There is a very old story about two old men who walked together, every day, down the same path. As was the custom of the time, they wore sandals made of leather.
One day, they walked down a different path. It was narrow and dimly lit.
As they walked, one old man said to the other, “I find that I dislike walking on this particular path. The mud is very dark. It stains the hem of my robe, and this happens to be my nicest robe. I just hate soiling my robes. And I dislike that there is so much mud. It’s deeper and thicker than the other paths we walk. My legs must work over-hard to take just a few steps.”
The other man nodded in agreement. “I dislike this path, too.” he said. “The mud squishes between my toes and dirties my sandals. Look how long and straight it is ahead of us. I prefer a winding path with twists and turns. Besides, it is far too flat. I like a nice rolling hill beneath my feet.”
Just then, a little girl ran up behind these men and pushed her way between them so that she could pass them on the path. She turned her head to look back at the men while she continued to run ahead.
“Can you believe it??” She panted, excitedly. “The Sea has been parted!”
The men had failed to notice the walls of water towering above each side of them. They had completely missed the miracle.
I’m just like those two men: I’m completely missing the miracle. What’s the miracle, and how do we begin to see the miracle?
We focus on diligent joy.
“You must focus on diligent joy.” – Liz Gilbert
In yoga coaching, we learn about our feelings and learn to feel our feelings. We learn that each feeling carries a vital message that, once heard, allows the feeling to pass. Where feeling used to seem intimidating and scary, like answering a knock at the door when there could be a monster behind it, feelings become like the excitement of getting mail from your friends.
One of the feelings that I almost never felt and definitely did not know existed – and certainly did not understand until recently – is joy.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been like the two men walking along the narrow path. My feet are getting squishy with all of the organization required to work and be a mom and build a business, my robe is muddied by the attention my marriage requires to keep it healthy and my legs are tired from the work of chasing my daughter.
I’m completely missing the miracle that I’m here, that you’re here, that my husband exists, that my daughter can run.
Joy is the emotion we experience when we commune with nature, love, God. I thought it was a more intense version of happiness. But, as it turns out, it’s something different from happiness. Joy comes from aligning with the connection that runs through me and you and everything living.
Like the sun is always shining, there is always joy.
The two old men who walked together every day failed to witness the stunning miracle of the parted sea, right before their eyes. That’s us when our lives are absent any joy. The joy is there, we just aren’t receptive.
Rob Bell says that “joy is the engine that runs the world.”
In that sense, joy is life force.
Elizabeth Gilbert says that “our episodes of unhappiness bring suffering, distress or inconvenience to people in our lives, which makes the search for contentment self-benefiting and a generous gift to the world. When you focus on diligent joy, you cease to be an obstacle to yourself or anyone else and you are free to serve.”
What obstructs joy?
In short, we obstruct joy. Our negative thinking and negative self-talk obstructs our view of the miracle that we are here, on this planet, and breathing. When we chase joy and happiness, we ironically disconnect ourselves from the joy in front of us. We cease to be available to the miracle that we’re part of civilization. That there is civilization.
More than anything, though, we obstruct joy when we disconnect from ourselves.
Rather than reading this as a ploy to think happy thoughts or some false platitude to find the beauty that surrounds you, to focus on diligent joy you must find the courage to open your heart and tell the truth. Especially when you don’t want to.
Here are six prompts to identify and remove our joy-obstacles and focus on diligent joy in our lives, today.
- Where do I feel isolated or lonely? Another way to ask this is – where do you long for more community? Identify a place of isolation in life, because that is where we lost the connection to ourselves, and where we long for more genuine connection around us.
- Where do I deny myself pleasure, soul-indulgences or adventure? There is no reward for suffering. Demanding constant productivity from ourselves denies our true nature. Our souls long to sour and dream, our bodies long to stretch, move, rest and play, and our hearts long for adventure.
- Where do I dishonor my true self? This is anywhere that you play small, get quiet or go-with-the-flow when the flow is not at all “you.” When we abandon ourselves, we abandon our joy.
- Where do I behave as if it’s all up to you? The key to joy is connection – to self, and to the world around you. Allen Watts says, “You are something that the whole world is doing. Just like a wave is something that the whole ocean is doing.”
- Am I willing to be of service? The more we see that our work and the fruits of our labors can serve a highest good, no matter our industry or medium of labor, the work stops being all about us. Our success or failure stops being relevant. Whether two people or ten people come to my yoga class, my class is of service to the higher good.
- Will I choose to rise? In the words of Maya Angelou:
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Radical commitment to self-connection, and a relentless drive to connect to love, nature, God and all beings is a choice. When we choose this, when we rise, we also choose joy.
If you like reading what Laurie has to say, hear more from her, here.
(Originally Published on YOGANONYMOUS)