Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Joy

joy haiku ii

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. Rabindranath Tagore

How often do you experience joy? I’m talking here about profound delight at the sheer bliss of just being alive; it originates at your very core, in your essence, rising gleefully throughout your being and cascading around you like the Angel Falls.

Joy has obvious links to gratitude and humour; an ungrateful heart can’t possibly know joy. And if you never feel joy you’re missing out. No artificial high can match it, and yes, I do know what I’m talking about. It is also impossible to feel joy if you’ve blocked other emotions; unless you’re prepared to experience sadness, you’re not going to be able to feel joy. Consider Rumi’s poetic words:

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.

There’s so much doom and gloom in the world and it’s depressing to see headlines every day warning of terrorist attacks, killer viruses and Donald Trump’s political success. It seems to me that much of what we see in the media focuses on the negative aspects of life and a constant diet of desolation is enough to get you down. I know of people who watch and listen to the news repeatedly throughout the day; they’re continually absorbing pessimism then wonder why they’re weary of life.

Sorrow can’t prepare you for joy unless it is fully accepted and borne. So rather than distract yourself with all of the suffering in the world around you, try addressing your own causes of unhappiness, lessening your burdens in the process.

In End the Struggle and Dance with Life: How to Build Yourself Up When the World Gets You Down, Susan Jeffers devotes an entire chapter to lightening up with laughter and joy. She refers to what Jungian analyst Robert Johnson calls Dionysian energy… the power of life that flows through all of us and unites us with heaven and earth; this life-force energy is the essence of who we are, and can thus be experienced by us all.

Johnson has suggested that when our inherent joy is blocked, we seek to fill the resulting emptiness with addictive behaviours. Our society certainly has a problem with over-consumption; what if a connection with our intrinsic capacity for joy is all we need to rid ourselves of any compulsion to fill our inner void by incessantly purchasing material goods? This wouldn’t just be good for us as human beings; it would also benefit the planet that sustains us.

Susan’s suggestions for lightening up and opening the way for joy to flow include, unsurprisingly, smiling as often as possible and learning how to develop a full belly laugh. Both of these can be faked until they become real – try it and see if you can give credence to Thich Nhat Hahn’s assertion that Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.

Susan also advises celebrating our successes in life, big or small, whatever they may be, rather than unthinkingly rushing from one life event to the next. We can choose to feel joyous, according to Susan, and I’ve found this to be true. Joy can be found in the most mundane activities; being fully engaged in whatever you’re doing can make cooking a meal, or even washing the dishes afterwards, a joyous undertaking.

In Freeing the Spirit, Steve Nobel states that:

…joy needs to be cultivated, for it grows in the fertile soil of trust, self-love and a sense of freedom. Joy comes from choices that support such a state no matter what choices other people are making in their lives… Opening to and expressing inner potential leads to joy… Growing with joy means that life can become an exciting adventure rather than a daily slog. Doesn’t that sound more appealing?

It does to me; how about you?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Gratitude

gratitude haiku

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. Ralph Waldo Emerson

On a scale of 1 – 10, how grateful would you say you feel right now for the people and situations in your life?

Is your appreciation intellectual (you think you’re grateful, so you must be), or do you feel it at your core?

If you’re not grateful for what you’ve got, you’ll never be grateful for what you get. I’m not sure who said that but if you think about it, it’s true.

Looking for gratitude in as many situations as you can helps to keep your spirits up; being unwilling to appreciate anything in your life victimises you.

Research shows that there are seven proven benefits to be gained from practising gratitude:

  1. An increase in, and generally improved, relationships; showing appreciation makes you more appealing to be around.
  2. Better physical health; being grateful makes you more likely to take care of yourself.
  3. Better psychological health; feeling grateful leads to improved emotional intelligence.
  4. Increased empathy and decreased aggression; being grateful makes you more sociable and less sociopath.
  5. Better sleep; keeping a gratitude journal has been shown to improve sleep.
  6. Greater self-esteem; being grateful for what you have reduces envy towards others.
  7. Enhanced mental strength; being grateful reduces stress and helps you to develop resilience.

I can attest to the power of gratitude in helping you become resilient. When I was traumatised and unable to function due to shock, I came across this statement by Tecumseh:

When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.

I repeated Tecumseh’s words to myself at least once a day; reminding myself to focus on what I could feel thankful for definitely kept me afloat and contributed to my recovery from PTSD.

And when you go to bed with a panic attack most nights, convinced that you’re having a heart attack and won’t wake up the following morning, you’re usually pretty grateful to hear the alarm going off!

Robert Emmons suggests ten ways to become more grateful:

  1. Start a gratitude journal; regularly appraising and recording the blessings in your life helps to make gratitude habitual.
  2. Recall bad times; now is better than then, right? And remember: This, too, shall pass.
  3. Practice Naikan, a meditative technique in which you ask: What have I received from ____? What have I given to ____? What troubles and difficulty have I caused?
  4. Say prayers of gratitude; you don’t have to be religious to pray.
  5. Heed your senses; the gift of life comes to us through what we see (the face of a loved one, a stunning sunset), hear (your favourite music, waves crashing on a beach), touch (a hug from your favourite person, the warm sun and soft breeze on your skin), smell (your favourite meal cooking, the salt-tang of sea air) and taste (eating your favourite meal, relishing a crisp, juicy, sweet apple).
  6. Have visual reminders; post-its, photos, whatever will prompt feelings of gratitude in you.
  7. Pledge to practice gratitude; write yourself a contract.
  8. Practice grateful behaviours; say ‘thank you’, smile!
  9. Be aware of the power of your words; monitor your self-talk and what you say about others.
  10. Think creatively; expand your capacity for gratitude. Make a game of finding things to appreciate.

You can’t fake embodied thankfulness, but if you want to live essentially, that is, the life for which you were born, it helps to do whatever is necessary to embrace gratitude. Then you will discover the truth in Stephen Richards’ assertion that: Gratitude… opens your eyes to the limitless potential of the universe, while dissatisfaction closes your eyes to it.

You choose; which is it to be?