I am not a naturally sunny person. Not exactly dark either, but I have always drifted somewhere in the middle. As a small child, I was pensive, a bit the worrier. As a teen, a little melancholy at times... attracted to the sadness of life - sad music, sad, dramatic movies and books; somehow being sad made me feel more alive. As a young adult, that completely shifted. The experience of joy that I received after a yoga practice, traveling to a faraway place, falling in love, climbing a mountain or overcoming a fear became my focus. However, as we all know, life is filled with both sadness and joy, and to be human is to be able to hold both in our hearts at the same time.
As my journey through adulthood continues, I have experienced plenty of grief and heart break, as well as joy: years of secondary infertility; family feuds, challenging parenting moments, deaths of friends, big life changes, losing my mother to Cancer. Each time grief or heart break pulled me under in those situations, it felt like sinking to the depths of the ocean - cold, quiet, dark and lonely. But if I didn't struggle in its clutches, there was a bottom. And the only two choices were to either stay there and root myself into the cold ground, or to follow any speck of light back up to the surface. Joy is finding the light when everything looks black, whether it is just a flicker or a brilliant beam, it's a way back to living with an open heart rather than settling for a broken one.
I love the quote, "Being in the state of joy is a learned skill." It reminds me that joy begins with a shift of perspective. It starts with gratitude for small things. It's always there if we look for it. For example, on any given day, it can be found in the act of appreciating a flower in nature, music coming from an open window, a small child's laughter, the feeling of sunshine on our faces as we walk ... you get the point. The moments do not have to be big; just heart-felt.
Right now, life with Covid is a challenging one. The world is a different place and the rules are always changing. A few weeks ago, my son was feeling the loss of his freedom. He told me that he was unable to feel joyful about much anymore. No football, less time with friends and outdoors, no travel ... more rules. In that moment, my heart broke for him. So we talked about a shift in his perspective; about exploring new things or new ways he could have fun; I tried to explain to him that joy is a choice, like putting on a pair of glasses that change the color of things. I realized that I needed that talk as much as he did.
On the mat, practicing with joy means always looking for the newness; being curious and in awe of our bodies and our breath ... taking pleasure in creating space, in moving, in stillness... not ever allowing the practice to feel mundane or routine. If in a pose like low lunge or pigeon where one feels compression and extension at once, it means asking which one is bringing ease to the body at that moment? Where can we rest our awareness so that we allow both feelings to exist at the same time? Much like holding sadness and joy in our bodies at the same time. We can celebrate our gifts while accepting our weaknesses. We can feel fear and simultaneously choose to be courageous. We can bask in the streams of light that joy brings while accepting the darkness of our human experience as well.