Joy is a term we hear often, and will even more, as we get farther into the holiday season.
But this simple word is actually a lot more complicated than we may think. Brene Brown is famously quoted as saying to Oprah “The most terrifying difficult emotion we experience as humans is Joy.”
Wait a second – Joy is our most terrifying, difficult emotion? Leave it to humans to find terror and overcomplicate – Joy.
So why is this beautiful word – filled with so much hope and heart- considered terrifying?
Because as soon as we have it, we are afraid we are going to lose it. Brene also says “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.” So many people in moments of Joy, dress rehearse tragedy so they can beat vulnerability to the punch.
So what on earth REALLY is JOY?
Why is it so darn scary? Why does it elude people? Where does it come from?
I was recently on an airplane flying to Toronto, Canada and I finally watched Roadrunner the story about Anthony Bourdain and his death by suicide. Near the end of listening to people that were his actual family and friends talk about their loss, and how they had watched Anthony fall into something dark that eventually took him away, I was crying my eyes out.
Right there on the airplane, in empathy for all of them and his lost soul. The level of pain he fell into, the utter lack of meaning, the lack of Joy – in a life that brought so much joy to so many. But I don’t know if Anthony knew how much he meant to people. Or if he just felt pressure to perform and wear his masks.
Anthony Bourdain was one of my heroes. When I started my travel blog I wanted to be like him. I aspired to be a female Anthony Bourdain (not some type of bad girl chef, because that was not me) but solo woman traveler going places, women hadn’t gone alone before, showing other women that you can adventure solo, safely to many many places of your accord and see the world.
I’d watch him and see that Anthony always had friends though, everywhere he went, that showed him the place he was traveling to and I wondered “How did you get that?” Then I’d be like “duh! It’s TV Angel, he has a producer and people that arrange these things. You on the other hand are just stumbling around the globe in the dark, going to strange places and putting myself through travel shock therapy.” It was fun though. Travel shock therapy and adventure bring me joy.
I digress – so Anthony equaled hero, was on a pedestal and a person who I believed had everything I wanted. I wanted to travel for a living, to eat all the things, to experience all of the things. And he was doing that. And then one day he was dead by suicide. I couldn’t process it. I was in shock and it was actually that summer that I decided my purpose in life was of a higher calling than simply “experience”. I needed to find a way to bring light to others so no more Anthony’s happened. I needed to find a way to bring real Joy to people and give people a way to find joy for themselves – because a life without joy, is not a life lived – and can result in decisions like suicide. Thus, I can help with that! Metaphysical options for a joyful life were born, and I chose to step up in higher service in my mystery school lineage as a ritual master and do service to humanity.
I have a degree in philosophy. I’ve studied the meaning of life from multiple perspectives. I’m a guide in a 3000 + year old mystery school. I am a Buddhist. I am a Kabbalist. I’ve tried abstinence, I’ve tried hedonism, I’ve tried co-dependence, independence, psychedelics, obsessive traveling – All this in search of one thing – Joy. And I’m still asking What is Joy?
If you look at the sad story of Anthony Bourdain’s life you know joy cannot be found outside yourself, even if you are a brilliant fearless talented world adventurer. Because joy also can’t be found by lying to yourself and wearing a mask.
When I’m most miserable and devoid of meaning in my actions and drained to my core it’s in situations where I am performing a role that is not authentically me. I tried to be a “normal” lawyer in a law firm and it just led me to the bottom of a bottle, the only numbing I could find while having to watch my soul die slowly.
Climbing the corporate ladder and playing politics, pretending to smile at assholes – In fact, when I started in corporate a friend of mine – poked fun at my lack of poker face – she would say, “Angel, you can literally see your eyes roll so far back into your head when the narcissist idiots start talking – you are going to have to work on that or someone is going to think you are having a seizure.” I did, and it got me nowhere but tired and burned out, but I sure could facilitate a great meeting where everyone “felt good” about the nothing we accomplished.
When you die and stand at the gates to the afterlife it is said that Anubis will ask you two questions.
Have you experienced Joy? And Have you brought Joy to others?
Joy is all that matters.
But WHAT THE FUCK is it?
And, how do we get it?
You can’t buy it. You can’t fake it. And even a lot of us are afraid of it.
The Rune Wunjo that translates to Joy looks like a flag waving in Victory. On the rune sphere, it has the cosmological characteristics of harmony and order and it requires 3 things:
- Prosperity- meaning the balance of inflow and outflow of energy
- Bliss – to be filled with a sense of meaningfulness
- A good house of the soul i.e. a healthy body free from negative influences.
OK, Great theoretical explanation Angel – but still what the hell is Joy, then?
The other day I was driving my partner to the airport for him to go back to work for another 4-week long hitch on a ship in the Gulf of Mexico. The indigo girls song Closer to Fine came on. And I finally got it. The lyrics are about searching for Joy. And I realized I’ve actually lived the song in my life.
