An excerpt from Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness—A Memoir of New Beginnings (Spring 2020/Curiosa Publishing).
“…It is likely that by the time we meet you will have been searching for me for some time. You may have ideas about how to find me based on what you’ve learned from movies, books or spiritual teachings. But unlike what you may have learned, I am not a simple emotion that can be manifested and discarded at will. Rather, I am a cultivated emotion, grown in the soil of steady and mindful efforts and intentions.” — Joy
The paragraph above, from my upcoming memoir, is a “letter” written to me by none other than Joy herself (who enters my book — and my life — wearing a pink frock and a frilly hat!). Note that all of my prominent emotions exist in my upcoming memoir in their embodied (in-bodied) form. The reason was this: I spent so many years tamping them down inside me, it was time to let them take up some space and explain their points of view!
Joy’s message came at a time in my life when, having believed that I had followed the promised paths and done the required work to have earned its lasting presence in my life, joy was still nowhere to be found. I took joy’s continued absence as a personal rejection. Wounded and hurt, I pulled further from society and its false promises.
This doesn’t mean I had no happiness in my life during this transitional time; I very much did. But whereas happiness is a transient feeling dependent on arbitrary criteria, joy is a sustained state of mind, unfixed to any external circumstances. I did not have that. At the time, my potential for joy was tangled up in who I thought I was, who I had been, who I thought I was going to be — and the cold truth that none of that had actually done the trick. Not permanently. Not consistently. Joy continued to be elusive, setting me up for the midlife disappointment that befalls many of us.
In our society, we are taught early that joy is something to be earned through our human skins — a metaphor I use to refer to the labels, roles, titles and relationships that we wear throughout our lifetime. This false belief is implanted in us from the time we are children, when we are repeatedly asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Underneath this innocent question is the implied meaning: You must make something of yourself in this world to be deserving of good things. As we become adults, the question changes to “What do you do for a living?” but the implication of status-dependent worth lingers.
Whether we believe we earn joy through professional accomplishment and status, or, in the spiritual community, believe we will find joy through our conscious detachment of these very things, the working belief is the same: humans must earn joy by following rules and making the “right” choices. Perhaps for some people this approach works. But what if your life, like mine, is less a path to a destination and more circular in nature? What if you — like me, like a snake — choose to move through this life, skin by skin, on the mere pleasure of seeing life through various vantage points? Don’t we, the shapeshifters, also deserve joy?
I can’t point to exactly when the insight came in my life, but I suddenly realized that the joy I longed for could never be found through any single human skin. They do and can provide things such as accomplishment, pride, knowledge and relationships. But joy, like she says herself in her letter, is “not a simple emotion” and does not necessarily arrive alongside the certificate, the marriage, the promotion.
Once I grew my understanding about the nature of joy, it was easy to open myself up to experience it. For me, the “steady and mindful efforts and intentions” I had to invest in did not involve another skin, another role, another journey. Rather, I had to go inward and see who I was without any human skins at all. And there, in the nakedness of my own self, I ultimately found my joy.