Listen to me read the post…
“You need to pause to let joy in.” Those words popped into my head one day last week while I was sitting on the couch, weary after a long day of book-launch-related tasks, which followed several long days of gathering the things I need to make a home and unpacking them into the cupboards and closets of my new place.
Pause to let joy in? I was puzzled at first, and then suddenly I understood what my internal wise guide (which I call Tenderness) was trying to say to me. I hadn’t been pausing much in recent weeks, staying busy nearly all day every day. Moving across the country, launching a book, trying to keep a business afloat, re-launching a course – ALL. OF. THE. THINGS. Even when I had some moments when there was nothing that needed to be done, I was rarely truly pausing – at least not in a mindful way. I was mostly just filling those moments with mindless stuff, like endless episodes of Real Housewives (don’t judge me).
Did my lack of mindful pauses mean that I wasn’t letting joy in? Yes, when the voice of Tenderness poked through the din, I recognized that it did. Some of the busy-work, plus the hours of reality TV binging, was about numbing myself and holding my emotions at bay.
What’s challenging about pausing to let joy in is that when you open the door to your emotions, you don’t get to pick and choose which emotions come through the open door – you have to let them ALL in. That’s why my subconscious mind had kept me from opening the door. I knew that, even though there was joy that would likely come my way (because I’ve landed in a beautiful place on Vancouver Island that I’m delighted to call home, and because I’ve completed the hard work of getting another book into the world), there were other emotions lurking just behind joy that would sneak in through the open door.
I knew there would likely be some grief over what I’ve left behind in Winnipeg, and maybe some sadness over this period of travel ending, and a little loneliness because I’m now living in a town where nobody knows me and my children are far away, and some of the rawness, self-doubt, and vulnerability that’s been connected with the birth of this new book, and some ongoing stress from some recent business road bumps.
Without being fully conscious of my choices, I was staying busy because I wanted to hold the door closed to ALL of those emotions. But to numb one emotion is to numb them all, and so I was denying myself joy.
When I heard the voice of Tenderness inviting me to let joy in, I grabbed my journal, lit a candle, and sat down to reflect on all that was bringing me joy. In my line of sight was the beautiful backyard, lined with towering cedar trees, that I now get to enjoy every day. Just down the hill, out of sight but not out of consciousness, is the lake that was part of the draw to settle here for this period of my life, where I hope to kayak in the summer. Within an easy drive is the ocean I love to walk along and look forward to plunging myself into. On the table, not far from where I sat, was a copy of the book that has finally come into the world after two and a half years of labour.
For those moments, I sat and savoured the exquisite joy that comes from having crafted a life that so beautifully suits me. It’s a joy that comes because of all the things that I wrote about in the book (and teach about in the course) – about finding a pathway through trauma, about learning to love (and love with) my own body and live in it more fully, and about learning to call myself back from exile when I realized how much I’d abandoned myself in order to meet other people’s needs and expectations. It’s not an easy joy – it’s a deep and rich joy that holds steady even in the face of grief, tragedy, disappointment, and fear. It’s a joy that needs to be regularly nourished and tenderly held.
Of course, just as I suspected, when I opened that door and sat down to savour the joy, those emotions that had been lurking in the shadows soon snuck through. Since that moment on the couch, I’ve had to feel them all, in waves that sometimes threaten to drown me. There’s been grief, loneliness, fear, disappointment, anxiety, self-doubt, defensiveness, and even some anger. Some of those emotions come like tidal waves, and some sneak in like tiny ripples, but all of them insist on being witnessed.
I can’t say that any of this is easy or even fun, and I can’t say that I always meet those emotions mindfully. Sometimes I still turn on Real Housewives to try to reclaim the numbness. But I am trying to be faithful to it all, to let myself (and all of my parts) have the fullness of the experience so that I can be fully human and fully alive. I meet these emotions with as much grace and acceptance as I can muster, and then when they have had the attention they need, I let them simply move out through the open door.
Sometimes, when an emotion is particularly reluctant to make an appearance, and I sense that it might be lurking behind another emotion, I do what I can to coax it into the light. Grief, for example, sometimes hides behind agitation and frustration. When I sense that it’s there, in the shadows, I invite grief into the room by tapping into that which allows it to surface. Sometimes I do that with sad music or a sad movie. Lately I’ve found that Anderson Cooper’s podcast, All There Is (about how he’s finally processing the years-old grief from losing his mom, brother, and dad), is a beautiful and profound way of allowing my own grief to come to the surface.
Why do I do this? Why do I so intentionally invite these challenging emotions to surface, even when they threaten to overwhelm me? It’s because I know that there is less chance of them ACTUALLY overwhelming me if I meet them mindfully and with an open heart. I know that each emotion will flow through me and pass more quickly if I don’t fight it or get too attached to it.
It’s also because I have learned to trust the bedrock of grounded joy in my life. I have learned to trust that when the emotional waves have passed, I will still have joy as my faithful companion and foundation. I will still be standing on the shore when the mist has lifted or the storm has passed and the sun comes out and shines on my face.
As it turns out, when I open the door to the other emotions, it actually serves to deepen my joy. When I meet even the hardest emotions with mindful presence, they pass through and clear the clutter out of the space when they leave. When I listen to Anderson Cooper’s podcast, for example, and have a good cry if necessary, I almost always end up feeling more joyful than I did before. Grief opens a portal that reconnects me to, and prepares me to meet, joy.
In the words of Mary Oliver, in her poem Don’t Hesitate, “Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”
Today, as I sit here writing this, the emotional waves are subsiding and I am standing, once again, in the presence of joy.
P.S. If you want to have a more mindful relationship with your emotions, join us for Know Yourself, Free Yourself. It starts March 5. My new book, Where Tenderness Lives: On healing liberation and holding space for oneself, will be part of the course content.