I had the joy and pleasure of going down to the redwoods to visit some amazing trees. This picture was my favorite and made me teary being in its presence.
While we were driving through the forest I was reflecting on joy. Joy is not something I typically strive for in my daily life. I strive to get things done, to be of service, to be a strong and compassionate container for people in the depths of pain and trauma and to work on myself so I can be more aware, more awake and more kind. My life is more geared towards work and compassion than joy.
Yet a lack of joy can lead me to burnout, depression and anxiety. I love this quote from Rebecca Solnit, “Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.”
As I have spent a couple years now focused connecting to my own anger and the injustices in the world I have also paid less attention to the beauty, the resilience and the joy that also surrounds me. My therapist told me recently that she works to post about justice on her Facebook page instead of only injustice. There is so much injustice in the world, but there is also justice.
In thinking about my own experiences and witnessing of injustice in my private practice, community, country and world I am reminded that our brains are wired toward negativity. This negativity bias “overestimates threats, underestimates opportunities, and underestimates resources,” Rick Hansen says is this article. This is not a bad thing. In fact, this is how we survive. As a species it is more important to be aware of what will kill you than what is beautiful or joyful. We need this negativity bias, especially when there is so much injustice every single day that is literally killing people.
I also believe we can intentionally start to train our brains to look for the beauty, the magical, the awe inspiring that happens. Not as a way of discounting or ignoring threats and injustice, but as a way of noticing what else is happening at the same time. I talk in classes and with clients about “both/and.” If we only focus on one part we miss what else is happening in the world. When we focus only on the trauma of life we can become exhausted, overwhelmed and heartbroken. We need breaks, and again, not as a way of bypassing or denying truth. I believe when we can feel our joy or smell the sweetness of the flower or delight in a child playing when we return to the fight for justice we have more reserve in our tank and support to lean on.
What has made you smile today? What has brought you joy?
If you want to explore the topic of joy I will be doing a daylong retreat on Sunday, September 10. I would love to see you there!