Dear Friends –
A lot has happened on the national stage in the last month…from the opening of schools across the country to the loss of icons like RBG and Chadwick Boseman to the California wildfires, the Breonna Taylor decision, the election…the list goes on. It’s a very intense landscape to operate within as we each navigate the ups and downs of our own personal lives and responsibilities. I’m finding that it’s very easy for me to get very overwhelmed very quickly these days. And in that space, I notice myself vacillating between escaping into the fantasy world of K-dramas for hours on end and furiously scrolling through my news feeds trying to stay on top of what’s going on in the world. I find myself continuing to grapple with two questions that at times feel in tension with each other.
In the world as it is, how can I be useful? And how can I be joyful?
I deeply believe that, in this life, I am a steward and representative of something greater than myself, that I have a responsibility to act in ways that make the world a more equitable, just, & sustainable place, and that at the end of the day, my preferences & my comfort is not always the most important thing. I’m okay with that. At the end of my life, I want to be able to look back and say, “Yes, I was useful, responsible, and accountable to others and to things that exist beyond my own sphere and preferences, that my life was not, in fact, all about me and that I was able to follow as much I was able to lead.” I look around the world right now and see so many opportunities for action. I find myself constantly thinking and experimenting in order to find my way to answers about how I can be useful – to my friends, to my family, to my community, to clients, to the causes of equity, justice, and sustainability. I will say, there never seems to be any shortage of actions & support I can find to take. And that’s where I find myself in tension with my second question.
I notice that it’s easy for me to overdial on the usefulness question and to get overly busy doing stuff to be useful. Some of my busy-ness is truly about living into my sense of responsibility. Some of it is a coping mechanism that gives me a sense of control in a world that sometimes feels like it’s falling apart, and frankly, some of it is a way to keep the guilt and shame I often feel at my own sense of joy at bay.
Yes, it’s true – I’m noticing how guilty I feel about my joy sometimes. I notice that when I feel happy, my mind immediately reminds me of all the people in the world who are unhappy. When I see something beautiful, my mind says “Some people are struggling to see beauty right now,” when I feel a moment of easefulness, my mind says “Life is not easy for everyone.”
I value joy – I think it’s one of the most powerful forces in the world. I want everyone to feel and experience it. I think it’s part of what makes life worth living. I think part of why it’s important that we change laws, systems and structure so that they are more equitable, just & humane is so that more people can experience more joy daily. I think joy is part of our work towards sustainability – the joy we feel in the presence of pristine nature, the joy that sustains our sense of hopefulness, the joy of creativity and leveraging our strengths, the joy of nourishing relationships…these are powerful forces, and I often wonder what our world would look like, how we would treat each other, if we were less stingy with our joy and valued it as much as we value things like money, status, and power.
My grandfather was a civil rights activist and community organizer, and I remember a conversation we had years ago before he passed where he told me, “Poverty of any sort is not admirable.” He was referring to economic poverty at the time, but this line has always stuck with me and provoked me to think about all the different forms of poverty that exist in our world. Poverty of joy is one of them. I think of all the conversations I’ve had with friends, clients, & colleagues over the past few months where I’ve felt or witnessed guilt & shame around investing in and feeling personal joy given the state of the world. I’ve noticed my own and others’ joy being quieted, dismissed, rejected or relegated to the basement of priorities. And this feels to me like a form of spiritual poverty.
So this month, I’ve decided to redirect a little of my focus from being useful to being joyful and to see what happens as a result. I’ve decided to take a cross country road trip because travel is part of my joy. I’ve decided to spend more time in nature because it nourishes me. I’ve decided to focus on and post on my personal instagram more moments of beauty and joy. I’ve decided to share with friends the things that excite and engage me rather than always commiserating about all the things that are awful about the world. And I’m still going to take action to be useful and to make the world a better place, but I’m going to experiment with doing it in ways that center joy. And I’m going to see what happens. I’m choosing to see my joy as an act of resistance in a world that often feels like it’s closing in around me.
If you’re in a place where you’re feeling joy impoverished I invite you to join me this month in running some experiments in your life. Where and how can you center joy (not as a way of avoiding the reality of the world’s challenges, but as a way to engage in life in a more whole and balanced way)? I’d love to hear what you come up with…so shoot me an email or DM me on Instagram @wayfindingwisdom to share what you’re doing & learning.