Joy seems to me a step beyond happiness. Happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope, faith and love. – Adela Rogers St. Johns
Since birth, we have all been waiting for the perfect conditions to be happy. Like most, I am equally culpable of this thinking. As a child, we have felt that getting admitted to the right school will make us happy. From then starts the cycle – a good school, a perfect job, right relationships, soaring career, financial success etc. Has that made us any happier?
My honest realization, a big NO! But I have experienced happiness in a form devoid of any of the above. In fact that moment or year was the low point of all material achievements for me. And that’s when I experienced a form of happiness – which I learnt to call JOY. A form of happiness that is devoid of any material goalpost that the world would want to celebrate, but nevertheless a feeling of happiness.
The year was 2011 and it had been a few years since an unexpected divorce. I had just come off some wrong relationships and was highly vulnerable. That was the year that I let myself free of any preconceived notions of how life should be, and focused on how life is. It was not a matter of choice but rather an endpoint in my situation – a crisis that I had reached. (Sometimes the best decisions are not a matter of choice but a rather of acceptance!). It was the realization that all my life I was living a life built on preconceived notions and fears. Fears of being judged, fear of being lonely – heck even the fear of being termed wrong. When I let go of these fears and accepted my life-situation as it was, it became truly liberating. There were suddenly new rules to explore and new ways to live.
That year is still etched in memory as probably the best year in my life. It was a year where I stepped back in my career, spent time with myself and experienced many things as a party of one! Met new friends, let go of inhibitions of what I should be and above all traveled to places a lot. Took a five-day road trip down PCH 1 all by myself, met people at restaurants, spent time with books on beaches, and got lost and found JOY. In fact, contrary to my old self – I did not even book hotels ahead of time (on a busy thanksgiving weekend!).It is still etched in memory as one of my best trips ever. Another time, I even traveled on an impulse to Pikes Peak over a weekend and saw the sunshine burst through the clouds. Ended the year with a beautiful meditation retreat with the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
A few things I realized through that year in my journey towards JOY:
- For most of us, JOY as a symptom cannot be discovered unless we have reached the bottom of any crisis we are going through. You have to reach the absolute nadir of your life; you have to realize that Acceptance of your situation is your only true option. And you have to come to peace with it.
- And therein lies the silver lining amongst the dark clouds. Acceptance is a necessary condition for JOY to be born. You have to accept your flaws, your life; take responsibility for it (mind it — responsibility and not blame) and truly believe that whatever has happened was the only way life could have happened to you. Acceptance has to be accompanied by self-love and not by futility.
- Let go of all expectations of how you lived your life earlier. Be prepared for a life that was the opposite of your earlier years. For me it was the truth that I could be safe and good all by myself and there was no need for a relationship to fulfill that need.
- Do not feel the need to know the answers. Be ready for the uncertain story that lays ahead of you. Trust the wisdom of life in laying down the answer for you when you are ready for it.
What JOY does is heal the wounds in your heart and makes the pain more bearable. I noticed that when I went to the meditation retreat at the end of 2011. I was no longer as emotionally distraught as I had been in earlier retreats (fresh out of a divorce). There was no need to fantasize an ending to my story that was in conflict with what I was. In fact, as I left the retreat I felt a bit disappointed that I was not feeling the wave of exhilaration I felt in earlier retreats. But now I am wiser to realize that, all this time, the retreat was pointing me towards the healing that was already occurring.
Today as I write this, I am (happily!) married with kids and (unfortunately) chasing the worldly goalposts that 2011 had thought me not to chase! Is this the ending that I was aiming for when I stepped out of 2011? Honestly, as I stepped out of 2011, I did not know the answers to my life and the JOY experienced in that year made it bearable for me to live with that uncertainty. When life knew I was ready, it unfurled relationships that were right for me.
Time has passed between then and now, and human nature being, some lessons are being forgotten. But any time, I tend to forget them, I dig deep into those memories. And the lessons learned in 2011 orient me back promptly to the truth that you don’t need to accomplish anything to discover JOY in your heart – it is already there!
So what was your year of JOY!