Unshackle The Joy

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

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. 

Hold Fast To Love

Mantra Part I – Hold Fast

Dear Friends, 

So often we spend our days ensconced in the what-ifs and negatives of life, allowing the inflammatory words of others to pull us into a vortex of toxicity. We have learned that it is easier to go on the attack, to be judgmental and angry with people rather than to show empathy towards them. But to survive we must change. I’ve begun to do this with the help of the following mantra: Hold fast. Slow yourself down. Unshackle the joy. My hope is that writing about each part of this mantra over the next three week will help you too. 

“Hold fast” is a nautical term that has its origins in the Dutch word “hold vast” or so the internet tells me, and because I love the ocean and water in general, I’m going to go with it. I would live on a boat if I did not get so insanely motion sick. As it is, though, if the water is rough and I am on the boat, the only thing I am holding fast to is the railing as I lose my lunch. But I digress. These words resonate so strongly with me that I have them tattooed on my left forearm. They are the linchpin in my mindfulness practice because they remind me to hold fast to my belief in the love of the Lord. 

We have become content to act from emotion while we stand in the toxic mire of hostility and negativity that permeates our society. But what if instead of holding onto pain, resentment, jealousy, entitlement, anxiety, material possessions, fear, and all the other things that poison us while we cast gratitude aside to rot in the shadow of our despair, we instead hold fast to love? “Love not in the personal sense but love as a state of being or a state of grace… not in being happy but with a tough universal sense of quest and daring and growth?”* Within this love, we hold fast to our God (whoever that is), the quiet moments, and the simple beauty of every day. It is a choice each of us has to make each moment of our lives. Do we stay where we are or do we pivot, moving forward with empathy, to a place where we listen more than we talk? 

So today I ask you, what will you choose to do with this one magical and beautiful life? Will you choose to hold fast to the negative and the material possessions we have been told show us how good we are? Or will you strike out on a different path, one that brings calm, gratitude, and joy to your daily life? 

Grace & Peace,

*James Baldwin