Yesterday it snowed almost a foot of beautiful, white snow all around my new neighborhood. There we were at around 8000 feet in the Colorado foothills west of Denver. At slightly lower elevation the ground was clear and dry and as I went to shop at a large warehouse store for an upcoming cooking marathon. We competed with the party shoppers preparing for Super Bowl Sunday. As we drove back up to elevation, the cars thinned out, more trees grew, deer and elk girded themselves against the storm, and the vistas became more and more picture perfect with beautiful layers of fluffy white adorning every branch, field and rooftop within eyesight. Up there the clouds were low and thick as the snow continued to fall, albeit gently, for hours. Up there we felt remote from the competition of the city, the striving and emotional stress of living in close quarters with many other humans.
In this remote area I realized that my emotional response to either environment, was just that – a response. When in the thick of the city, it behooved me to remember to stay present and aware of whose emotions were flitting across the internal landscape and that they were not all mine. Compassion welled up as awareness dawned of those who were not so happy, compassion surfaced for their grief, anger, or jealousy. Even better was when my joy matched those around who are joyful or created and generated joy in others.
In the stillness of my remote space, I can more readily resonate directly with the individual and more readily recognize where there is pain, where there is joy… Perhaps we can find that space of generating joy, allowing it to flow outward in a wave of tsunami proportions to wash around all those who are around us, we can become the generators of the joy factor, rather than solely responding to the pain around!!!
Isn’t it amazing how some moments that at the time may seem so mundane and almost trivial, in retrospect become the most amazing and joyful? Holding a young child and smelling their hair as they sleep beside your heart, the hours spent with mom in the kitchen learning to prepare the family favorites, a simple walk along the beach listening to the sound of the surf.
Each of these holds such power in both its present and its memory. The feeling of warmth when family gathers in joy to celebrate. As life moves on and the natural ebb and flow of life and death continues, these memories of simple pleasures become the treasures that can instantly return us to those moments of harmony and joy.
So often the events that required pomp and hoopla weren’t the ones that really stayed with me. The most simple, like the smell of apple crisp in the fall, or the scent of my baby’s clean hair after their bath, or the warming glow of the sunset on a summer day, leave the most powerful imprint in the psyche. These most natural events are the ones that evoke the most joy, they are the ones that are the ultimate treasures.
May your life be filled with the joy of countless simple treasures!
I recently relocated to Colorado, and have begun exploring this vast and amazing countryside. Near where I live there is a 14,200+ foot mountain, Mt. Evans, which boasts the highest paved road in North America. The road climbs up from around 9,000 feet over the course of 14 miles of hairpin turns and sheer drops with no guard rail, reminding me of roads in China and Spain. You twist up through the alpine forest and then break out into the high tundra that resembles a lunar landscape dotted with lakes and the detritus of glaciers. The mountain goats, elk and fox survive in this harshest of environments, where, on an August day, you can have driving snow and fifty mile per winds. On the most perfect clear, calm day, I arrived at the peak in the company of a wonderful friend, shortly before sunset at the time of the full moon. We climbed up the short distance to the peak and settled onto the mountain’s capstone. The only other visitor left, giving us the peak of the mountain to ourselves. The view stretched out in all directions, unimpeded. The sun setting to the west, behind the continental divide, caught Mt. Evans in its glow, casting a perfect shadow, in the shape of an arrow head, stretching to the East with us at the very tip. We settled into quiet and turned within, feeling the powerful vibration of the mountain beneath us. In that moment and space I could feel how very small and insignificant we are, while simultaneously enormous and connected to the universe! After the sun sank to the west, the moon rose to the east, connecting us to the yin and the yang, the beauty and the joy of the world.
Joy. What makes us experience joy? When I live in harmony with my nature and allow myself to be me, I experience the most joy. When I don a mask to protect or defend myself out in the world, I am not happy. When I don that mask I feel stress that gradually accumulates out of the pit of my stomach and affects my behavior a little more each day, until I find myself lashing out at those who are closest to me (of course they’re the ones who will forgive me… right?)
