This morning, it dawned upon me that ‘things are essentially well in my life’.
It may be just for today, it may be only for a brief moment. But yes, it’s pretty good right now, as I write this blog. I have a roof over my head, I’m healthy, the people close to me are healthy, I’m on the path to build a life that’s in line with what’s important to me and I have kind, inspiring, and supportive friends and family around me.
Sure, there are challenges, frustrations, things that aren’t quite right. But all in all, it’s looking pretty good.
This hasn’t always been the case, and won’t always be the case. I’ve experienced illness, loss, anxiety, depression, traumas arising for no reason and, simply by being alive on this planet, I’ll experience more of these. Life, by nature, includes suffering. But right now, today, things are generally well.
So how do I feel about it? You’d think I’d be filled with joy, right?
Well, when I stop and honestly notice how I feel, my initial feeling is one of numbness.
As I explore a little deeper I begin to notice a sense of protection within me – like an invisible wall put up by my mind. I then start to become aware of stories in my mind telling me that if everything is well then, something will have to go wrong soon, or that I need to make the most of it and ‘get more achieved’ whilst things are good, and even a sense of guilt, that I shouldn’t be experiencing joy – in a culture where it’s a badge of honour to be tired, overworked and exhausted.
So what’s behind this protective wall? As I explore a little more and move my attention to the sensations in my body, I begin to discover a mysterious, deep sense of vulnerability.
How many of you have experienced these moments? Those perfect moments where it all feels almost “too good to be true” that we don’t stop and lean into the joy of them – however big or small? We give our attention to the mind’s narratives about what could go wrong next, what is not quite perfect, what projects and to-do lists remain unfinished etc. Why? Could it be an attempt to distract ourselves and protect ourselves – not to avoid pain but to avoid joy?
So instead, today, I choose to experiment with gratitude.
I choose to allow myself to lean into that vulnerability. I choose to move beyond the mind’s protective narratives towards joy and notice how it feels in my body – as I bring to mind all the things that are well in my life.
And you know what? As I do so, I’m surprised by what I discover.
As the joy reveals itself, I begin to feel shaky, wobbly, butterflies in my chest. It’s strangely terrifying, almost overwhelming. There’s just so much to feel joy about – and it could all be taken away in a moment.
We spend our lives chasing joy – our source of meaning and hope – and when we experience it, we run away from it.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a suggestion that we force ourselves to be happy and think positively about things we don’t feel joy for. What I’m suggesting here doesn’t come from a place of pressure or moral duty to be grateful.
To use the words of the poet Rilke, this is about “no forcing and no holding back”. It’s about a soft, gentle, opening up to the joy that may already be here with us – that we are unaware of, noticing where we’re perhaps avoiding it.
What if we came alongside our experiences of joy a little more often? Exploring them, allowing them in, little by little?
What if in fact, it took true courage and willingness to face the joy in our lives – to take it in and feel gratitude for what is already joyful in our lives – however big or small?
A bit later today, I went for a walk in the fields by the house and found a patch of gorgeous bluebells. I knelt down in the grass to look at them more closely. As I lost myself in their mesmerising colour and delicate beauty, an unexpected tear came to my eye.
There’s so much beauty here – within and around us. Vulnerable, terrifyingly fragile, yet so incredibly alive.
PS. I am a big fan of researcher, author and public speaker Brene Brown and she talks alot about this fear of joy. She has a show on Netflix at the moment called ‘The Call to Courage’ which I highly recommend watching. If you’d looking for something short, look up her famous TED talk – The Power of Vulnerability.