It seems to me that ‘joy’ is a word that has become unfashionable and, perhaps, lost meaning for the modern age. My aim is to explore the meaning of joy, the ways in which we can develop a capacity to tap into joy, and the qualities of being that contribute to this capacity.
I invite you to comment on the articles that you will find here – simply click the post title to make sure you are in the full article and add your comments in the box at the foot of the page. Please join the conversation…and welcome!
Revisiting joy nearly ten years on it is interesting to see where this perception has led me.
I see joy as a momentary glimpse of absolute belonging within the flow of all that is, a moment of total connectedness.
Joy is not happiness. If anything, I think it provides a glimpse of the unlimited capacity to encompass both the ecstasy and the agony of living and being human, both heart-filling and heart-breaking.
I perceive joy to exist at the level of our essential being. Young children access it more easily than adults because they have not yet fully constructed ego’s walls.
Those with a deep spirituality often seem to radiate joy (the Dalai Lama comes to mind). Is this, perhaps, because they have worked to shed layers of ego, to access and stay connected with the depth of being, the flow?
Often when we experience joy it is as an incandescent flash, almost outside of time. It is not something we can hold onto, yet it nourishes us to the core. It is, in the words of Derek Walcott, an illumination, a benediction, a visitation.
Cultivating our capacity to experience joy is also a process of honing our ability to connect, as well as to contain and to accept every shading of existence. This encompasses both the ‘natural’ and the ‘human’ world, which in the end is simply another manifestation of all that is whether you define this spiritually or in terms of particulate matter.
It is interesting that, at least according to Buddhist academic and teacher Reggie Ray, if we go back far enough in time to archaic, pre-agricultural civilizations, life’s purpose was perceived not as ‘progress’ but to stay connected with the depth of being expressed in creation. It seems to me that joy re-opens that gateway to connection and to that ‘still wilderness’.
Here are links to some older posts exploring the nature of joy that I think are particularly relevant:
In February of this year, in company with a small online community and led by Kim Rosen, I embarked on a five month adventure, Soul School.
Poetry, music, presence, and the wisdom in our own bodies / feelings / knowings, as well as readings and videos from many sources ignite and waken us. This is an invitation to radical self-honesty, realness, curiosity and community that will at least disrupt who you think you are, and possibly leave you, as Mary Oliver writes, “a bride married to amazement.”
This was quite a journey, intentionally touching on both light and darkness. In this post I gather together of some of the key strands from my personal perceptions and responses to the invitations. This is partly a record for myself. But I hope that, just as the poems and sharings of the course ignited sparks of awareness for me, so there may be something here that leads you deeper into yourself.
What is the soul?
Soul is . . .
Soul is the meeting point
of the impermanent
and the eternal.
Soul is the deep calm
beneath the crashing waves
of a turbulent sea.
Soul is sun’s abiding
behind storm’s devastation,
beyond the darkest night.
Soul inhabits stillness,
is the ‘still, small voice’
that speaks the language of silence.
It is the tendrils of soul
that weave connections
to other souls and to the soul of the world.
My soul is not contained by
rather, my body exists within the boundlessness of my soul!
My soul is fueled
by unsentimental compassionate love;
by joy and wonder;
and by the depths of the
all of which bring me to the place
Walk softly on the earth holding nothing but an open heart . . .
The False Self
This was an opportunity to look at the imperatives that bind and keep me from my fullest self.
These are the building blocks of the learned impulses, the self-image
that defines me as ‘facilitator’, ‘changemaker’, the one who makes things
happen and who makes things right, who does what must be done.
And, though they are not in themselves false, indeed encompass much of value, they cannot resonate as ‘true’ when they become rigidified and ‘absolute’; when they are rigid, they build a prison for the soul.
The Siren call of
recedes into the tide
of accumulating years.
