Unshackle The Joy

Essay
Mantra Part I – Hold Fast
Mantra Part II- Slow Yourself Down

There is great joy in children. You can see it when they catch snowflakes on their tongues or jump in mud puddles. For a child, joy is found in the everyday but as we grow we begin to push it down. Instead of looking for it in the everyday we begin to think joy comes from what we are, what we do, or what we have. We search for it in the bottom of a bottle or other unhealthy ways, all the while shoving it deeper into the recess of our souls where it becomes shackled to the darkness. I have done all of these things and more. I have focused on what was not rather than on what is, leaving me nothing more than a vessel filled with poison and self-loathing. Becoming a dad shone a glaring light on how shackled my joy had become, and as the boys have grown that light has only become brighter.  

I thought that good manners and a stern word was what was important in parenting. These, I surmised, would be what be the lessons my dad would certainly be passing along to me if he were still alive. I was wrong. And in being wrong I missed the most important lesson that he had taught me all my life. The lesson of joy. Dad was one of the few who did not shackle his joy as he grew older.  Despite his trials or perhaps because of them, despite the insecurity and worry, Dad was quick to be grateful, and circumstances did not diminish his joy, which he passed along with his laugher and his wonderful hugs.  For the first ten years of parenthood, I missed this lesson.  Instead, I held fast to all the wrong things and allowed myself to be directed by my moods and circumstances. Worst of all, I’d forgotten how important it was to hug. 

Joy was the hardest tenet for me to reach even though it was shackled inside of me.  Maybe it took me so long because of my depression or maybe it was because I was afraid to let the authentic me out. I had, after all, grown so comfortable in putting on different masks to suit my emotions, even though putting on those different masks was a driver of my self-loathing.  Whatever the reason, I now know that joy does not depend on circumstances but rather, as the The Book Of Joy points out, “Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens; it is simply the grateful response to the opportunity that life offers you at this moment.”

All the wealth, social status, and material possessions in the world will not make you joyful. It is something you must find inside yourself in the gratitude of the everyday, no matter what that day brings. For me, I needed to hold fast to the Lord then slow myself down before I could find joy. Maybe for you, it will be the other way around. However you go about it, all it takes is small movements in your daily life to arrive at a monumental shift. I know this because I am slowly walking the path where hope and gratitude converge, and this has allowed me to unshackle the joy I have ignored for so long.

Slow Yourself Down

Essay
Mantra Part I – Hold Fast
Mantra Part II- Slow Yourself Down

It was on the island of Kaua’i that I saw the hand-painted sign on rough dark wood; SLOW YOURSELF DOWN. Those words were a revelation that awoke something deep in my soul. 

Until I was forty I had played the what-if game and tried to figure out who I was.  I moved through life trying to be the person I thought I should be, I focused on the future not the moment, trying to hurry the clock along because I thought that if I just got this one item or this one place in time, then things would be better. I would be better. 

It never worked of course.  Even after I realized that I was doing the work God had called me to do, joy was still missing–and I did not find it until I learned to slow myself down. 

Compounding the what-ifs and the searching I allowed myself to be pushed and pulled by my emotions, social media, my phone, and the number of commitments I’d take on. We race from one point to another distracted by a constant stream of information. We believe that being over scheduled is a sign of progress when in fact all of the aforementioned are a sign of destruction. An emotional shell game that we can never win, one that pulls our attention from what really matters. Our children notice, our loved ones notice.  We neglect the moment because we think that peace, joy, and happiness are just over there and our souls are empty because of it. 

We don’t have to turn our lives upside down to slow ourselves down. All we need to do is to be more mindful in the moment. Listen to the birds, the wind, the people you are in conversation with. When we listen instead of just hear, we learn. 

When we slow ourselves down we open our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds to the beauty, diversity, and love the world is offering to us, and from this hope, joy, and gratitude grow outward. 

The Fluff Class

Essay

It was the spring semester of my senior year of college, and I was three credits shy of graduation. Being your typical lazy college student with senioritis, I looked for the easiest class I could find. A brand new class called White Mountain History seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

My years in college were not the happy, make-friends-for-life years that many people have. Rather they were filled with a great deal of confusion, anger and sadness—at myself for the choices I had made and at the world for the things that had happened to me. By the time the spring semester came around, I was more than ready to move away from the small campus of eight hundred students, no love lost.

The class was created and taught by Laura Alexander and as the weeks went by I found myself becoming quite interested in the history of the mountains I had only been to a couple of times. A few, rather early, Saturday mornings the class would pile into two fifteen-passenger vans and spend the day visiting places such as the Old Man in the Mountain, the Cannon ski area, Tuckerman’s Ravine, and the AT trail head to name a few. For the final exam we had to create character and use historical facts to talk about a certain area of the White Mountains as that character. I created a writer who came to the Mount Washington Hotel for the summer to write. I remember wishing, as I cobbled the report together, that I was a writer of a different time, that I was a writer in general.

On the last day of class Laura came in with a plastic shopping bag and passed out a small laminated card with a picture on one side and a quote and a note on the other. The quote read:

IMG_4051I said in my heart. I am sick of four walls and a ceiling.I have need of the sky, I have business with the grass.  Eleanor Early, Behold the White Mountains, 1939

After graduation I moved to Boston, with two friends, into an apartment that was out of our price range, especially considering that none of us had jobs. But we were young and cocky and figured we would get jobs in our respective fields right away. As my grandmother wrote once about her twenties, I thought I had reached the zenith and was wiser than all the prophets. In reality I could not find a graphic design job, despite calling every design company in the phone book. I had it in my head that because my degree was in graphic design, that was the kind of job I needed to find. For many years I blamed the quality of my education on my inability to get a job but eventually came to realize I was only an average designer and once again God had a plan that was better than the one I had. Not that I really had a plan anyway. I spent eight months looking for a career while taking temporary low-paying jobs and borrowing money from friends to pay the rent. Finally I gave in and moved back to Vermont. I had tacked the card that Laura had given us to my bedroom door frame in Boston to remind me to get out into the wilderness I so dearly loved. As I was moving out I pulled the card off the wall and read the quote. As I said to Laura in a letter from February of 2001, It made everything seem right and I knew I was on the right path. For years after I carried that small card around in my wallet until it started to delaminate.

When I left Boston things did not immediately become sunshine and roses. However, through all the rotten jobs and the request for interviews at design firms, I carried that card with me. Eventually I got my then dream job at the American Diabetes Association, which in turn led to meeting Erin.

Laura is the only professor I have corresponded with since graduating from college. To this day I am in awe in the way that God works and how He gets you where you need to be, though because of personal choices and bull-headedness, it sometimes takes longer than it should. Who would have guessed that a “fluff” class at the end of my senior year and a little card from a professor I hardly knew would have such a profound impact on my life. The card that she gave me now sits in a box of other random treasures I have kept over the years and now and again I pull it out and look at it. The words and the worn edges remind me of the often-hard journey that brought me to where I am today.