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Taking Joy Into Your Hands

“Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.”

– David Whyte, from Sweet Darkness

I’ve always loved these oft-quoted lines of Rumi fragments: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river within you – a joy. When you do things from another place, that feeling disappears.” I love them because they speak to how joy can be a barometer for us. 

Similarly, the lines from David Whyte above point to that notion “Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” (Oh, the number of times I’ve wanted to tattoo that on my eyelids.)

I think of these poetic fragments when I listen to my clients talk about how work, or other life meshugas, consumes them to the point that they start to not recognize the current version of themselves in comparison to a former version of themselves. I hear it when they talk about burnout. And I hear it in the many litanies of being exhausted by the many layers of taxing capacity the pandemic has had. 

I remember a conversation with a former client who reported that when he took a step back from the business to bring in a new CEO, it felt as if his brain started opening up. He started choosing himself over the business, the widget, the problems and got his life back bit by bit. “It’s like the thing owns you,” he said. “Only, you’re letting it own you–but you don’t realize it.” Thankfully, he realized too that “I own me” and took that sacred ownership of himself back into his own hands. (Then, he started gathering all the ideas that were flowing to him for his next thing.)

If it’s not a business that owns us, sometimes it can be a draining or entangled relationship, or a project we’ve put our heart into only to realize it was ill-placed. By choosing our aliveness, we take steps away from the too-small-for-us things that don’t bring us alive, and start to see what stepping into that river of joy is for us. 

Experiencing joy doesn’t make us disloyal to our pain. But a life focused solely on the various sufferings that grace our humanity leaves out the other even more juicy parts of a wholly-lived, soulful life. 

Maya Angelou told us: “We need joy as we need air.”

In an exchange with a friend and fellow creative Rachel Ryle at the turn of the year, we lamented about the events in our lives at this stage of the pandemic, and how we were grounding through it all. “I put together my joy list,” she said. It prompted me to re-draft my own joy list right then and there. Ours was a conversation that I wanted to share with you all, so we bring that to you today in this podcast conversation. 

As an artist, tending to mental health through creativity has been a big part of Ryle’s journey. “By doing the things that bring me joy, my joy is supported by creating actions in my daily life that support my ability to thrive and create,” she says.

“Joy does not simply happen to us,” former Dutch priest Henri Nouwen tells us. “We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” 

What tickles you and brings you joy? How can you let joy be your litmus or barometer so you can lead with joy? How can those levels of joy help you determine what you let into your life and what you say no to? How can you become more attuned to how this part of your soul is speaking to you?

Even as you’re soldiering on amidst the pandemic.

“Making a Joy Full list has helped keep my mind in check and focus on life’s better things,”  Ryle appreciatively notes.

What’s on your Joy Full list? Start by identifying: 

  • Big and small, what are the things that bring you joy?
  • What do you love to create? What do you love to do?
  • What daily life do you want to create?

The purpose and power of making a Joy Full list is how it can help you spend time in the “Joy Division” of your life, which is the simplicity of maintaining it. Taking your joy into your own hands not only flexes those neuropathways, it puts you in tune with your aliveness.


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