Beneath the surface, though,
still swirl the subtler soundings
of impulse and desire:
to ‘make a
to ‘make it so’;
to ‘go the extra mile’;
to ‘live life to the full’;
to ‘keep my word’ and
‘fill the need’
within the song of ‘I’,
these deepest ‘truths’
constrain the deepest lie.
For the wind to blow through me
I must open
to the cracks in the universe
that let the light shine in;
with the ability of grass
to give way
yet return to itself;
with the fluid abandon
and ecstatic release
of autumn trees.
Let the wind sing
carry the breath
of ‘I am’
into the greater chorus
that is life.
Let me continue
to shed old skins,
the shielding shadows
as I expand
into my fullness.
Let me humbly inhabit the cyclical rhythms of the universe that take me beyond question and answer to the paradox of all that is.
* The Hebrew ruach means “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit.” The corresponding Greek word is pneuma. Both words are commonly used in passages referring to the Holy Spirit.
I want to know if you know how to melt into that fierce heat of living falling toward the center of your longing.
I am learning the distinction between capability and capacity. I am learning to sit with the silence and listen to the wind.
Any thought, no matter how wise, is a rigid form, and life is movement and constant change. Any rigid form obstructs the flow of life, even a beautiful one.
~ Kim Rosen
The Beast and the Beauty
The focus of this session was to open to the darkness, the beast within, to reveal, acknowledge and own it so as to reclaim its energy. By definition, this was difficult material and it feels inappropriate to share too much detail.
searched, I discovered that my deepest fear is of the distortions and
perversions of power in both the interior and exterior worlds.
interesting that, in a guided meditation exploring the feminine archetypes, the
ones I shied away from were the ‘power’ figures.
In an apparent contradiction, I am afraid both to be powerful and of being powerless.
I also learned that even a ‘wise gift’ carries with it potential distortion. An early message that ‘making a difference can be as simple as a smile to a stranger’ and other similar transmitted wisdom from my mother has simultaneously been a powerful positive force in my life and has bound me to my false self.
The most important question for me, as I emerge through a time of very conscious transition into my Crone years, is this:
How may I open and deepen into the embrace of my own innate wisdom and power to the benefit of myself and others?
The Essential Self
When we align with who we really are, who-what we are designed to be, we unfurl. Benefit in all directions abounds that has little to do with us. We are simply being . . . and the benefit that happens, in a way, is none of our business.
~ Kim Rosen
As I have entered this new stage of my life in which I
am consciously embracing ‘the season of the Crone’, there is a deepening sense
of coming home to my truest self. Increasingly the pervading qualities are authenticity, presence and love. These
are underpinned by a deep knowledge of a calm place of awareness, of a ‘secure
base’ that lies within and is always available to me.
I think this
has only become possible as I have embraced the beauty of imperfection, most
particularly in self and others. Perhaps the most glorious human quality is
that of compassion; in a perfect world filled with perfect beings, compassion
would have no place! This realization allowed me finally to release the last
remnants of the need to be perfect.
I believe that this is what it means ‘to be who I am meant to be’. It is at the heart of both self-acceptance and of a letting go of external agendas and attachment to outcomes.
I am still working towards understanding my purpose as (hopefully!) a ‘wise woman’ or ‘elder’ in a society that is only beginning to re-discover these concepts. But it may well be that living truly to the best that I am, present, authentic, loving, accepting, without expectation, is the greatest gift that I can give to others, to the world. Is this how ‘making a difference’ seeps into the fabric of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’?
My listening and ‘received guidance’ so often come through a deep attention to the natural world. I learn that I am made of the same stuff, that my patterns are also the ones I see every day in the lake, the trees, the creatures around me and in the turning of the seasons.
