Discovering Joy

My colleague Ann Maria Signorelli routinely facilitates a six week psychotherapy group dedicated to increasing ( perhaps first finding) joy in daily life.

Recently she has been supplying me with the weekly homework she gives to the people attending those groups. The very first instruction is to give my personal definition of  “Joy”. I am surprised that my  first round of naming Joy  attributes to it a depth of quiet I find when I am doing nothing  in particular  -not bursting into song –  but sitting at the the waters edge watching the sun rise over the pine trees on the river where I live.  The longer I sit in this place of  “doing nothing”  the stiller I become and  this simple contentment seems enough. But oh for the grace of those fleeting moments when I don’t wish for anything or anyone to be different than they are!

Soon enough I leave my perfect perch to go make what  I hope will be the perfect cup of coffee to top off this lovely early summer morning. It’s pretty darn good – but disappears too quickly. I start to plan my day – breakfast, emails, laundry to start….. Quicker than I can notice  my thinking and planning mind reasserts itself and together we are off and running.  The quietude of the morning escapes me – the magician pulling away the cloth to show that there is nothing there!

The next instruction in the Joy group homework is to imagine what the experience of Joy looks and feels like when we are alone and when we are with others. The next attribute that comes to me is Presence. Many of us have heard the advice of meditation and stress reduction teachers “to be with what is”. That doesn’t usually sound like an invitation to Joy. It can sound like a grin and bare it instruction ( or so it has for me at times).  But recently I have had two of the most satisfying interactions with others simply by being still and listening to their stories  – one and elder friend in the hospital after a fall and a fractured pelvis and the other a friend on the verge of divorce. I wasn’t “doing” anything. I left both those encounters feeling a reciprocated love and a deep gratitude for the ability to just be present. I don’t know what greater gift we can give  one another. Leaving both those friends  I felt what is my emerging definition of joy – a quiet and steady inner presence.

And one of the final instructions for this week of Joy homework is to find ways to remind myself of my intention to look for opportunities of joy in my daily life. This part I know. I return to the wisdom of my body. If even 3 times in a day I straighten my posture – deepen my breath, quiet down that over active mind, and place my hands on my heart  I return to that place of stillness and not doing that the river offered up so generously this morning.