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.




Tai Chi as a meditation practice

For many people sitting still is hard. Sitting still for twenty minutes or more can seem an impossibility. Add to that the challenge of simply noticing the act of breathing – no planning your work day or what you have to get at the grocery store, or what you’ll wear Friday night, or how you’ll have that hard conversation you’ve been meaning to have  and you might decide meditation is not now nor will ever be for you.

Sitting still and quiet is a revolutionary act in these times of expected multi tasking and instant responding.  Even so given the speed with which most of us move through our days – sitting down to meditate can feel like running into a brick wall.

The ancient practice of Tai Chi offers a do-able meditation form for our modern times. Rather than sitting down we stand up, we move , we breathe deeply, we  practice the movements slowly and deliberately. Rather than insisting the mind focus on one thing – the intentful practice of moving consciously clears the mind almost effortlessly. Often at the end of  Tai Chi class participants report feeling much calmer and more energized than when they arrived. There is often a light heartedness in our conversations as we exit class and a connection to ourselves and others that seems more accessible.

Tai chi forms can vary from 5 minutes to 25 minutes or more. Once learned the practitioner can decide how long to practice each day and how many times a day. Twice a day for 10 minute or more can have a revolutionary effect on the rest of your day and how you relate to those around you.



There is much to be said for a healing practice and way of life that is non-invasive, been around for years, and has been proven to heal, all for free. The health benefits of stillness and meditation are many and the practice of them is safe, simple, and can help restore your body to a state of total wellness.

From the everyday stress that life can bring to medical conditions and disorders, quieting the mind, controlling breath, and seeking inner peace can provide relief. Meditation and stillness centers around peace, bringing the mind into the present moment, and slow, deep breaths. When you actively practice these, your blood pressure begins to return to a normal level, the tension in your body, as a result of stress is relieved, and the thickness of coronary arteries are reduced, which improves the heart condition.

The deepened state of relaxation has been shown to activate the genes that protect from rheumatoid arthritis, infertility, and even cancer. Along with cultivating a whole and healthier mind and body, the mindful, meditative practices also help relieve insomnia, allergies, and depression. The undivided attention and focus given to your breath, surroundings, and the present moment, all alter the brain chemistry and allow you to face life and deal with stressors with a clear, calm, and balanced mind. Begin where you are today and watch your health drastically improve with the practice of stillness and meditation.