I am both as precious and as insignificant as the
wondrous, diverse lives I see around me. I value, hold to my heart every living
thing (even if I admit to a certain ambivalence when it comes to ticks and
mosquitos!). Yet when the hawk swoops on the chipmunk, I accept this too with
love. This is at the heart of what I mean when I speak of ‘unsentimental
I think for a long time that my perception of wisdom and the way I thought an ‘enlightened’ human life was meant to be was to reach a place where I was always able to be calm, never losing my temper or feeling angry or depressed. But when I look at the constant change in nature, the storms, the subtle shifts of wind, and light, the impact of freeze and thaw or heat and drought, I am so conscious that I too am part of this. These shifts are important, a necessary part of living and being, part of the richness.
All things pass – both life’s challenges and its gifts. What remains with us is what we have made of the experiences. So now I have no expectation that I will feel a particular way, will maintain an unruffled calm. Instead there is a growing ability to retain an abiding consciousness of that ‘calm place of awareness’ in just the same way that, in becoming intimate with the shifts in the lake that is the backdrop to my life, I am aware of the calm that lies beneath all.
When the wind blows and white caps form, when rain falls in torrents to break the surface, when ice forms and makes the surface static, that living, fluid state of calm still exists. And before long there will be another moment of exquisite stillness or of evening light reflected back, painting the trees copper and gold.
it was sun’s warmth
that allowed the frozen lake
to remember its fluidity.
This year, I
watch, I listen.
holes in ice;
night recoats them
with transparent stillness.
blustering, buffeting force.
Ice creaks and groans
and breaks apart.
its interior currents
persevere with wind’s work.
come surge and flood,
release and ecstasy,
unbridled power and overwhelm.
slakes its thirst,
its own messy awakening.
The lake returns to itself, its fluid, shifting moods, and, beneath, that deep reflective calm.
The Unnameable Vastness of Being
There are no words for that inner space beyond all the assumed identities, but the nearest I can get, inspired by John O’Donohue, is ‘eternal presence and belonging’.
I had not consciously sought to ‘just sit’ but
was called to it one extraordinary afternoon by the visiting presence of
Scarlet Tanager, Redwing Blackbirds, Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeak
and Indigo Bunting.
This Wondrous Now
Spring green and dappled sunlight,
shot with transient jewel bright
flashes of delight:
scarlet, blood-red on coal, gilded crimson epaulettes; vivid orange-gold, blazing; rose breast bursting from black and white; a brilliant scrap of indigo sky, all held within an exuberance of song!
My heart leaps with joy at the unfolding moments; I cannot bear to tear myself from this wondrous now!
To sit with no defined purpose or structure is
still somehow disorientating, sometimes challenging; and even though it is like
a homecoming, there is a kind of resistance. There is also a pull to ruminate.
The flow of sensory input intensifies, and I am
aware of thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations as part of that input.
Yet I also become vividly aware of this sensory
information as just another construct; my experience is partial – other species
see, smell, hear (and probably taste and feel) within totally different ranges;
their reality is not mine. However wondrous, absorbing, awe-inspiring I may
find that which I experience through my senses, there is a consciousness that
this is just a tiny part of something so much bigger!
Who sees, hears,
smells, tastes, feels, thinks?
How does that which experiences in me connect to that which experiences in you?
Sitting gazing through the window’s glass . . .
A few feet from me, a honeybee works diligently, collecting nectar from a vivid purple allium. Do the florets shift with the subtle disruption of the bee’s wings, or is it just the breeze?
A story unfolds – why is this so compelling?
An invisible filament of spider’s web is strung between allium stems – I deduce its presence because of the catkin and the mayfly apparently suspended in mid-air. For a few moments it seems as if the bee will be likewise captured, held, and my heart lurches – I want to rush outside, to liberate it. But the bee reclaims its freedom, returns to its business of scouring the purple blooms before spiraling into the great beyond – a somewhere that exists beyond my peep-hole into its world.
The story fades.
Colours gain intensity; the furred texture of
the poppy stem and buds makes me want to reach through the glass, to experience
with touch, maybe to smell and taste, to hear the bee’s almost imperceptible
This reminds me that, even if I have cultivated
sensory presence and relish the joy it brings, it is still all too easy to
forget, to fall into the habit of experiencing as if through glass, from a
place of separation.
