August is my birthday month. Take note.
Seriously, I love birthdays (not just my own) and I have tried in recent years to take time to celebrate, reflect upon and renew myself for another year. This birthday on Aug. 11 will mark my 44th trip around the sun, for which I am deeply, deeply grateful.
Joy has taken front and center in my life. When we are young, I think, we have the luxury of telling ourselves, “I’ll just do this … (job, relationship, family obligation, etc.) in order to get somewhere better.” Here’s the thing: I’m not sure that better really exists. I’m not saying that our lives, our communities can’t expand and grown in a positive way. Not at all. What I’m saying is that elusive better that is somehow, somewhere out there just isn’t a helpful way to live life. In fact, that thought in and of itself might be preventing us from experiencing the beauty of what is right in front of us AND growing in ways that are truly helpful to ourselves and our communities.
If thousands of hours and dollars spent at yoga and therapy have taught me nothing else — it is that being present in the moment is the only way that engenders joy. Tolerating situations that do not bring me joy in order to get to the next best thing only drains me of energy and keeps me from doing the things for which I am Divinely created. I am simply hopscotching my way across the sidewalk to win some game that can never be won.
Over the past couple years, I’ve been leaning into this difficult question and making hard choices about my life. I’ve started spending far less time on work that is not my calling. (If it drains me of energy and causes lots of negative stress it is NOT my calling.) I’ve begun carving out time for the things I really want to do like write this blog, teach more yoga, train for and race in triathlons, travel to see friends and family. I cultivate relationships more intentionally with people who are thinking radically about wholeness, health and doing our internal hard work. I say no to offers of work that uses my gifts to maintain old systems and structures since I am certain that my gifts lend themselves to imagining and building new forms of spiritual community.
I hope that I am imperfectly cultivating a joyful life. Not a life full of things that may give me fleeting pleasure, but a joyful life that springs from a deeper connection to myself, to others, to my community and to the Divine. Remaining in this space requires constant vigilance and the ability to lean into the present moment, knowing where I am and what I’m feeling will help me embrace whatever the moment is handing me.
Here’s the tough part: The present moment is not always full of rainbows, sunshine and magic unicorns. It means leaning into the unpleasantness that life hands us — whether that is our current, conflicted and divisive culture, the grief of death and near-constant disappointment, or even the violence that sometimes threatens to engulf us.
Leaning into this unpleasantness, however, allows us to see and name it. Leaning in allows us to know more intimately the effect our behaviors have on us and others. It enables us to see what role we are playing in perpetuating the negativity. Then, perhaps then, we can really do something to make our moment better. Or at least not make it any worse.
How often do we forgo time spent at those things and with people who bring us joy because we feel obligated to do something else? Or are we so annoyed by those expected tasks that we are unable to feel the joy present even in that moment? We can become resilient in the face of formidable circumstances. We can do our part, live our our calling to make the world a better place. We can make our joyful work the centerpiece of our life, not an afterthought or side hustle. Take that joyful thing out from underneath the bushel basket and let it shine throughout the world.
During every day of my birthday month, I will post on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) one thing that has brought me joy that day. It may be a moment of delight. Or leaning into unpleasantness in my community. Or doing something that I want to do, even if means saying no to other things to which I feel obligated.
As a tangible sign of this joy, I also invite you into my special fundraiser for Planned Parenthood this month. Help me raise $444 for this organization that is working very hard to provide health care for women in a nonjudgemental place, especially rural, impoverished or difficult to access places. (Read more about the impact of defunding in Iowa, a place I’ve called home.) I’ve given the first $44. I hope you join me in giving the remaining $400.