Making Joy Palpable

Yesterday was a great day! We met up with some friends for a nice restaurant meal and then came back to our place for a game of cards. We had an absolutely fun evening! Laughter, good conversation and a carefree outlook was the order of the day.

It got me thinking back to a time many years ago when I was homeschooling my young family. One day I woke up happy, and my husband was astounded.

The source of my joy was that there were two books waiting for me at the post office and all I had to do was to go pick them up. I actually awakened with a smile on my face that day. Usually it was quite different–I’d wake up with a sense of dread and incompetence– at my abilities as a wife and as a homeschooling mom. I remembered later on that day, after getting a flat tire and my books being delivered to the wrong post office, we went to Tim Horton’s for a coffee.

My husband said to me, “I have a question for you. This morning you woke up happy. You never wake up happy. What’s going on?”

The answer was so simple, but the reason for the depression and bad mood on all the other days was not. I remember telling him that I hated my life and felt pressured all the time to be someone I was not capable of being. I felt that I could never measure up. Never.

The truth was that I could not experience joy as long as I was living a life that was contrary to everything I believed. I was not able to be true to myself because the cult we were in at the time obliged me to dress a certain way, act a certain way, live a certain way and even to speak in a specified manner. My children had to be perfect and neither I nor anyone else was ever able to make that happen. Children are not perfect, miniature adults. They are learning machines, messy, loud, fun, defiant, dirty, snotty, cuddly, transparent bundles of energy that are ready for anything.

My joy had been long ago been squashed. My light had gone out with the oppression and demands made on my life by the homeschooling cult we were in. I was not able to be spontaneous, not able to be myself. It has actually been thirteen years since I lived that life and it has only been in the last two that I have finally started to rediscover who I really am and to find my old self.

I kind of like my old self.

I know that ‘finding myself’ is a used out cliché of our times, but during those years I had really become lost as to who I was, where I came from, my roots, but most of all I had lost my Joie de vivre. My parents and siblings couldn’t understand who I had become.

Joy of living, huh? Joy of the Lord, saywhatt? It was kind of hard to have the Joy of the Lord when I was dying inside. I wondered why God would have me live a life that made me question how I was raised and my core values.

Back then I don’t think I had any idea what real joy was because I didn’t really know who God was. But I’m starting to figure it out now.

The saying, “You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”, is helpful here. Perhaps remembering the tough times in my past will make joy more palpable in my present.

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The Joy of Listening

“You’re not listening to me.”

“You are not hearing what I am saying.”

“I feel like no one understands me.”

Have you ever said any of those things while trying to tell someone what happened to you? You’re trying to tell your story and you can see by the other person’s body language that they are not listening.

Either they are waiting to interrupt and tell you that they had a similar experience; or they want to tell you what you should do; or they are more interested in looking at their phone.

You feel unheard, invalidated and frustrated. A stranger on a plane or a psychologist might listen more. Perhaps that’s why there are so many counselors and psychologists out there; because sometimes people that are close to us don’t listen with both ears any more.

I have noticed this phenomenon for a long time. I’ve experienced it myself, and I wondered why nobody listens. When I was younger I remember sitting around the table after a meal with family, aunts, uncles, cousins, and everyone was telling stories and talking about their lives. Each person would put in his two cents worth and at the end of it, people would go away feeling understood and appreciated.

We don’t sit around the table chatting any more. We don’t tell stories to real live people- we tell them to the psychologist or some faceless person on the Internet. And when we do talk face to face with the people in our lives, we are so busy thinking of what we will say next that we don’t listen to what they are actually saying.

We don’t communicate much any more and that creates a whole lot of loneliness and misunderstanding. We need to have compassion. To have compassion is to be concerned with the suffering of other people and wanting to see that suffering relieved. It is the bridge between empathy and kindness. So when we want to help other people overcome their suffering, first of all, we help make their world a better place; but also our own suffering becomes less. However in order for that to happen we have to listen to really hear what the other person is saying and feeling.

When we have compassion and really listen, letting another person truly express what is on his mind, we begin to experience Joy. So does he.

