We experience a vast number of emotions throughout our lives. There’s despair, anger, jealousy, confusion, guilt, love, serenity, and amusement, just to name a few. Joy is one of the emotions we seek out the most. We strive for joy. We look for it because when we don’t have it, we feel lonely, lost and sad. When we can’t find joy in our lives, there seems to be a gaping hole inside us, billowing cold, boisterous air recklessly throughout the intimate thoughts of our minds.
In this state of unease or emptiness, I find that many people believe that joy has gone away. Or perhaps it has run out, as if joy was nestled deep underground and it’s finite supply has depleted. The reality, however, is that joy is an innate emotional state of mind that we can tap in to whenever we so choose. Even when you suffer tragic loss, betrayals, or you just feel like the world is crumbling around you.
I have experienced a number of traumatic events. My ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) score accounts for more than half of the list of traumatic childhood experiences that would lead to health problems in adults due to things like stress and addiction. When my father died when I was 4 years old, leaving my 29 year old mother to care for 3 children ages 4 and under, this set me and my family up to experience a number of traumas that I carried with me in to adulthood.
What amazes me is the resilience that I’ve developed as I healed from these experiences. What I think helped to pull me through dark periods was the recognition of joy in the moment. It could be hard to see, especially when I had strong feelings of guilt, anger or sadness. Often I would feel like these emotions masked the aura of joy surrounding myself and the people around me. Once I saw a glimpse of joy, though, it was always enough to keep me from tumbling down in to that billowing hole and adding to the howls ringing out from it.
On the occasions I have found myself clinging to the frigid walls of the hole, joy was like a shining branch I could grab on to and lift myself up a foot or two up closer to the edge where I could pull myself completely out. The more I looked inside myself and saw it, I began to see it all over. Before I knew it, I had a ladder of branches guiding me up and out. However, I never would have made it out if I didn’t open up my heart and remind myself that joy was my natural state. Whenever I need this reminder, I turn to meditation as a way to sit with the feelings I am experiencing. I look at them lovingly, accept them, and allow myself to feel them as I move past them. And then I conjure up joy.
I find joy in places as simple as dipping a scone in a cup of coffee to the complex elation of sharing a vulnerable conversation with a friend. It can be music flowing from my lips as I sing or laughter bursting out of my mouth. Sometimes, just the sound of my daughter’s laugh can fill me head to toe with a love buzz. When I lay, with my hand on my heart and feel my breath fill my body with life, that makes me feel joy, too.