When I take the masks off and allow myself to be me, no matter how vulnerable I feel, no matter how I have to force myself to be brave, no matter that initially it may feel incredibly uncomfortable, there is an honesty that comes into play, that feels so good, when I no longer try to pretend to be something that I’m not. In Taoism it is said that humans are naturally kind. When I allow that kindness in my life, life responds in equal or greater measure with kindness.
It’s a little like when you go into the grocery store and smile at everyone no matter how grumpy they appear to be. Most people respond with a smile. Not only do they smile, but often their inner light will come shining through like a beacon, reinforcing the smile in you. When we take off our mask and allow our natural self to enjoy the moment and live in that moment, life can be so much easier and so much more joyful.
Sometime, more often than I like to admit, I forget and find myself in an unhappy state, rushing around, trying to force the universe to conform to my will, instead of allowing it to be itself and me to be me. When I catch myself in that mode, I try to reset – to bring out that inner smile, to find the good in the moment, to let go of the past and the future, and just to revel in the beauty around me and within each perfect moment, to be in Joy.
Wow, what joy is to be derived from the simple joy of nourishing and honoring the body! I just spent a week plus cooking three meals a day for 15-20 people. I am not a professional chef and I’ve never been responsible for providing meals on this scale before. It was quite a learning experience!
I was reminded of the simple pleasure of preparing a meal to feed and nurture people with simple, healthy and wholesome ingredients. During time spent in China last year, many of our vegetables came from our garden. The garden had been planted, with much love, before I arrived, with wonderful, fresh water spinach, squash, corn, garlic chives, tomatoes, eggplant and much more! I learned that the very best food is simple and full of love. The plants were healthy and full of essential energy, and made the essences of sun and earth available to us with joy!
As a child in Spain it was always a pleasure to accompany my mother to the market, where we would fill our baskets with fresh peas, peaches, melons, cherries and grapes, and all manner or delicacies brought in by cart from the fields. The honey and butter man would bring freshly churned butter and sweet, gloriously fragrant honey down from the mountains on his cart and deliver them straight to the door. It was my pleasure to sit for what seemed like hours shelling, rewarded by the tiny, sweet peas…What a simple joy!
While cooking last week I felt the pleasure of feeding everyone with joy! Even though there were moments when I felt overwhelmed, there is nothing quite like seeing the dishes emptied of food and scraped clean, followed by contented smiles and happiness from the people who ate each meal. Sometimes the meals weren’t quite as good as I would have wanted them to be… But even the sometimes painful lessons of those meals contributed to the next good meal! I owe so much to my friend and mentor of the culinary arts who taught me the recipes that my mother taught her!
The topic of Joy came up several times today in very different ways. My roommate shared the filmed eulogies of a dear friend of hers who passed last September after a pitched battle with cancer. This woman, who I never met, chose joy and happiness at every step along the way, even when faced with this great challenge, asking her doctor, when given four months to live “So, if someone asks me how I’m doing, does this mean I shouldn’t say great?”
Earlier today I reviewed an article about Taoism that spoke of the need to experience sorrow and pain in order to truly be joyful and to be able to appreciate joy; that without the one, the other cannot exist.
Lately a lot of Joy has been coming into my life. I feel that I can appreciate it because of my experiences of sorrow and pain. In particular I am reminded to thank those people that I perceive caused me sorrow and pain because they gave me a gift: the gift of appreciation for the good in my life!
In fact, this past winter and early spring I spent a lot of time processing grief, anger and deep childhood issues around abandonment and solitude. I spent many hours, days, weeks and even months in tears. I did not understand why my emotions seemed so disproportionate to the events in my life. At last, one evening, while visiting a wonderful friend in Atlanta, I had a breakthrough and was able to connect the dots to early childhood events. The resulting insecurities had informed my behavior throughout my life. I felt a sudden lifting of grief and insecurity. Because I had allowed those tears and that deep grief and fear, all at once my blocked energy began to move and now for the first time I am able to experience the world fully as an adult. This has allowed me to truly engage in relationship without the clouds of emotional neediness. All of a sudden judgment seems to be suspended and with that has come a simple acceptance of people as themselves.
Deep joy and self-acceptance have made their place in my life. I can look around at my circumstances and appreciate the wonderful things that have entered into my life. Oh what JOY!!!