On the Wings of JoyOnly when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live in every experience, painful or joyous; to live in gratitude for every moment, to live abundantly.
· Dorothy Thompson
Struggle is a common expectation in our society. We plan for it, anticipate it, and invite it into our lives. It has become so familiar that we often push away joy or peace or harmony, declaring such experiences to be unreal or temporary or frivolous.
Many folks tend to feel more alive when they are struggling against something. Work groups and whole organizations are established to compete - a form of struggle - against something. War and violence are glamorized. Ill health is considered routine. Senility is the prospect of advanced years. Suffering is considered noble. Whether we struggle against struggle or resign ourselves to struggle, we are in struggle.
And so now, to you....
Let's move from the collective "we" and the impersonal "they/many" to you and your inner self and outer behavior. Consider how you struggle. Knowing how you struggle will assist you in replacing your pattern with different behavior. You may also find it helpful to reflect on what you struggle against, but I caution you about lingering there too long. It is too easy to fall into the trap of explaining or blaming the "what" against which you struggle. Your struggle is not about the other person or thing; your struggle is about you.
So pick something real in your life that you struggle against, just to give yourself a laboratory. It may be some little annoyance, such as a spouse's dirty socks on the floor or wet lingerie in the shower stall. Or you may select something work related, such as a co-worker's competence or an assignment you dread. For the purpose of this initial exercise, select an issue that you classify as a small to medium concern. Practicing on something real but not overwhelming will give you courage to explore something you consider a major struggle.
Bring this idea or issue into your mind and feel the feelings. You may find it helpful to close your eyes to stay focused on the task. What does the struggle feel like? What sensations do you feel in your body and where do you feel them? What emotions do you feel and how do you feel them? Hear what you say about this issue to yourself. What does the resistance/struggle sound like? What color is the struggle? How big or small is the struggle?
Identify all the reactions and signals and sensations and feelings and emotions that you can. Try not to deny anything that comes into your awareness as you read this. How does your neck feel? Your shoulders? Your stomach? Do you feel agitated or impatient? Do you want to do something else? Are you fascinated by the sensations?
How you respond to these questions suggests how you respond to struggle in other parts of your life. While you may want to believe that this is just a hypothetical exercise, it is not. It is a real exercise, one that can train your awareness and all the muscles in your being to choose responses other than struggle. It is helpful to know how you struggle if you wish to change your pattern.
Often when I talk to people about "holding on" and "letting go" I experience their resistance. What variety! (And, yes, I experience my own resistance, my own brand of struggle, which helps me to speak with greater authority on the subject.) In certain situations in our culture we celebrate goodbyes or endings well.
Graduations are endings we tend to do well. Graduations are also recognized as beginnings. Yet, so too, are all endings! That is the point. When we say goodbye to something that we no longer want or need or when we say goodbye to someone who is ready to leave, a space opens for something or someone else. This is a process, not a linear sequential set of cause and effect steps. However, if you find it easier to perceive this process as linear, do so.
So, are you ready to graduate from the School of Struggle? If you choose to stay longer, you will continue to learn. That is guaranteed. Keep in mind, though, that you are likely to learn and re-learn and re-learn again the same lessons. Other schools await your enrollment. The School of Joy. The School of Peace. The School of Abundance. The School of Love. The School of Health. The School of Laughter. The School of Enlightenment. The School of Mastery.
Entrance exams are simple: Give up struggle for freedom, fear for love, illness for health, pain for joy, hopelessness for mastery, etc. Say goodbye to those experiences you have completed or to those persons whose relationships with you have ended. You will not be able to stay in The School of Joy if you hold onto struggle - you will be expelled or asked to take a leave of absence. Merely enrolling in The School of Love is not enough, you must practice unconditional love and not cut classes to get intimate with fear. You can stay in these schools even though you occasionally fail an exam or re-visit your old school. The principals/principles of these schools are infallible, the teachers exacting and loving.
Our joyous goodbyes often prompt us to give a party, a celebration. We do this on New Year's Eve: to say "goodbye" to the old year and "hello" to the new one. We do this for school graduations: to celebrate the ending of education in one institution and recognize the rite of passage to another institution, or the military, or the "real world" as we are fond of saying. We do this for retirements, sometimes accompanied by the gold watch: to honor the work place contributions and welcome the retirement years.
