Most of us are familiar with the March phrase, "In like a lion out like a lamb." The renewing forces of nature visit us this way each year, faithful as clockwork. Just when we would feel we could not survive another day of winter with its roaring challenges, the powerful, healing song of daffodils begins to rise up, soft new buds form on every stem and tree, and our hope is renewed like the promise of the incoming Spring.
We can learn much about the consistency of true Joy by reflecting on the seasons of life.
We all embrace feelings of happiness with ease when times are good. Pleasurable sensations visit and encourage us, and I am certain we have each appreciated priceless moments, hours or days of sweetness that occur throughout the course of our various existences. I talk to many people each week who are reminded of the depth of their Capacity for Joy during happy moments of profound simplicity. They experience triumph when they first rise up into a challenging new yoga posture with ease, receive the invigorating call that confirms they have landed the job of their dreams, meet the person they feel best values and supports them as a life-partner, or finally hold a long-awaited grandchild in their open arms. In these brief moments of deep pleasure, I watch ordinary people rediscover and touch the Bliss that is their birthright.
Many spiritual seekers refer to their "glory days," that period they recall from an earlier season of life, when Joy seemed abundant and life felt manageable. And we ought to celebrate and remember the power of each of these happy times, as they serve to strengthen us and remind us of our ever present hope during more difficult days!
But what about periods of "winter of the Soul," those trying times in life when the sensations and feelings of Joy seem absent?
Most of us typically experience great emotional, psychological and even physiological shifts during times of great hardship, or throughout our most painful stages of life. When loss is upon us, we become acquainted with feelings of stress, despondency, disconnection, dissociation and hopelessness, in various degrees. These feelings are often extremely painful, and many of us are ill-equipped to deal with them, given the difficulties of our modern existence and the help we have had thus far. Oftentimes, in these difficult seasons, we look for ways to escape instead of endure, because this is the only way we have learned to cope when difficult feelings overshadow reality.
Despite this very normal survival mechanism, the often-fleeting relief of happiness should not be confused with the unshakable reality ofeverlasting Joy. I meet many people who are chasing an illusion of Joy. They believe if they could only find the perfect relationship, the "right" career path or at least an ideal vacation, they would be able to recall and indefinitely exist within this elusive state of happiness that they have confused with true, unchanging, ever-present Joy.
The shocking and liberating reality is this: Your Joy does not depend on your circumstances.
In our darkest periods, we can look with renewed hope to the power of the lion as it roars to accompany the softness of the lamb. It is true that Joy often comes knocking with gentle sweetness, and the hope of springtime reminds us to patiently wait, to rest and to not lose hope when our feelings convince us that Joy is absent for a time. But it is actually in the house of sorrow that Joy comes roaring, though we often at first fail to realize what it is that holds us together during these painful chapters of life.
It is widely acknowledged that all trauma victims, regardless of the specific circumstances surrounding their trauma, have something in common. At one point in their existence, for various reasons, each one has experienced a felt loss of power, purpose, or connection to the whole. Something along the journey has stunned them into believing they were no longer a necessary or vital part of the intricate and dynamic universal puzzle. Life did not turn out the way that they had hoped, dreamed or planned, and their sense of control was taken away. This leads many to doubt that they have any power at all, and the temporary experience of trauma can lead to further challenging feelings like guilt, fear, and worthless.
For various reasons, there is an extreme felt-sense of lost control that is hard to shake among survivors of great trauma, and a protective "shut down" occurs within the body and mind. Finding a safe way to reconnect with the body is often the first step of a profound healing process for the trauma survivor. And according to the description above, are we not all survivors of various degrees of trauma?
Every living being longs to heal from feelings of powerlessness and fear. Every living creature deeply wants to let go of the painful story of the past, reconnect to the whole, and remember the perennial Joy that is abundant within.
In our darkest hours, when we can no longer afford to miss the profound and lasting promise that used to come in whispers, it begins to roar for our attention. Sometimes joy comes roaring in the arms of a faithful friend, in the compassionate eyes of a mentor or guide, in the solace of some great spiritual text or in the poignant relief that comes from realizing we are still standing, though we face many trials of various kinds. In our times of deep suffering, our temporary pleasures no longer serve to soothe, and we are forced to embrace the lasting power of a deeper Joy that can flood into our darkest corners, and yank us with grace from our fear and despair. We are flooded from within with undeniable hope that permeates to the core of our being.
We may use words like "finding strength in weakness" or "courage in suffering" to speak of this strength that sustains us in the valleys of our life. The truth is that We most connect to Power when we remember to rest in Joy.
If we have only learned to gage reality by our emotions, we believe that "feeling good" is essential to our peace, and that Joy is gone when we do not feel the bubble of laughter in the home of our hearts. We want to feel Joy again, so that we can remember it is there. When the happy feelings leave us, we try to cope with this illusion of loss in various ways.
This tendency to attach to good times, while carefully avoiding feelings of fear and pain, is the root of much depression. However, the deep and profound ache that we feel when our Joy seems to have been lost or stifled forever can actually act as an invitation to embrace the process of refinement.
Like silver in the heat of fire, our character is refined and made more brilliant during times of difficulty. It is here that we learn that our joy does not depend on our "getting to have" a "perfect life," and that the deepest Joy is often allowed to shine through with greater radiance in times of trial. It is during these periods of suffering that we find out what we are made of. And what are we made of? In ancient yogic texts, the innermost layer of the human being is referred to as "Anandamaya Kosha." In sanskrit, Ananda means "Bliss" or "Joy." In our innermost layer of being, we not only have the capacity for Bliss and Joy - but we were meant to dwell within their safety, regardless of the often tumultuous waves of the ocean of life that affect us in body, energy, thinking-mind and emotions. The "Bliss-body," or deepest layer of being, is the place that we may refer to as the "soul" or "spiritual self."
Regardless of terminology you wish to embrace, the liberating truth is that true Joy exists within each of us. That very thing you are seeking is already alive and well.
It is true that many of us have tasted and often long for the return of the feelings with which we have come to associate the immesurable quality of Joy. We have sensed our Joyful center when we experienced the ecstasy of a rainbow colored sunset, or the trusting, sticky fingers of the hand of an innocent child - so we cannot deny it exists. And Joy does visit us in the house of sweet laughter, though we often barely notice or need its comfort as we celebrate happy times with vigor and ease.
But the surprising, and often more essential reality is that True, deep joy does not go out when we are in the house of sorrow. You are allowed and able to tap into the Source of Joy at any moment. It is available here, now, and always, and you will continue to act as a great archaeologist to your soul, healing fractured layers until the ability to hope in the midst of pain is ever present.
Then we realize that real Joy is never gone - it has been looking out, waiting to burst forth at any moment. Absolute Joy does not always feel like ease, but the comfort runs all the way through the darkest circumstances, bringing light and renewal with every morning.
One of my favorite poems as a child was the classic, "Footprints in the Sand." This inspiration for this bite-sized feast of hopeful encouragement was likely a sermon from the 1880's, and the actual poem has been credited to many poets in the years that followed. The simple words of hope have often served to comfort me in times when Joy felt absent, and I will end this month's letter by sharing it here:
"One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,
“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child - it is then that I carried you.”
As spring reminds us of the promise of hope throughout the ever-changing seasons of life, respond to the urges to come home to your Spirit of Joy. Remember your laughter, or better yet, remember the power you have felt in your darkest of days, so that you can once and for all bask in the Indwelling Spirit of everlasting JOY.
See you at OM!