“I sailed my ship safely till I sank it.”
The difference between those who embrace joy and live joy and those stuck in fear and safe routes is the practice of gratitude. The foundation of an abundance mindset. The physical act of stating out loud and writing down words of gratitude. Observing and being aware of all the little things in life that we are grateful for – so in that moment of Joy, we don’t get terrified of it and make up a story about how it’s not real or run away from it. Instead, we give it an embrace with gratitude.
This is energetically like the 3 parts of the joy rune. Prosperity: the balance of inflow and outflow of energy plus bliss being filled with meaningfulness!
This is what practicing gratitude does!
And 3 a good house for the soul i.e. stopping the negative influence of negative thoughts by practicing gratitude versus allowing in the negative thought patterns of scarcity and rehearsing tragedy.
We can literally be overrun by negative thought patterns – our own – they literally create ruts in our brain that our neurons keep repeating. Meditation research shows that people who meditate are actually firing more paths because they clear these negative patterns, they smooth out the ruts. Gratitude research shows the practice of writing positive words and thoughts every day makes people more able to learn new things, which means there must be more neurological activity as a result of gratitude.
It is definitely easier to listen if the monkey mind and the negative nelly mind aren’t babbling on about some false experience appearing real. Fear, a false experience appearing real, is what kills joy and kills people’s lives, and puts us into lack. So people like Anthony choose to kill themself in the face of loss when they literally have a rich, abundant life.
But physical abundance doesn’t mean you have mental abundance and joy. So many spiritual people actually believe you can’t be physically abundant (i.e. have lots of money) and still be spiritual. Because they see a lot of rich miserable or quote-unquote rich bad people.
But this is bullshit. Money is just energy.
I wish there were more rich, joyful, and happy spiritual people. Look at Jimmy Carter and how much he has done for the world. He is a man of means, of spirituality and joy. I bet if we asked financially abundant joyful people what their secret was, they would say gratitude and likely faith. I know a lot of abundant spiritual people and they are in the flow because they are actively cultivating joy, gratitude, and royalty in their lives through service to themself and others. But the foundation is gratitude as a daily practice and daily practice of being on their path to and in joy. And that practice and being on the path, being the goal, not the end game.
Enlightenment is not a static place. Buddha never said – you get there and then you are done. He got there and then his work began. So this week my law of abundance is this – never give up your quest for joy – and remember it is the smallest thing that brings it. Which is the moment-by-moment daily life-long practice of cultivating gratitude in the present moment.
Joy doesn’t live in the past. Joy doesn’t live in the future. Joy lives in the now. No one can give it to you or take it away. Yes, we can experience heartbreak. Yes, we can experience pain, but we can also experience Joy. Hiding from our lives does not reduce our ability to feel heartbreak and pain, these will still happen, but hiding behind masks and not really living will certainly reduce our joy.
It is terrifying to be vulnerable but in that vulnerability you find also the doorway to freedom and joy. For me sitting there crying on an airplane for a stranger named Anthony Bourdain, the tragedy I was crying for was the fact that he may never have lived.
He didn’t love himself. He was a mask. He didn’t get to feel true joy as Anthony. He just played Anthony on TV and his answer to Anubis at the gates to the after life was probably No to both questions with a very well written diatribe as to how no one in this world could possibly answer yes.
Because he literally couldn’t see the joy he brought to others because he couldn’t see how to have joy himself – his addictions got in the way, his ship of safety kept sailing.
For me, it is a reminder and a wake up call for my masks. Lawyer. Project manager. Teacher. Traveler. Lightworker. Girlfriend. Sister. Daughter. Spiritual Guide. They aren’t enough in this life if I do not experience joy. And joy is not going to come from another person, a bottle, a food, a trip to an exotic location. It’s not going to come from my next accomplishment. It is only going to come from me being grateful for every little thing, from me loving myself enough to allow myself to be loved, to show the world who I am, and to do scary things. Not to torture myself but to rip off the masks I wear and show myself to the world. To take myself less seriously, it is only life after all.
In the words of the indigo girls let’s remember darkness has a hunger that is insatiable and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear. But you can hear it. Practice listening. Write down that little thing you are grateful for. Today it’s the snoring of my dog cuddled up next to me. It is the daily good morning text from my partner and him telling me I’m beautiful. It was the privilege of sitting around a fire with friends last night in the Seattle rain.
Knowing for me to bring joy to others I must first experience joy myself. This is the secret sauce. I must first love myself enough to be myself. To practice this art of vulnerability and of gratitude and failing forward, learning from each misstep and enjoying the feeling when I fall.
A leap of faith is a joyful thing because the landing, rough or soft, is always better than having stayed at the cliff afraid to jump. The biggest tragedy we have to avoid is not living our life alive.