But listening is not easy. You have to forget about your own issues, forget about giving solutions and suggestions to the person, and just be 100% present with them, as they trust you enough to tell you their story.

I remember, a little over a year after my mother died, some friends were visiting and Bob asked me the question, “Christine, what was your experience of your mother’s death?”

No one had ever asked me that before, but without preamble, I started talking and Bob listened. I talked for quite awhile and he listened, completely focused on what I was saying. I told about my fears when she got sick, her last days in the hospital, her dying and my mortality, and the horror of a slow cancer death. I talked about what it was like to watch someone I loved die, reduced to nothing but her spirit at the end.

I filled up a few times, and still he listened. I had never put those feelings into words before, and saying them was powerful medicine for both of us. Bob and his wife had lost three of their parents in a very short time, and I knew they understood.

That day I felt their compassion and acceptance, all because they listened. If you can imagine, I felt Joy on that day and I will never forget it.

Listening is not always easy but it will calm down your entire life. It will change your relationships with your friends, your spouse and your children, because they will be able to talk and you will be present. Then people see that you are really listening with a heartfelt presence. It makes people happy to see that.

How about you? Do you listen with your whole heart and mind, or do you wait for the other person to stop talking so that you can say your thing?

Conversely, do people listen to you when you have something to say? Or do you feel that no one understands you?

Let’s watch our listening during the next week. When someone is telling you something, where is your mind? Try to focus on what they are saying and let them feel your presence.

Do you feel Joy when you do that?

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Being Right or Being Happy?

Do you remember the episode of Seinfeld called “Soup Nazi”? It was about a guy who opened a soup stand. His recipe was a secret and his soup was delicious but he had strict rules for ordering. If anyone were unfortunate enough to not follow his rules exactly, he would say, “No soup for you!” And the person would have to leave with nothing. The soup was so good that everyone was willing to put up with his rules just so that they could have some. Although the episode was incredibly funny, the Soup Nazi was so strict that he looked angry all the time. Joyless. Intent on being right.

You get the picture?

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Sometimes people are so insistent on having their own way and being persnickety about what they eat, or what they wear, or what newspaper they read, what beer they drink, what brand of coffee they need, that they limit their lives and become miserable. Not only that, they make everyone miserable around them. While its nice to be able to have your ‘brand’ whenever you want, sometimes it might be better to just go with the flow and enjoy time with the people around you.

I remember a time not so long ago that I called myself a coffee Nazi. I thought there was nothing better than Tim Horton’s coffee and if I couldn’t get a coffee as good as a Tim’s, I would just do without. Sometimes I would embarrass my husband in a restaurant when, after the meal I would ask the waiter, “Is your coffee good?” And they would always say yes it was. Then I would ask, “Well, if Tim Horton’s coffee is a 10, what is yours?” Most of the time they would mumble something or other and we would end up ordering coffee anyway. One time a waitress answered that their coffee was a 4, and so I didn’t order any.

You know, I might have just enJOYed the mood and the time spent after a good meal, but I was intent on only drinking what I perceived to be the best coffee. I think I deprived myself of some good times because of it. I didn’t ‘get’ the fact that the joy is not in the taste of the coffee, but in the time spent with people I love.

A question to ponder: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?

I think I get it now.

Do you?

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Shell Shocked!

Many years ago I went through a life situation that pulled the carpet right out from under me. I was sad and depressed for a long time, a couple of years in fact. During that time I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror staring back at me.

My 21 year marriage had ended in divorce and it tore my life into shreds. I thought I would never smile again, never experience joy, and never be at peace. During the worst of it all I fled to Myrtle Beach for two months just to settle my thoughts and perhaps figure out a new direction for my life. While there, I did a lot of talking to God and I wrote an account of something major that happened as an answer to my prayers. Here it is:

2006,  February

Since my arrival here at Myrtle Beach, I have gone for walks on the beach just about every day, about three miles. I have gone at high tide, low tide, and everything in between. I have gone early in the morning before most other people are out and I have gone later in the day. I have walked in wind, calm, rain, mist, fog and cold.

