Joy. We can never take it for granted. Before the breast cancer and Steve’s murder I had a lot of joy. Mostly I recognized it on photographs and when I saw my shining eyes in the mirror, but honestly, I did not really feel it. Then the s#*% hit the fan, and joy was gone. Wham.
It took just over a year for me to consciously experience it again after Steve’s death; I can still feel it now, that first moment of joy. At the time I was in Germany, and knee replacement surgery was behind me. Still on crutches, I could not drive yet and my brother-in-law’s brother Edwin generously chauffeured me to see my surgeon for a follow-up visit. The 1.5-hour drive through Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost state of Germany, was beautiful. The appointment went very well, the surgeon was happy with my progress. I was delighted, especially because I had had some fears that there were rare complications with my healing.
In a celebratory mood, Edwin and I took the scenic route back home. In Kappeln, a small, picturesque town we stopped to get some food. The town center was old, gorgeous and quaint, and the eateries and stores were very inviting, arranged along narrow alleys with cobblestones.
While I am well versed with the benefits of retail therapy, for the longest time after the Unspeakable happened, I had not been able to pass by the men’s department of any store without crying. All those items that Steve would have liked, that he would have looked great in, the color that would have suited him; that T-shirt with a special message had his name on it… I could not stop thinking and remembering.
Well, Edwin’s father was going to turn 80 a few days later, and being part of the family, I was planning to give him a gift and to attend the festivities. So I decided, spontaneously and without thinking about anything, to buy him a shirt as a birthday gift. Off we went, into a particularly inviting store with a large men’s department. We browsed and examined the huge assortment of shirts, and imagined his dad wearing them. We laughed and played around, spending quite a long time in there. Eventually we found the right shirt, went to the register, paid and left the store.
And there I was – with my red crutches, standing outside a shop in some small German town, with my shopping bag…feeling…
JOY. Pure joy. Total, boundless joy. I remember the actual f-e-e-e-e-e-l-i-n-g in my body. It was like the sun had touched my heart with a ray of bright yellow light reserved only for me, for that moment. All the grief and sadness and loss and shock melted away for just that one moment of unadulterated, pure joy. I had been to a men’s store and not cried! I had not even thought about whether any particular shirt would have looked good on Steve or not. Without me making an effort, I had simply been present with the task at hand – to buy a shirt for Edwin’s father, totally immersed into that moment.
The joy that arose then was a relief, and a powerful offering from the divine mystery. Despite of all the pain and sorrow, I could still experience joy! A door – or better: a floodgate – opened.
I told Edwin then that it was my wish to feel more joy, more often. To allow it to arise, and to recognize when it is there. To invite it into my life, and feel light and bright and uplifted by it. To become joy.
How does one “do” that, become joy? It is a meditation, an awareness practice. Since that moment outside the store, I have been bringing more awareness to being joyful. I notice that joy arises in my body: my heart is wide open to God. My arms embrace the universe. My ears are receptive of the melody of nature. My throat is open, to release sounds of celebration. My body vibrant with delight and aliveness. Breath entering my lungs, refreshing my blood and bringing new life into every single cell.
I can give form to the joy – I feel it when I look at Coco running superfast on the beach, with a big doggie smile, tongue waving in the wind as she chases something invisible in the shallow water at low tide. I feel it when I lie in my outdoor bathtub at dusk, being cradled by the branches of the large Guanacaste tree above me, listening to the insects and birds of the night awaken and start their concert. It is pulsing inside of me when I hear a song like, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake, or Justin Bieber’s “Let me Love You”, and my body begins to move in dance-like fashion all by itself (try it!). Even when I am up a 12′ ladder, taking a selfie cleaning the gutters in pouring rain, completely soaked, with my fancy red rubber gloves on (as in the photo), I feel it, too.
And I can let it be formless, as more and more often, I feel joy, sometimes like tiny bubbles in my heart, then a great surge of aliveness – for no reason at all, simply there. Like now, as I am writing this.
Joy arises within, it has nothing to do with the outside. It is not caused by others, it is not caused at all. It is the spontaneous flow of your own energy. If your energy is stagnant there is no joy. If your energy becomes a flow, a movement, a river, there is great joy – for no other reason, just because you become more fluid, more flowing, more alive. A song is born in your heart, a great ecstasy arises.
It is a surprise when it arises, because you cannot find any cause for it. It is the most mysterious experience in life: something uncaused, something beyond the law of cause and effect. It need not be caused because it is your intrinsic nature, you are born with it. It is something inborn, it is you in your totality, flowing. ~Osho, The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha, Vol 6