Weekly Challengejoy

Experiencing Joy: A Foreboding Mindfulness Practice

A few days ago, I was sitting in my kitchen with my two best friends unpacking a very difficult moment in one of their lives. As she spoke, my other friend and I listened, empathizing with her. She has been hit with not one life crisis, but 3 or 4. Her foundations have been shaken. In that moment, she was struggling to keep her balance.

At one point, I looked at her and said,joy

‘My God, I so understand this messy, scrappy hurricane of emotions that has arrived and landed on your door’.

I’ve been there! In fact, the charred dust of its chaos is still settling. I’m still finding evidence of it on my shoes!

However, as I said that, it occurred to me that something else is taking its place. The cloud of pain and strife is dispersing and dissolving, making room for a new day. My moment of struggle is moving on, leaving in its wake many golden nuggets of, dare I say it, joy.

It took our sharing, and witnessing the pain in another, to notice and acknowledge this. Yes, life has been tough; however, there are so many positives in my life right now. This is the beauty of impermanence.

What was and continues to be shocking to me is my attachment to the messy, scrappy hurricane of emotions that has moved on. In some ways, I am afraid to say that it has moved on because I am afraid of what will fill its place. The messy, scrappy hurricane of emotions is familiar and in some paradoxical way, it has become comfortable.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about this reluctance to let go of our pain, when he states, “[p]eople have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar”. The difficulties that had hit my life had slowly become what I was taking refuge in.

It was like the penny had dropped: a true light bulb moment.

Why was I holding on to my pain so tightly as if it were a comfort blanket?

Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, supports Thich Nhat Hanh and even goes so far as to offer the explanation that we do so because pain and suffering is less scary than the emotion of joy. When I first read this, I thought she was crazy! How can joy be scary?

However, she explains,

“If you ask me what’s the most terrifying, difficult emotion we feel as humans,” she says, “I would say joy.”

She goes on to ask,

“How many of you have ever sat up and thought, ‘Wow, work’s going good, good relationship with my partner, parents seem to be doing okay. Holy crap. Something bad’s going to happen’?… Joy becomes foreboding: ‘I’m scared it’s going to be taken away.”

When I read Brene Brown’s words, I was shocked. I could completely identify with this line of thinking, yet I thought that I had a handle on joy. I practice gratitude and turning towards joy all of the time. Yet, there was and is this huge resistance to letting go of my suffering and completely surrendering in to the joy that is waiting to fill fear’s void.

So, I have decided to set an intention. I am setting an intention to not only notice the joy all around me, but to honour, acknowledge and let go of the pain that is leaving. Oh sure, it might still decide to hover and I may still find its dust on my desk. However, I will no longer convince it to stay through the stories that I tell, the words that I use or the energy that I feed it.

This week’s challenge is to spend a few moments each day reflecting on if there is any suffering that you are white knuckle clinging on to for dear life. If there is pain and struggle, is it being reinforced through rumination and worry? Is there any small part of it that you can let go?

Can you make space for joy to fill its place? Even just a little bit.


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