Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Habit of Joy

My father began walking the Appalachian Trail after retirement. He learned to play tennis in his seventies and cleared noxious plants from State Parks into his eighties. He traveled by bike, car, train, boat and plane until a series of falls confined him to a wheelchair and a life so much smaller than it once was. He is now consumed by what he has lost and has difficulty recognizing the good that does remain.

What can I learn from my father’s suffering? Many things, but a prime lesson concerns the importance of cultivating the habit of joy. I like that phrase~~the habit of joy.

Our attention is a sun warming and enlivening whatever it falls upon. We can choose to shine this light on our capacity for happiness, thus growing the tendency into a steady habit. Why not do so now, while things are so much easier than they might one day be?

Certainly every life has its challenges, with some seeming to contain more than is fair or reasonable. Still, most of us live lives of luxury compared with our ancestors of even a few generations ago or with the majority of the world’s population today. Even on our worst day, there are many who would trade places with us in a New York minute. No, make that a Darfur, Laotian, or Afghani minute.

We have no bombs exploding around us and most of us are not scavenging for food. If our days were filled with such grim realities, how we would rejoice simply to wake one morning to their absence! And yet this very experience greets us daily, though we seldom notice.

In addition to such good fortune, we also are given quieter, more subtle pleasures. Like this very moment. Perhaps a loved one is nearby as you read this, or sunlight streams through the window to fall across a hardwood floor. Maybe you’ve just finished a satisfying meal or bathed in heated water that came from just a turn of the faucet. Or perhaps simply breathing life~giving air on a small blue planet is miracle enough for today.

I can’t know what delights surround you, but you do~~or can discover them with just a bit of effort. Perhaps you can stop right here, right now~~yes, in mid~blog~~to recognize the sweetness of what is. And if you find little to brighten your day, please look again.

As we strengthen our capacity to open to joys, large and small, each moment becomes enchanted. We also grow in our ability to consciously choose where to invest our precious energy, thus reducing negativity’s hold on us. By choosing wisely again and again~~throughout this day and the next, and the one that follows that~~joy and gratitude can become habitual. We then more consistently carry this perspective with us out into the world, hopefully softening the way for others.

As for my father, a weary man who seems unable to cultivate such a habit at this stage of his life, I make this promise. I will do it for you, Dad. I will gratefully accept the genes you have passed on to me, and I will regularly bathe them in joy. In your honor, I will grow this habit and weave it throughout the life you have given me, nurturing it consistently while transforming my own negativity.

And I will not wait another minute~~New York, Darfur, Laotian, or Afghani~~to begin.

May we all cultivate, like good little gardeners, this habit of joy!

Be well,

Loanne Marie


Claire said...

I love the term "habit of joy!" It reminds me of the phrase "attitude of gratitude." Years ago, my eldest sister Anne started e-mailing daily "grateful lists," which include the subtle pleasures you mention. She continues to e-mail these lists, to which I sometimes add my own list, as do others who receive her grateful e-mails. Anne is one of the most joy-filled people I know, and I think her joy is enhanced by the"habit"of recognizing good fortune every day. Thank you for this post, a slice of joy in my life.

Anonymous said...

Hey Loanne,

Another home run! Thanks for what you do.

For you will go out with joy And be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, And all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12)

That is our job on this earth - to learn how to love, be joyful, spread the joy... Jesus said that if we don't do it, the rocks will be forced to shout out!

I don't know how I will react if my body ever becomes wheelchair bound, I haven't 'walked in those shoes'. Your dad may be afraid, because he can see that the body he is inhabiting is wearing out... my belief in reincarnation will probably help me stay happy if I ever get to that state. So I don't know him but I will send some prayers his way.

Anonymous said...

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. -Psalm 30:5 No matter how dark the night if we can but remember this...

Anonymous said...

Dear Loanne,
So true, so true. Everyday I must remind myself that my mind is what is driving my reality. Life for me is what I perceive it to be. And I have hope and belief in Intelligent Design (aka God), which sure helps my outlook. If, at times, I won't do things for myself, I remind myself to do them for God. That usually gets me out of physical and mental limitations and on my way.

Anonymous said...

you are a breath of joy!

Loanne Marie said...

Such lovely comments!

I'm understanding more and more these days just how interconnected we all are which, among other things, means that the choices I make in regards to joy can have a true impact on the world around me. I can keep a gratitude journal~~indeed, a powerful tool that research has shown can have an unequivocally positive effect on one's subjective experience of life. I can visualize the cells in my body being infused with joy. I can wrap my scared (yes, the comment above was accurate) father in love from afar or across the room. And I can remember again and again that, as one of you suggested, I can choose my perspective. All of these and more are worthy endeavors that can help shift things.

And thanks for those Bible quotes! Let's join those shouting rocks and clapping trees and let joy cometh!

And regarding the last comment, thank you! And I will also add, "It takes one to know one!" To receive joy, we must know joy, and to know joy we must automatically offer it into the world. It's like some great flowing river, with us as the river banks, the channel through which joy flows. But now the metaphor breaks down, for joy infuses us as it flows. Our "banks" are river~ized, too!

Each one of your comments is received with a joyful gratitude. Thank you all for taking the time to write and share your thoughts on this topic.

Ingrid said...

Thank you Loanne for this insight. My day started very good with church & lunch with a friend, but then I visited my mother-in-law in the hospital and came away depressed in her current state. She, like your dad, had a joy and thrill for certain things and seemed to have an inner energy for keeping on trekking, tho hers wasn't as physical as your dad's. I spoke to my husband, her son who is with that virus going around here and couldn't get up there. His words were a little comforting, but . . .Then I read your message and the reality from it sank in. I know one day I'll not be able to walk the fields & mountains I do today, or other activities I take for granted, but I can communicate the joy I still have for doing what I can, which is hopefully realized by my children and theirs and so on. WE do what we can while we can and hopefully our mental stability stays in takt longest. Well, the sun is shining still and the day is warm and autumn is as beautiful still as always. Great day for walking meditation and appreciation for now. Now is good.

Loanne Marie said...

Yes, now is good! And I know that even when it doesn't feel good and is not to my liking, there is still something good there, if I can only get out of my own way enough to perceive it.

And if we use our recognition that others are stuck in their limited view to remind us to unstick ourselves, then those loved ones live on in us. We use their pain to transform ourselves, and that shines out, and healing happens, if only indirectly.

This is our task~~to appreciate the good when we feel it and when we don't, and to do so when others feel it and when they don't.

Thanks for writing, Ingrid!

monica wood said...

Oh my goodness, Loanne, you are such a teacher. My little friend. Thank you for these posts, which fill me with such ease and calm. Even when I don't respond, know that I am following your lovely writing and learning from it.xo Monica

Loanne Marie said...

Wow! What a lovely comment, Monica. I thank you.

And you have just started an idea for another essay~~likely not my next, as that will be Halloween weekend!~~but soon. I thank you for this, as well!

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Leia Marie