The Joy Reset
When I was pondering a significant shift in my life a few years ago, I talked with a dear friend about my fears – of failure, of overwhelm, of committing to a path that felt like a huge risk with no guarantees and no clearly visible outcome. I went on for a while, talking in circles as I freaked myself out yet again about the what-ifs and the I-shoulds, and my friend graciously gave me the space to do so. Then she told me this story:
“One of my adult goals has been to hike the Appalachian Trail. I’ve read about it. I’ve researched it. I’ve seen pictures. I’ve talked to people about it. And I always reach the same conclusion – this is a crazy idea. I’m a homeschool mom with a hectic schedule and a household to manage. My husband works full time and spends his extra hours doing building projects, so our apartment tenants are safe and happy. Who’s going to manage everything while I’m away? I have absolutely zero experience in this type of activity, and I can’t go alone – who’s crazy enough to do this with me? And the Appalachian Trail is flippin’ long – over 2,000 miles. If I hike part of it, does that count? Is it selfish of me to want to do this and try to make it happen? What if something happens here and I can’t get back in time? What if my family can’t reach me? What if I get hurt while I’m hiking? There are so many reasons not to do this, and they all make sense. And yet, if I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail, I’ll need a good pair of boots.”
She invested in a quality pair of hiking boots, and that was the action which prompted her to pursue her goal. Over the next few months, she slowly and steadily continued, one plan and one action at a time, and the following spring she hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail with her uncle. In a picture taken on the trail, she stands in the sun with joy radiating from her smiling face. The ideas in this book are my good pair of boots, a foundation for action and transformation. I hope you find that these boots fit you, too.
Joy is your birthright
My 8-year-old son and I were walking with a friend and her dog on a winter day. She and I were talking while boy and dog cavorted in the snowy woods. At one point my friend mentioned the word, essence. My pink-cheeked, bright eyed boy asked, “Mom, what’s essence?” I offered the visual of gas escaping a freshly opened bottle of seltzer, and the effervescence of the bubbles. He pressed – “okay, and what about people?” I replied, “Your essence is your truth. It’s what you have inside that makes you, you. Everyone has an essence.” Grinning ear to ear, he exclaimed, “My essence is joy!” And he ran off to play with the dog in the snow.
We are all born in a state of joy. While babies cry periodically, they are mostly joyful beings – happy, content, curious, open. It’s only over time that we forget. As life happens, we experience events and situations that teach us differently. We learn lessons about other aspects of being human – fear, sadness, anger, loss – and find ways to shield ourselves from those discomforts. These strategies are meant to keep our tender spots safe, yet over time they can muffle or stifle everything. It’s as though we wrap padded moving blankets around our hearts, one on top of another. Sure, it’s protected; from another perspective, it’s buried.
Listen: joy is your birthright. Why are we here, on this planet right now, if not to enjoy the beauty of being fully alive?? Carlos Castaneda wrote, “The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” Life deals the cards, and we have no control over what we get, no matter what we may like to think. What we can control is how we view what Life deals us. As Cheryl Strayed so eloquently stated, “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.” Your action or reaction comes from how you see it. My friends, this is not a dress rehearsal! Who knows how long we have? Absolutely no one. There is no more time for bullshit. Let’s go – hit your joy reset button!
Flip the Script
We are all so busy. There are seemingly endless tasks, appointments, and responsibilities, all of which can pile up and literally clog our brains. Busyness has become a weird badge of honor in our society, as we tell ourselves and others that we have no time and trade lists of all the demands written on our calendars. In truth, while all of this seems necessary, this frantic pace of life is a choice. We get so hectic, wrapped around our own axles, that we can’t get out of our own way. I’ve been there and still find it so easy to get sucked into that swirling chaos. I tell myself that I don’t want to miss out, and yet when I really take the time to look at the situation, my busyness is usually covering something that I’m trying to avoid. Either that or I’m on full autopilot, which is another form of avoidance – oh, those pesky recurrent themes!
Yes, stuff needs to get done. Here’s the thing: stuff will always need to get done. Working from a place of constant busyness is an extra challenge because busyness blocks flow. Flow is that state of mind in which everything feels aligned and effortless. It is an awareness in the present moment, in which time and other distractions fall away. In this state, anything becomes possible – your perspective shifts and you see the opportunities all around you. When you’re fully immersed in something you really enjoy, in the here-and-now without thoughts of anything else while time stands still, that bliss cloud you’re floating in is flow.
So if busyness blocks flow, how can you flip the script? Is there a way to achieve that awareness and make it sustainable? The short answer is yes. A quick search of the internet will give you pages of information, which can cause overwhelm and distraction in itself. Here’s one simple suggestion: focus on your breath. You can do this for even five minutes a day and reap the benefits.
• Get comfortable, silence your phone, set a timer, and close your eyes.
• Tune in to your breath. Feel the inhalation fill your lungs, and then feel the exhalation slowly escape. Find a steady, slow rhythm.
• Picture a single candle flame, growing when you inhale and dimming just a bit when you exhale. That can help you keep your focus. Whenever something distracts you – a thought, a sound, an itch – just bring your focus gently back to the flame and your breath.
• Repeat until your timer rings.
This is a habit which is simple to cultivate and can literally be used almost any time and anywhere – not recommended if you’re driving, though I will admit to using it (eyes open, of course) while stuck in traffic. It’s a helpful tool to have in your selfcare box, and one that you can customize with longer time, guided meditation, music, and the like.
Now that you’ve begun to find your flow, let's talk about the Triad – three simple gifts that will help you find your joy. First, why “the Triad?” Because three is a magic number. It is the minimum support required for a solid foundation. This stable base will be your launch pad; once you can stand firmly in your joy, you can stretch your wings and begin to test their strength.
The three gifts of the Triad are vulnerability with yourself, forgiveness of yourself, and surrender to yourself. A gift is something given willingly, without payment in return or expectation. When you can be as generous with yourself as you are with others, by opening your mind and heart to explore these simple-not-easy approaches, you can begin to change your life.