In the spring of 2018 I was, one morning, preparing for a psychedelic ceremony that would commence within a few hours of my waking. It was a moment for which I had planned, travelled, and was incredibly excited, but to my dismay life chose to tenderize me the night before (as she is wont to do) by depriving me of sleep completely at a time when I was already rather overwhelmed and under-resourced within the circumstances and details of my life, my health, my housing, my relations, and my finances. Where the night before the ceremony I had felt well prepared and extremely excited for the rigors of the journey, the morning of found me as a haggard, fragile, anxious, reluctant mess, and very fearful for how that would translate in both the psychedelic space and my physical health afterwards.
I got on the phone with my closest sister and we were exploring my intention for the ceremony which had revolved around money because at the time I believed that to be financially prosperous and stable was my “bone-deep soul need” (if you’ve ever been money-poor for any extended period of time, you may relate). In the midst of the conversation I dissolved into a torrent of tears and heard myself saying “I can’t go on like this, I’m feel like I’m dying. I’m so miserable and lonely I can’t stand it. All I want is to feel good, all I want is to feel joy. I need joy in my life, I need to joy to be able to deal with all of this struggle and pain and insanity. I need joy in my life or I truly am going to die.” We both paused for a moment and then my beloved friend said quietly, “It sounds like that’s the true bone-deep soul need to take into this ceremony.”
Life is a master at revelation if we will let it be. Now I knew the true bone-deep soul need that had directed me towards that ceremony, and I did take it to the journey, and something extraordinary happened in response: the inborn well of my joy began to flow that day in a way I had never experienced before. From that morning through the next five months arbitrary joy – a felt and present joy that had nothing to do with external circumstances – was the ship of my very enjoyable days. Money, home, romantic love, and good health didn’t budge much in their positions, but I was radiant and glowing with reverence and wonder for the glory of life in a way that rendered the shit-show of my circumstances an adventure to be navigated with wonder and curiosity instead of a shame-drenched testament to my utter failure as a person. It was among the most profound and transformative of all the periods of my life.
There was, however, a day when that wonderful wave abruptly ran ashore as all waves do. I then found myself sitting, naked and a little afraid, in the presence of the old and familiar fear, pain, rage, and sorrow that I knew so well before that blessed five months. Though they were newly tempered and a little less severe in their re-emergence, they were still strong and completely confident in their right to take back control of my experience should I make space for them to do so. Dodgy territory!
I felt deep fear as the vista of sliding back into deep depression loomed before me, then I recognized that moment as a choice point. For this I am enduringly grateful, because that recognition, and the response that followed, has truly changed my life. Having just sat in five straight months of Joy, and remembering the utter agony of that morning before I had gone into that ceremony as well as how much of my life and my precious, irreplaceable time I had lost to feeling so wretched in the past, I chose to cultivate arbitrary joy as a central tenet of my experience. Thus a great work commenced.
That was two-and-a-half years ago, and feeding joy has indeed become central to my way of being. It has been a wonderful and enlivening experience, to say the least. I have found that even in the depths of profound difficulty joy is not only available to me, but welcomes and reaches for me as a friend and an ally. I have continued to dance with circumstances ranging from annoying to devastating in the time since I embarked on this cultivation, and joy never wavers, disappears, or fails me. What I have realized in this journey as well is something that I wasn’t recognizing even though the words I spoke that day on the phone could have let me in on this secret from the onset of this exploration: joy is not only wonderful and beautiful, it is an essential survival skill of the soul in times as dangerous and endangered as these are. My beloved friend Sarah Cruse, a woman of color (I’m of European descent), said to me one day when we were talking about this “People of color know this: we’ve always known this. Now you know how we walk through the challenges of this world with our hearts intact.”
Before we progress I want to make a very important distinction: though the terms are used interchangeably, joy and happiness are – to my mind – very different things. Happiness is circumstantial and stimulus oriented: something that I like/want/approve of happens, and I am happy. Whee! Said thing passes or changes, and happiness is gone. If we have not cultivated the relationship with inborn joy, but have instead yoked our sense of well-being to the caprices of stimulus, then we are in a very imperiled position because external stimulus, that which we want and that which we don’t, is beyond our control. The magic and medicine of cultivating a relationship with the joy inherent within us, and what makes this practice so utterly transformative, is that true joy is not stimulus specific. Joy is an essential, inborn quality that are made with, something that cannot be implanted or extracted by the slings and arrows of fortune, but can be fortified and nourished through practice and dedication. Because of that, true joy has a profound indomitability exhibited in things like Anne Franks famous diary quote “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” As a young girl chased into hiding and living in terror of discovery by a vicious government bent on the annihilation of her and her entire race, this is an extraordinary stance to rest in, one that only a deep relationship with that fundamental and incorruptible element of self which joy is, can proffer.
So how do we cultivate arbitrary joy, the unexpected survival skill of the soul? It’s so much easier than one may imagine! There are two simple practices I would love to share with you to get you started with tending your inborn well of joy. They are short and easy to integrate into either a formal meditation or spiritual practice or throughout the course of your day as needed and wanted. I feel that these practices are crucial to being able to gracefully navigate the manifold stresses and dangers that are pressing so heavily on us as individuals and a collective right now. They are simple, effective even in the short term, and utterly transformative in the long term. The more you do them, the stronger they get, so take them in and make them a part of your days!
Here are links to the practices, which are completely free and a gift to you, so just click, settle in, and receive, and may arbitrary joy flourish through you and around you as you stand in your place in the story of the world.
Go here for the first practice, The Wellspring of Joy
Go here for the second practice, The Inner Smile
Thank you, bless you, and so much love to you, friends!
~Beauty Feeds the Soul~