THE POWER OF CHOOSING JOY
Most of us think of joy as something we capture through special activities or people that bring us a sense of joy. For instance, I just returned from a two-hour hike on one of those warm, sunny, early June mornings that I love about Southwest Colorado. The cloudless sky is a deep turquoise blue that I can lose myself in for hours. I feel a deep sense of joy.
I find great joy in nature. I love seeing the baby fawn tracks carved in the dirt right next to the not-so-tiny mama deer tracks on the narrow animal trail we share. Today I watched a red-tail hawk circling for breakfast. Later I saw black bear tracks crossing the fire road, a rare sight. In the fall, when the elk return from their summer cavorting above tree line, I’ll fill my nostrils and spirit with their wild, musky scent. I love this wild place.
You may find joy in scuba diving, running, swimming, dancing or texting and tweeting. But doing the things we love, no matter how much we love them, brings only a fleeting joy. Try as we may to cram every free moment with the things we love, we still have the rest of our lives to manage: we still go to work, buy groceries, cook meals, pay bills, address conflicts with our spouse or teenager, and keep the car running. And if we have a small infant at home, we wake up five times in the night to nurse and still taxi the older kids to school by eight, then get ourselves to work on time.
We can’t expect to find joy in all this hard stuff. Or can we?
Yes we can. In fact, if we only expect to find joy while doing what we really love, we end up spending ninety percent of our lives joyless.
Now is the perfect time to expand your vision of joy. Let me reacquaint you with the unlimited joy that we are born with, that lives deep in our core. Unlike that over-the-top ecstatic joy you feel after dancing, downhill skiing, or doing what you love, it’s a softer, subtler joy. It floods your awareness with a sense of inner peace and well being, no matter what is happening around you or what feelings are moving through you. This ever-present inner joy helps you to take everything much less seriously.
When you Choose Joy, you open the door to everyday joy, wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Yes, even amidst a busy, frustrating, anxiety-ridden day, this reservoir of inner joy is always here, inside, awaiting your awareness. Joy is not something to go out and find; joy resides in your core. It’s that place inside that constantly reminds you that, no matter what issue is demanding your attention, you are safe and you are loved, always.
Unfortunately, most of us were trained out of inner joy a long time ago. But any time of day, you can tap into your inner joy by taking three simple steps: Say “Yes” to what is true right now (whether you like it or not); Witness your ego’s reactions to what is; Respond differently, with much more kindness and compassion, less habitual judgment and fear. Imagine how life might change if you knew you could touch this innate joy you were born with.
As a body-centered therapist for 35 years, I have witnessed thousands of clients reconnect with their unstoppable joy. And all they had to do to get joy was the one thing we were taught to avoid like the plague: turn and face directly any grief, rage, or fear they were too scared to face for years. That is, to tap into inner joy, we all have to change how we unconsciously allow everyday fears, hurts, disappointments and struggles of life steal our joy away. As soon as we locate uncomfortable feelings like anxiety or despair in our body and breathe into them, our inner joy bubbles up from deep inside.
For example, Paula avoided feelings as long as she could—but she suffered from migraines. When she stopped hiding behind confusion and indecision and empowered herself to leave her alcoholic boyfriend, her migraines disappeared. And Linda rediscovered her joy when she faced her guilt and grief over having an abortion at sixteen.
But my favorite is Dave, a math professor who suffered digestive pain for fifty years. By sixty-one, when he entered my office, he had tried antacids, prescription drugs, fasting, vegetarianism—everything but surgery. Since I trust that symptoms ask us for our attention, I had Dave lie down on my office futon, close his eyes and deep breathe. “Now take a big belly breath and imagine sending your exhale down into the center of your belly pain.”
“I remember my bully sister destroying all my model cars in her fit of rage,” he said. “I felt terrorized by her and my parents never lifted a finger.”
“Good,” I said. “Let your body release any stuck feelings still present.”
Dave’s legs began to tremble, then his arms and torso. I encouraged him to trust his body and allow all that fear in his belly to rattle through his body.