Most days as I walked, I searched for seashells….nice ones, big, not broken. There just never seemed to be much down there on the beach. I saw some little ones, many old ones full of holes and many broken pieces. There were always people looking, with their plastic bags at the ready, but they weren’t finding anything either. In fact, I heard lots of complaining about the dearth of treasures to be found.

Most days as I walked and searched, I also prayed. I prayed for God to fix me and make me whole again after my divorce. I prayed for him to manifest himself to me and give me direction for my life.

And as I walked and searched and prayed, I grieved. I grieved my failed marriage; my lost dreams, and my broken family.

One day mid January as I walked and searched and prayed and cried, I did something I had never done before. I did something that I always thought people were hokey for doing. I asked God for a sign that he really heard my prayers and that he loved me. I asked him for a shell, whole and complete; unbroken and bigger than the others. I knew that if I ever found it, that it would be His doing, because what I was asking for I had only seen in shell shops and craft stores, never on the beach.

Well, I didn’t find one that day, or the next day, and not the day after that either. That made me rail all the more. Never mind that I had seen whales by twos and once by threes on three separate occasions, right outside my window; never mind all the other ways He had shown me grace, including the upgrade in my accommodation. I wanted my shell.

Sometime after that, I stopped looking, stopped striving, planning,

stopped asking God for my shell. I relaxed and just enjoyed the beach. I didn’t care that I looked like a crazy woman in a cowboy hat and running shoes. I could see the beauty all around me, and it made me happy. I kind of forgot about my request.

Then, just days before leaving to go back home to the reality of my life in Quebec, and more than a month since asking for it, I found my shell. I wasn’t searching, striving, plotting or planning. I was just walking, being happy and at peace. I was thankful for my first two nights’ sleep without medication in eighteen months. My shell was big, whole, no holes or cracks, and unbroken, just like I asked God to make me. (not that I asked God to make me big!) People had walked right past my shell, not noticing it, but it stood out like a beacon for me. I couldn’t understand how they all missed it. Funny, like sometimes when it is only by standing still that an elusive butterfly will light on your shoulder, you have to be still in your heart to see what God wants to show you.

I experienced joy on that day. True joy.

Sometimes by just letting things take their time and natural course, joy can be found when you least expect it.

The shell sits on a shelf in my office as a reminder that joy is not so terribly elusive and that God answers prayer.

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Well, What is Joy Anyway?

I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Where?

Down in my heart

Where?

Down in my heart…to stay.

And I’m so happy, so very happy

I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart…

Remember that song from Sunday school when you were younger? I’m not sure if children still sing it, but when I think of being joyful I do remember it. I remember singing it as an adult and thinking, “What on earth does it mean to have ‘that’ joy down in my heart?” It’s difficult to sing that song and frown at the same time.

Maybe we’re on to something here.

Well, what is joy anyway?

The dictionary defines it as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.

That would mean that joy is an emotion and subject to external circumstances. It would also imply that you could only be joyful if you are successful and you get what you want. Strange thing though, I know lots of successful people who have everything they could ever want and they are not even happy, let alone joyful. Some of them are depressed and have a black cloud over them wherever they go. And when they manage to step out from under the black cloud, they turn back and pull it over themselves again. Do you know people like that?

On the other hand, have you ever met people who have very little and they’re not doing so well health-wise, but they have a twinkle in their eye, they smile a lot and are generous with what they do have? I know people like that and they are usually busy giving little gifts, baking for people even less fortunate than they are, and in general they are content with their lives. They spread happiness and smiles everywhere and when they leave, you feel better about yourself and everything around you. These are the people who spread sunshine, love and hope.

I think they might be joyful!

Perhaps joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness appears to be dependent on external circumstances like good fortune, health or the weather, joy is not dependent on such things. Joy is a state of mind and heart that gives our lives meaning and makes us come alive. At first it is a state of mind and then it becomes a trait we have and is woven into our way of being.

So once again, what is joy?

Joy is a trait we have that is more than happiness,

just as happiness is more than pleasure.

Pleasure is in the body.

