Singer-songwriter, Lucinda Williams, sings a protest song about losing her joy in life: “You stole my joy, I want it back”. It’s a terrible thing to lose joy in life. It can erode gradually, even though there comes a definitive moment when we awaken to its absence in our life. Although it can feel sudden, typically it’s the result of accumulated experiences where we’ve lacked the courage to stand up for our right to joy. Added to these failures of courage, early trauma, failures of love, a depressed and unresponsive parent can also cause us to set our lives up in such a way that joylessness (despair) is our default reality. If we’re lucky we may begin to awaken and discover that others seem to live with joy, exuberance, and enthusiasm for life.
Poet, David Whyte, writes about what it takes to recover joy as our inheritance in Sweet Darkness.
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
The House of Belonging
©1996 Many Rivers Press
This feeling of “being alive” is joy itself. Conscious awareness, not merely of being, but of being alive as a unique expression of this singular, unfolding of a living universe is implicitly joyful. The challenge is to take life seriously enough that we are willing to outgrow and leave behind “anything or anyone that does not bring us life”. These things and these persons are too small for us, too small for the life that wants to be expressed in, through, and as us.
The flip side of this is that we also have a responsibility to be a source of life and joy for our intimate others. If we are depressed, anxious, distracted, out of touch with our own feelings, etc. we are being “too small”, and we have a responsibility to discover where and how we lost the joy of being alive.
I have a growing suspicion that joy is always, already there ready to be tapped into regardless of our circumstances in life. I say this because I was listening to a guided meditation and the person speaking gave a simple instruction: “Smile at your heart, without having to know how to do this”. Smile at your heart!? But I was having a crappy day. I had every right to my misery. I became aware of resistance. And then I decided to do it. Sure enough when I smiled at my heart, it was impossible to feel despair. As a practice, I decided to try this throughout the day, especially when I got caught up in my thoughts and in worry. The impact is immediate. It’s like flicking a switch and resetting your whole system. It’s also impossible, I’ve discovered to stay in your head, once your energy is directed to your heart. The heart is about experiencing life, not thinking about it. The other thing that happens to me is that I come into relationship with the world and with other people. So smile at your heart and feel the joy that is your birthright.