“Who hears the rippling of rivers will not utterly despair of anything”. Henry David Thoreau.
I was recently asked to share why I’m joyful most of the time. So, I’ve spent some time reflecting on that. I’m aware that some people may be dealing with very difficult challenges. But I do hope, in the long run, that you’ll learn to find joy even in the most difficult times.
I’m not always joyful, but I feel joyful most of the time, so how does that work?
I think the key is in the quote above by Thoreau. I would much rather focus on the rippling of rivers than worrying about something in the future that likely won’t happen or hurting myself over a story I’ve created about something from the past.
I don’t want to waste precious time on things I have no control over. And I do have a choice. If I need to apologize or redo something from the past, I’ll do that. Otherwise, I practice being as present as I can by becoming aware of all I’m sensing from one moment to the next, and when I do that, I feel joyful.
The practice of consciously using my senses to experience joy is a deeply held value for me. And when I’m noticing, like now, the trees swaying in the breeze, the sound of the wind moving through the leaves, the birds on our feeder chirping—a flock of java sparrows, tweeting in such a way that they sound as if they are purring, I am joyful.
The simple practice of watching the movement of my hands and noticing the sensation of whatever they are touching—warm or cool or soft or smooth or textured—will bring me into the present moment.
When I notice the fragrance of jasmine in the air, the movement of puffy white clouds as they pass by, the softness of my bed sheets at night, or the silky feel of Hawaiian ocean water and the breeze on my skin—I am thrilling myself.
In these moments, what’s not to be joyful about?
Oh yes. There’s the pandemic and the suffering of people, wars, natural disasters, species dying, and climate change plundering the planet. There is all that. I do make myself sad when I think of those things. But then I ask myself if I can personally do something about them. If the answer is no, then I don’t dwell on what I have no control over. Instead, I’ll choose to be joyful despite the turmoil.
The turmoil can’t be my focus. If I elevate my gaze, the sadness of the world will sink to the bottom. Of course, that sadness is always there if I want to dive in again, and sometimes I do, but I don’t have to live there.
If there is something I need to change, I will make that change. Otherwise, I’ll be looking for beauty. If I “hear the rippling of rivers,” I will find myself in AWE. I believe that paying attention to the beauty around me can help diminish the chaos. That’s one small way I can be helpful.
And the more I practice being aware of what I’m sensing (even if I have aches and pains), the easier it is to shift my perspective. For example, when I focus on pain, I tighten up around the pain to brace myself against it. But, if I take a deep breath, pay attention to what’s going on around me, and relax, the pain diminishes, and I can find beauty and something to love at any moment.
There are seven senses we can pay attention to. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touch are the five more well-known senses. But there are two others that we can play with: Vestibular, or sensing movement and balance, and proprioception—body position in space.
With our vestibular sense, we can pay attention to our bodies as we slowly walk across the floor, sensing how walking is an exchange of balance with unbalance. And with proprioception, we can become aware of where our body parts are in relation to other things, like my hand cracking an egg without crushing it.
Designing a Life
I’ve also consciously designed a life where my surroundings and relationships are what I want them to be. I have chosen where I want to live, who I want to relate with, and who I want to live with, and that’s very helpful.
I have consciously chosen work, a partner, and friends, who are loving, fun, and nurturing. I’ve also learned, with my husband, how not to fight to be right. This is far more respectful and creates a joyful and fun partnership because now we joke about who’s right.
We’ve gotten good at not taking ourselves too seriously. We are best friends and treat each other as such. We don’t perceive relationships as difficult. Our marriage is easy, joyful, and full of humor.
Another element of living joyfully is living in a place of my choosing—a place that’s peaceful and beautiful. For others, living in the hustle and bustle of city life may make them feel alive. Making the best conscious choice of where to live and with whom can make an enormous difference.
After making those choices, my practice is to look for what I love most every day.
I wake each day with the question: I wonder what I’ll love most today? If I remember this throughout the day, I minimize my autopilot, maximize awareness, and dial myself in for a joyful day.
Open your eyes right now. Look for beauty in the small things—in colors, and movement, shadow, and light. Open your ears; what do you hear right now? Close your eyes, wrap your arms around yourself, take a deep breath, notice the contact of your arms with your body, and then smile. What does a smile feel like?
Some of you have taken our course in accessing AWE. When I practice this, AWE becomes my nature, joy is the reward, and any ripples in life become a reminder to look for beauty.
While writing this article, we experienced a crisis with a close family member. My immediate reaction was noticing my hyper-palpitating heart and my whole body tensing up while I dove into anxious stories in my mind. I then took 20 minutes to lie down, breathe very deeply, begin to sense my surroundings and my body’s contact on the bed; and with my breath, gradually letting go of tension in one body part at a time. Fairly soon, I was able to slow my heart rate down, notice the stories I was telling myself, and begin to deal with the situation in a calmer way.
At that point, I noticed the gentle purring of my cat—something I dearly love, and I felt the joy of having him in my life. The family issue at hand wasn’t easy, but I was approaching the situation with a different mindset and in a far healthier way.
I’m hoping this practice will be helpful to many of you.