I am also aware that, joyous as the sensory
experience is, there is another layer, the “invisible world” of the Celts, the
great unknown and the source of eternal wonder. I feel blessed always to have
carried this awareness with me, a small but widening tear in the fabric of this
limited reality through which I sense that ‘eternal
presence and belonging’.
Paraphrasing John O’Donohue, may you be at ease with the unsolved and the unfinished and be able to recognize, in the scattered graffiti of your desires, the signature of the eternal.
I have just launched a small book, Poetry in Nature, which includes musings, poetry and images on the themes of transformation, connection and more in both inner and outer worlds.
In the first half of 2018, it was a delight to explore the rich territory of nature and poetry with Mary Lou van Schaik and my fellow wanderers during the course Nature’s Poetry
This was a lovely opportunity to connect with nature in a very focussed way. It also reconnected me with reading poetry and with my own poetic impulse. This in turn became something of a deep meditation on the transition between winter and spring.
After the course, a dear friend who had enjoyed some of my writing that emerged from it, asked ‘where’s the book?’
So I honoured what had felt to be a truly special experience for me by drawing together and slightly re-editing many of the posts and poems that I have already added to my Passage to Joy blog. These now form a slim volume, available from Blurb.
The book brings together poetry, musings and images around the themes of nature, connection, transformation, stewardship and more.
Murphy’s Point; an overcast, eerily still autumn day. Our woodland walk, unbidden, becomes a meditation on the interconnectedness of all things.
Living rock, underpinning, defining, evolving so slowly that we perceive only inertia and stasis. Each metamorphic striation has a distinctive character, encourages colonization by different trees and plants. These, in turn, support specific populations of insects, birds, reptiles and mammals.
To walk through these micro-zones mindfully is to experience the web of life, woven in wonder!
Flakes of mica dust glitter along the path to the old mine . . .
Human habitation was defined first and foremost by the bounty of the earth. Whether in the fecundity of fertile loam in which to harvest wild plants or cultivate crops or in veins rich with mineral wealth, our lives too are shaped by rock; by what lies within and by that to which it gives life.
I am awed by this deep knowing of my own rootedness in the very fabric of the earth!
In our increasingly urbanized world, we set great store by ‘independence’. Surely it is no coincidence that depression and anxiety are so pervasive when so many of us live so distanced from the pulse of life; our disconnection leaches colour from our internal worlds, rendering us so very alone.
Trees at Thanksgiving
Here stand beech and maple arms outstretched to cradle the embers of summer that fall to the forest floor, blanketing it in red and gold against the winter cold.
Here groves of hemlock, limbs hung low to cherish the memories of darkness that cling to swampen ground, sheltering it from light and chill, comforting, peaceful, still.
This is the witching time of year, the season of the Crone!
In ancient times, the Goddess as Crone or ‘Queen of Witches’ ruled the autumn harvest festivals. Hekat in Egypt, Hecate in Greece, Latin Proserpina, Semitic Lilith with her sacred totem the owl, Celtic Cailleach, Welsh Cerridwen – these are just a few of the many manifestations of the Crone Goddess.
The words we use
It is interesting that many of the words we apply to Crones have been twisted from their original meanings to represent something vile, ugly or evil. Hag derives from the Greek ‘hagia’, meaning ‘holy one’. There is little agreement as to the derivation of witch, but suggestions include the ancient Indo-European word ‘weik’, which connects to religion and magic; the Anglo-Saxon witega, a prophet or seer; a relationship to wit, or wisdom; a root meaning ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’. Some people believe that the word Crone is rooted in the meaning ‘crowned one’, though standard etymology still has it as a Middle English term of abuse.
Halloween and Samhain
Halloween has its roots in these ancient traditions, particularly Samhain (pronounced SOW-en) Samhain is the most important of the Celtic festivals, the end of one year and start of the next.
