs another kitchen appliance or another technological gadget?

I agree wholeheartedly with Sarah Susanka’s suggestion to consider recycling something in our vast collections of “stuff” that we no longer need but that might bring joy to someone else. Fewer items for the landfill.

But most importantly, may we remember that we are the gift. Wishing everyone a joyful, simple, mindful holiday season.


Engage

December 19, 2008

How long will you keep pounding on an open door, begging for someone to open it? ~Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya

What a great reminder that (as my friend Shirley used to say) “I have everything I need to be happy here and now.” Don’t we all sometimes just want to be rescued? How tempting it can be to be the damsel in distress, the victim, waiting for the white knight (read: lover, father, boss, president, savior) to come along. It is seductive to feel absolved of responsibility for our own lives. But in the process we are turning our power (and our joy) over to others.

How much more satisfying to engage in our lives, be mindful, celebrate all that is–the universe in its infinite wisdom; our friends, relations, and coworkers who are who they are; our life situation, which is no doubt perfect for the lessons we need to learn. Who are we, after all, to question the design of goddess/nature/god/spirit/life?

Yesterday I had a moment of profound gratitude for life, for breath, for the world just as it is. Today, I bow to the mystery and to you. Namaste.


What Brings You Alive

December 6, 2008

The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest. ~Brother David Steindl-Rast, from David Whyte’s Midlife and the Great Unknown: Finding Courage and Clarity Through Poetry (audio CD)

They say ‘I’ and ‘I’ and they could mean anyone.~Rilke

David Whyte is one of my favorite poets and authors, and this is a wonderful work. According to Whyte, when we are weary of the world, it is because we are not tuned into the world, not finding what makes us come alive. We are acting out of self-necessity, living strategically, rather than honoring where our energies lie, what we have affection for. “The antidote to exhaustion is whole-heartedness,” says Steindl-Rast.

In this audio (which is excerpted from a longer audio series, Clear Mind, Wild Heart) Whyte advocates cultivating a relationship with the unknown, living in a place of spaciousness and possibility. As a person who has always been uncomfortable in uncertain and in-between places, this is a lesson I need to learn. To live with ambiguity, to clarify and celebrate the questions, to remain open to the conversation that wants to happen between myself and the world.

I believe the path to whole-heartedness is mindful attention to what feeds us, recognition of what we love, and the courage to follow our hearts. What brings you alive?


The Beauty We Love

February 20, 2008

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~Rumi

What a beautiful last line. It almost makes up for Rumi’s dissing of reading! 😉 And just look at that first line that describes the human condition–not one that’s special (“like every other day”) nor one that is unique to us as individuals (“we wake up”). The question Rumi begs here, of course, is “What is the beauty you love?” This poem is one answer for me.

Only in midlife have I begun to understand that this is the right question, much less to consider the answers to the question. As a child, I don’t remember having dreams about what I would be when I grew up. It didn’t occur to me to aspire to anything in particular, even though I came from a solidly middle-class household that valued education and achievement. Possibly this was true for many girls, whose socially acceptable options typically consisted of teacher, nurse, wife and mother. Most certainly, though, the question in my family would have had more to do with accomplishment as measured by society than with the beauty I loved. 

So…what is the beauty I love? Poetry, words, music, textural arts (fiber, glass, multimedia), laughter, yoga, living spaces with feng shui, human connection, singing. What is the beauty you love?


Music and Cats

January 28, 2008

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.  ~Albert Schweitzer

I am sometimes astonished by the power of music to lift my spirits. The right music, of course. John Fogerty, for example, or Professor Longhair. Just TRY to listen to the Professor’s “Crawfish Fiesta” and not smile. I really don’t believe anyone can do it.

And cats…well, watching my cat stretch and roll on her back on the sun-drenched deck makes me want to be in that same state of mind. It’s really about being present in the moment, because she is quite alert and apprehensive when a deer walks into the yard.

I think Schweitzer did pretty well with these choices, although I might add one or two things. 😉 What serves for you as “a refuge from the miseries of life?”


Learning

November 13, 2007

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten. ~B. F. Skinner

I have read so many books I don’t remember well and can’t tell you the plot of. When I think back on much of what I’ve read, I am not sure now why I liked/didn’t like/was indifferent to a particular work. But I’ve always known in some deep place that I was different for having read it. That’s why I love Skinner’s quote–he just puts it right out there that we’re going to forget the details!

I’m glad to have a love of learning. There is so much joy to me in “stretching my mind” to accommodate something new. I am even fairly tolerant of formal education, which I think in many cases does as much to stifle curiosity and creativity as it does to nurture them. And I feel lucky that learning is something I can do throughout my life…unlike competitive gymnastics, for example!


Practicing Joy

October 24, 2007

We vow to bring joy to one person in the morning, and to ease the pain of one person in the afternoon. We know that the happiness of others is indeed our own happiness, and we vow to practice joy on the path of service. We know that every word, every look, every smile can bring happiness to another person. We know that if we practice wholeheartedly, then we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our clients, our customers, our coworkers, our family, and our friends.  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

How little we know about our effects on others.  No doubt we’ve all had experiences where someone thanked us later for something we didn’t even remember doing or saying. And times when a scowl or smile from another could profoundly affect our moods.

I like this idea of practicing joy on the path of service. Some people do it naturally, or at least it seems effortless. I’m especially thinking of my friend Silvia. And I like the idea that it adds to, rather than depleting, our energy–that “practicing wholeheartedly” keeps us available to others.

Only now am I beginning to understand that life is a series of choices, steps in a particular direction, and that every step (and every smile) matters.


All Is Now

September 12, 2007

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
~Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

No beginning, no end…the circle of life. All time exists now. We Westerners have a hard time giving up our linear thought, our linear sense of time.  I think I love poetry in large part because it can cut through habits of thought.  Good poetry surprises us, makes us see new relationships, gives us a glimpse of the poet’s creative joy.  How does linear thought, a linear sense of beginnings and endings, limit us?  What might be possible by suspending it?


Joy and Fear of Loss

August 20, 2007

It frightens me—the awful truth—of how sweet life can be. ~Bob Dylan

How often I find a particularly joyful moment followed by deep sorrow at the knowledge of loss.  Shakespeare said, “Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate– / That Time will come and take my Love away: / –This thought is as a death, which cannot choose / But weep to have that which it fears to lose.” The antidote may be mindfulness, as well as a deep understanding of impermanence. The Buddhists say we are part of a flow, that our suffering springs from our illusion of separateness. Thus, there is no “my Love” that can be taken away.  There is no “having” or “loss.”  No subject/object. Only awareness and present moment.