“Oh my gosh,” Dave said. “I feel more joy in my being than I’ve felt in decades. I feel like literally a ton of fear just got released from my belly.”
Dave’s digestive pain disappeared. And he rediscovered his innate joy.
Even when we can’t control our outer circumstances, as adults we always have a choice about how we respond. Instead of unconsciously running away from pain and discomfort, as ego coaches u to do, we can choose to stay present, directly face our feelings and respond differently.
Over the years with clients, as I saw how our own beliefs, fears and habitual reactions limit our joy much more than any spouse, boss, or devastating life experience, I discovered two key questions that help bring joy into our daily lives: “Am I feeling joy now? If not, how am I holding my joy away?” By seeing our old habits clearly and taking full responsibility for how we respond, we can hold all of life’s gifts in joy.
Of course, we don’t limit our joy consciously. Nobody pushes away joy on purpose. It’s an unconscious habit learned over years of watching our parents and grandparents respond to life through a lens of fear. No matter how much they loved us, our elders weren’t able to teach us how to bask in unlimited joy because they never knew it existed.
For centuries, our ancestors were guided by a set of beliefs that they needed to survive—beliefs about fitting into the mainstream at all costs, hiding their vulnerable feelings, not trusting anyone “different,” and fitting themselves into a white patriarchal culture. But times have changed. And whatever beliefs were passed down from our ancestors can be changed. They are, after all, only beliefs. My own Russian grandfather and Romanian grandmother told their six children they came from Germany. As immigrants to the U.S. in 1905, they lied to avoid being fired, shamed, or even deported.
I can’t even count the number of times I have tenderly invited clients to reconnect with their inner core, only to have them gingerly reply, “I’m afraid to. I’m afraid I’ll just find a big empty hole inside. I’m afraid I won’t like the miserable nothing I find inside, and I can’t handle that.” But as I invite them to be curious, and as they move through the anger, sadness, fear, and shame that once felt too overwhelming to face, they are pleasantly surprised to touch joy. Whenever we find the courage to locate fear, sadness or shame in our body and breathe into it, joy naturally bubbles to the surface.
All you need to bring to this transition are 1) willingness, 2) courage, and 3) curiosity. Your job is to say, “Yes” to your current experience, to witness your thoughts and feelings, and to respond differently, no matter what anyone else is doing. Your job is to keep facing the layers of hurt, fear, and disappointment that have built a thick wall around your heart and to keep choosing joy, even when the ground under your feet–built on rickety old habits–begins to shake.
Of course, dropping familiar defenses can feel very uncomfortable at first. After all, that’s why defenses get created in the first place. Let yourself move slowly into these tender, vulnerable areas. Don’t force your deeper feelings. Don’t expect too much too fast. And be extra-forgiving all those times you slide back into old patterns. After all, change is never a linear path. In aware moments, you will feel totally able to notice your fears and talk about them to loved ones. Other times, when old wounds are triggered, you will hold tight to old habits, convinced that all this joy talk is just some fluffy Pollyanna gibberish. Hang in there.
Picture yourself crossing a rushing stream from old to new habits. As you move towards the middle, slowly let go of the old, familiar shoreline that appeared to keep you safe up to this point. Move slowly and carefully toward the new shore, knowing that a much more loving and compassionate way of relating to yourself, and to life, is awaiting your arrival on the other shore.
In each moment, we essentially have two choices: We can buy into old fear-based patterns and act them out or Choose Joy. Even in scary moments, gripped by fear, we can bravely whisper to ourselves, “I choose joy—even now.” But don’t take my word for it. Experiment in your own life.
Let your feelings, fears, and old habits or beliefs become your new gateways to feeling joy. Remember that Joy is always here, underneath—it just gets covered up by doubt, judgment other states of mind.
Author & Therapist Carolyn Hobbs’ new book, FREE YOURSELF: 10 Life-Changing Powers of your Wise Heart (Wisdom) is available with free gifts on http://www.JoyandFreedomNow.com. For information, videos and new iHeart Radio Interviews, click on http://www.carolyn-hobbs.com.