It is a day on which to remember, to commune with and honour the dead. At the same time it was a celebration of the eternal cycle of rebirth.
It is a time of endings, of coming to terms with the many small deaths, the losses that are part of every life. But it is also a time of beginning, of transition and change. It is a time to go within, a time to come to know yourself, to celebrate the growth you have realized over this last cycle and release all that was in preparation for what will be.
Samhain night exists outside time and between worlds, deeply rooted in mystery and enchantment.
As an archetype, the Crone assists us in transition from one life to the next, leaving one level of our existence and entering the next, hence her association with Samhain.
I find this illuminating as to the nature of the Crone. For me it creates a sense of her as a midwife of the soul. She teaches us that sometimes we must let go if we are to move on.
Looking back at the my visual exploration of the crone in 2010, I love the idea of the season of the Crone as a time to harvest experience and to become a way-shower.
an older woman who has learned to walk in her own truth, in her own way, having gained her strength by acknowledging the power and wisdom of the totality of her experience. She is “a wise old woman’.
A Crone is a woman burnished bright by an inner fire that sharpens both her wit and her intensity, her passion and her power.
Jean Shinoda Bolen, in her wonderful book Crones Don’t Whine, notes that ‘to be a crone is about inner development, not outer appearance’. She writes of the Crone as a potential,
much like an inherent talent, that needs to be recognized and practiced in order to develop. This wise presence in your psyche will grow, once you trust that there is a crone within and begin to listen. Then in the quiet of your own mind, pay attention to her perceptions and intuitions and act upon them. Crone qualities are the distinguishing features by which a crone (as a woman or an archetype) can be known.
As I embrace my own season of the Crone, I have been exploring and considering what Crone qualities I would wish to make manifest in my life. These include
compassion without the illusion and sentiment of youth
self-knowledge balanced with self-compassion
Jean Shinoda Bolen’s list has an earthy practicality that offers some useful guidance. She says Crones
don’t whine and don’t indulge their whining inner child;
are juicy – and what makes life juicy is being deeply involved in life;
have green thumbs – they nurture growth, weed well, prune and build strong boundaries;
trust what they know in their bones – they transform their bad experiences into wisdom and embrace mystery;
meditate in their fashion, developing heartfulness and nurturing inner life;
are fierce about what matters to them – a crone is a woman who has found her voice;
choose the path with heart, understanding that choosing one path means giving up another;
speak the truth with compassion, increasingly knowing when to speak and what to say;
listen to their bodies, responding to their needs and hearing the underlying messages between the emotional and physical body;
improvise, adapting to change;
don’t grovel – for approval, love, acceptance;
laugh together, the deep belly laughs that come from a well of feeling;
savor the good in their lives, knowing how fortunate they are still to be alive.
It takes a woman with an understanding of two of the most basic of human needs to evolve into a modern Crone. Those needs are connection and community.
She suggests that it is only with an understanding of connection that wisdom can have an impact and goes on to define the role of modern Crone:
. . . This is an amazing time to embrace your inner Crone. More than ever the world needs the comfort and certainty that wisdom and experience from a life well lived can give. The voice of expertise and mastery combined with the sageness of maturity and wisdom assures us that there is hope. We need these enlightened guides to bring us safely into the future. That is the role of the new modern Crone.
What a challenge!
Meditating today, I remembered the sense of metamorphosis as I emerged from the stage of maiden to mother. I had a vivid image of pouring all the learning, the experiences, the insights from my life into a great cauldron set amongst the flames and brewing an elixir of transfiguration. I was aware of the Crone as the most powerful embodiment of the feminine, freed from earlier responsibilities and constraints, connected to mystery and a kind of primal wildness.
I am excited to embrace the season of the Crone, to discover in myself its potential and consciously to recognize and practice those ways of being that manifest it most fully.