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.




Body, Heart, and Spirit

After 30 years of  learning, practicing, re learning, teaching, and learning more, I feel I am finally coming to understand  the very real potential for Tai Chi and Qi Gong as practices for true integration of the body/heart/and spirit.

I don’t necessarily think it should take that long ( admittedly I am  at times a slow to learn and  periodically  a lazy practitioner). But after recently completing  a certification process through the Institute for Integral Qi Gong and Tai Chi (IIQTC) and teaching several workshops on The 10 phases of Qi Cultivation, as outlined by Dr. Roger Jahnke, I understand at a visceral level the wisdom of our bodies to lead and the importance of sharing that lead equally with our hearts and our connection to the universal (body/mind/spirit). I call that firing equally on all three levels – 33.3% each!

In the system of Tai Chi and Qi Gong  there are an acknowledged three centers of energy cultivation – the lower, middle, and upper Dan Tiens. The lower Dan Tien ( and the one given most the most attention throughout the early years of instruction and practice)  is situated in the body 3 inches or so below the navel and  1 to inches within. This is the center associated with our relationship to our ourselves, our bodies, and our connection to the earth. It is our place of “gut wisdom”.

We live in a culture that values most of all what the thinking mind can do. From our heads we analyze, worry, predict, and generally figure things out to the best of our ability – often leaving out input from our  what we are sensing in our bodies, what our hearts are feeling, or what the universe may be guiding us to do. In a sense we walk around top heavy – off balance.

It is no wonder so much attention is given almost exclusively to the lower Dan Tien in learning Tai Chi . To correct  an imbalance sometimes you have to go to the other extreme to eventually find you way back to the middle ground.

In learning Tai Chi we keep sending our attention and our breath to the lower Dan Tien. We pay attention to sensations in our body. We feel our feet on the ground. We pretend our eyes are in our belly and move through the room ( or the world)  guided from there. At first it is our physical balance that improves but over time that way of relating to the world gives  one a firmer foundation so we are not so easily thrown by the small and large disruptions and challenges in our daily lives.