Happiness is in the  mind and feelings, but

Joy is deep in the heart, the center of our very self.d3770_joy_heart

When The Magic Happens

I have read that you can’t have joy in your life without gratefulness. When I think about it, I guess its true. When you’re not grateful for what you have then you will always be wishing for more and be fretting about that. When you’re fretting you are not joyful.

I’ve caught myself several times in the past year with a scowl on my face; while driving in the car, while reading at home, a lot of times when I am alone. Sometimes I’ve dared to look in the mirror and it is not pretty. I have forced myself to smile. It hurt.

I wondered why I was scowling. Was my life so hard that I couldn’t put on some music and belt it out rather than having that pursed lips furrowed brow look? It’s hard to scowl when you’re singing “UP” with Shania Twain or “Is You ‘Appy” with Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellows.

I’m thinking that joy should bubble up from the center of our being like water in a fountain.

So what’s the problem?

Some people just have a resting bitch face I guess.

Well I can’t be joyful with a resting bitch face so probably the first place to start is to turn that frown upside down. Mind you, I don’t intend to have a fake smile. There were many years when I was unhappy but told to smile anyway. That’s not what this is about. If there are problems, I will be transparent about them and try to find the joy in little things.

Like this morning, for example; we are in Hilton Head for a couple of months enjoying the escape from a harsh Nova Scotia winter. We got up this morning to temps in the minus and I wanted to have a walk on the beach. It was cold and with the wind chill it was even colder, but we went anyway, all bundled up in gloves, scarves and winter jackets.

It was the most glorious walk! The sun was shining, the sky was blue and we literally had the beach to ourselves. I mentioned to Dave that there was a lot of joy in that walk- we got our exercise and spent a special hour together alone on the beach. I was grateful for the quality time together.

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Meanwhile, back in Nova Scotia everything was closed today because of a winter storm with high winds and drifting snow: churches, shops, clinics, you name it, they were all closed. If you are in a storm area today, try to find the joy in hunkering down with Netflix, some hot chocolate, and time with the family. Be grateful for the warmth inside your home and heart.

Joy. It’s all in how you look at things. We could have convinced ourselves that it was too cold and windy to go for a walk on the beach but we didn’t.

And that’s when the magic happened!

Did you have a joyful moment today?

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Joyfulness for 2017

Hello and welcome back to A Nourished Life!

It’s the beginning of another New Year, time when most people are making New Year’s resolutions, most of which will fall by the wayside by January’s end. Resolutions to quit smoking, lose weight, work out more, call Mom more often, smile more, and stop drinking top the list.

I don’t do resolutions any more. Instead I do themes.

One year my theme was Peace because I found that life had gotten too hectic with demands on my time and emotions. It was the year my ex harassed me relentlessly after our divorce. I prayed for peace, craved peace and finally had to carve out some peace in my heart.

Another year my theme was Friends, because due to our cultish lifestyle at the time, I had cut off contact with most of my old friends who weren’t part of the cult. All that year I made huge efforts to establish a connection with friends that had not been a part of my life for a long time. It was a great year!

2014 was a year of Coping. Coping with some personal problems, coping with my mother’s illness and death, and coping with some troubling events in my children’s lives. It was a very tough and stressful year.

2015 saw me Resting. The stresses of the previous year had caught up with me and I was constantly sick. Shingles, viral infections, depression and finally bells palsy topped the list. I desperately needed to rest and take care of me.

Last year my theme was Health. I aggressively focused on getting my health back. I followed a program for Leaky Gut with some results. I started eating fermented foods, which helped me to get my digestion working again. And finally I followed Bill Phillips’ Live coaching program for four months to shed some extra weight, to feel fit and to regain the vitality I had lost during the previous few years.

It worked!

I found that in my efforts to regain health and vitality, along with good digestion, something vital was missing. Something that I believe is essential to health…

Joyfulness. Laughter. Fun. Gratefulness.

I realized that I was so focused on regaining health that I forgot to have fun, laugh and be grateful. So my theme for 2017 will be Joyfulness! I will post here at least once a week about how I’m doing with my theme for the year. Why don’t you come along with me and either choose Joyfulness or another positive theme that will enhance your life this year?

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