So, why not create a Goodbye Party for Struggle? You may be tempted to have a Hello Freedom Party, instead. However, there is something important about saying goodbye and thanking something or someone who has been with us, who has become familiar. Too many people run around claiming that all is well or life is good while fierce anger or pain or unresolved issues are stuck in them. This is denial.
If struggle has been your friend, give a going away party and celebrate the release of this energy. Thank struggle for being a teacher. Make the party your unique event: Buy balloons or not. Celebrate your party alone or with friends. Let an object represent the struggle and release the object to the trash or a fire or the great outdoors. Use rituals that have meaning for you. Empty out the old to make space for a new opportunity.
Goodbye, Struggle, goodbye.
Jeanie Marshall is a mentor, success coach, group facilitator, organizational development consultant, personal development consultant, and a writer. She has an M.S. in Human Resource Development and over 20 years of active involvement in the human potential movement. She facilitates workshops and private consultations throughout the world, appears as a guest on television and radio shows, has produced more than fifty guided visualization meditations on audio cassette tapes, and for six years produced and hosted a local television show, "Return to Center."
Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of influence.
Linda Popov tells the story of her child opening a Christmas present while the family looked on. After tearing off the wrapper, sticking to bow to his chest, and dumping out the contents, he scrunched up the wrapping paper and put the box on his head and paraded around the room. Grandma asked, “Honey, don’t you want your present?” The look on the boy’s face seemed to say, “You mean, there’s more?” When was the last time I let myself go with the simple joys like that? I try my best to do that often, to seek the simple joys in life, and enjoy them fully. I don’t think anyone is ever too old to be silly and have fun. There is more to life than what is inside the box. Sometimes, it can get really interesting and quite joyful just to see what you can do with the box that life comes in! There are many opportunities during the day to find joy, as Agatha Christie says, in knowing “quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”
Ábdu'l-Bahá states that joy can bring me clarity and strength, and can help me find my sphere of influence. That seems a tall order, but giving this idea further thought, it occurs to me that if I can seek and find joy in my daily life, I can also find joy in the solitude of being alone in my sacred spaces, listening to my inner voice which is the source of that clarity and the source of my ability to cope with what life deals out to me. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that “sheer joy is His and this demands companionship,” meaning that I should keep the company of the Source of my joy. These words are echoed in Psalm 37, “Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Seeking joy by trying to bend things into being joyful is much like handling a butterfly – it is destroyed before long, and unenjoyable beyond that. One can go looking for butterflies anywhere, but if one knows where they are likely to be, and waits there patiently, the butterflies will be more likely to seek you. Joy is much the same. If someone is sitting in the living room of a house, it is not likely that a butterfly will land on them; likewise one must be in places and situations that are, or could be, joyful, and trust that joy will be experienced as a result. I have learned to be trustful of the Universe when it comes to joy, rather than attempting to be in control. Doing this keeps my experience open to what joy the world has to offer me, freely offered and unmasked.
Is perpetual joy possible? In the midst of difficult situations such as loss of a job or divorce, the death of a loved one or even just getting cut off in traffic, it is difficult to find joy. If I can raise my view of these situations, if I can overhaul my thinking with regard to these experiences, if I can understand that what I am experiencing is part of the mission of my life, these difficulties lose their power over me. Regardless of how bad a situation is, in the Grand Cosmic Scheme of Things, it is simply a learning opportunity. It is meant to teach me, not to control how I think or who I am. If I can remember that a loving Father who cares enough to give me those opportunities sends every experience to me, even the most difficult ones, and that Spirit is beside me in this process, I can joyfully grasp the idea that there is more to what I am experiencing, beyond the box it came in.
By way of example: at my dad’s memorial service after his passing several years ago, the family did karaoke. Dad couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and this celebration of his life was, by his request, not somber, although there was no shortage of grief and tears. Dad had a fine appreciation of the ridiculous, and among other joyful things we did that day, many of us got silly with a microphone in our hand. The cynical may call that denial, but those who participated in the festivities found it joyful nonetheless, and a great honor to a man who loved music. We didn’t plan to do karaoke, dad, it just happened because we were in a place that could be joyful. It was a vital lesson in the joy of just being alive. (I still miss him, these many years gone.)
Make a conscious decision to let whatever happens be simply noticed, paying attention to the lesson to be learned from it, and you will be free to find the joy in it. Joy is our prerogative!