In every emotion a passage to joy

I managed to listen to a few sessions from the 2022 Global Joy Summit. The focus of the second day was The Inseparability of Joy and Sorrow. I have long defined joy itself not as an emotion but as a way of being. What struck me was that there can be in every emotion a passage to joy.

We often separate our emotions into those we find difficult and those we think of as pleasurable. But the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that all our emotions rise up from our inner wilds. Every emotion brings its own gifts, and, with self-compassion, we have the ability to befriend them and channel them for the greatest good of self and others. But every emotion, even those we may think of as ‘positive’, has a shadow capacity for harm if allowed to run amok.

Anger

It’s easy to see that anger can be destructive. However, at its best, anger is also protective. It flags to us when our boundaries are being breached, when we are veering off course. It can also usefully inspire us to activism in response to perceived injustices, provide an impetus for change.

But, as a red-headed Celt, I know only too well the pain I can inflict on myself and others when, instead of being able to observe and be with my anger, I flare into a spike of adrenalin and words I will inevitably regret.

If an emotion is causing harm, it is likely turning sour.

I learned as a child to suppress my anger. I was ‘baited’ by my peers once they discovered I had a temper. So, for too long, I didn’t listen to its voice until I was overwhelmed by it. It has taken me many decades to begin to learn instead to recognize anger’s promptings, to acknowledge these both internally and with a brief expression, but then to attempt to stand back, breathe, and to see what is really required. Often the question is ‘what do I (or we) need to do differently?’ It may involve a re-stating of boundaries. I definitely find humor a helpful tool in defusing the moment. I think I am still better at accessing compassion for others than self-compassion though.

For me, anger’s relationship to joy is that it brings me back to my authentic self by enabling me to uphold my personal boundaries. It takes me to the place of what the Dalai Lama terms wise selfishness, a key component in cultivating joy. And when my anger is aroused by social issues, it ignites my compassion and connects me to an awareness of our shared humanity, at the heart of which is joy.

Sadness and grief

More than anything, sadness speaks to what we care about. Sadness and grief underpin our humanity.

Tears mark what is sacred.

Life is never static. Sadness and grief orient us to loss and impermanence. They draw us to necessary reflection, a slowing into quietness, ultimately to an understanding of the importance of presence in the moment. The root of grief is often love.

To be able to sit with sadness and grief is vitally important. If we try to block out the pain, it will stay with us, haunt us, and we will become stuck in a destructive cycle.

The acceptance of impermanence, that all things, all emotions pass – so implicit in grief and sadness – is another cornerstone of joy.

Happiness

‘Can happiness ever become excessive?’, I wondered.

We think of happiness as a positive emotion. Mostly it is, nourishing our sense of wellbeing. Finding delight in the everyday is no small part of the way in which I cultivate my capacity for joy. I talked about this in my post Joy and delight in challenging times.

I recognize in myself, though, a tendency sometimes to let the good times spiral. We speak of high mood, high energy, high times. Yet that ‘high’ too easily can take on an addictive edge, become excessive pleasure seeking, or pull us towards something more like mania or obsession.


I think that the acknowledgement of toxic positivity implies a recognition that there can be a distortion when we overemphasize ‘positive’ emotions and avoid the ‘negative’. Avoidance is a form of resistance and ultimately what we resist persists and can easily become poisonous to self and others.

It is interesting to look deeply at the emotions we term ‘positive’ and take heed of their shadows as well as to look for the gifts within those we experience as ‘difficult’.

Owning opportunities for growth, new insights, the deepening of our humanity and compassion by truly experiencing what we feel, is very different from avoidance. To me it implies that awareness of the thread that connects us to joy even when we are in the midst of suffering.


Friending the inner wilds

Our emotions are our constant companions. Too often, though, we fail to become truly familiar with them. We need our passions, for all their wildness. The more we are able to sit with them, to listen, to be, to let them flow through us, the easier it becomes to see all our emotions as friends rather than threats and to appreciate what they do for us. At the same time, we may gain an understanding of the ways in which we habitually inflate their more harmful aspects and develop strategies to defuse these.

This is a very personal process. Emotions are not as universally recognizable as we tend to think. At a macro level, recent research highlights cultural differences in emotional experience and expression. This implies to me that our individual emotions will have been shaded by all the different layers of culture.

My understanding of the gifts and the shadows in any emotion may not fit your experience. There are no short cuts or quick fixes. There is significant work involved in looking at the emotions that shape your life, including those you think of as ‘easy’ or ‘good’. Developing friendship and real understanding requires an investment of time, openness, and self-compassion.

In an earlier post on Love in the shadows I referred to the shadow hordes, a way in which I give identity to feelings and shadows by personifying them. I find this a useful technique through which to amplify my ability to recognize and relate to my emotions.

I believe that deep in the heart of the wilds is a quiet, peaceful, deeply compassionate space suffused with joy. Occasionally we catch glimpses of it, in ourselves, but more especially in great spiritual leaders like Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama. I don’t think we are meant to live there all the time. We are meant to feel. Those feelings are part of the richness of our living. Our responsibility is to learn to respond to what we feel appropriately rather than simply to react and to appreciate the gifts our feelings hold.

Learning from the lake

What makes watching the lake so mesmerizing is its state of constant change. It does not, as far as I can tell, resist the whipping of its waves by the wind or the transition to ice in winter. Sometimes it sparkles, diamond strewn. Sometimes it hypnotizes me with the intersecting patterns of its ripples. Sometimes the depth of its stillness fills me with a quiet sense of awe. Different facets of its character are revealed by every change of light. To me, it is never anything but beautiful. And, always, I am aware of a sense of constancy and calm in its depths, no matter how its surface is interacting with the world.

. . . in every emotion a passage to joy.

Elemental Masculine and Feminine

Mosaics in situ

This year, my mosaic project took me into an exploration of the elemental masculine and feminine archetypes. This formed a lovely extension to the deep delve into the Wise Mother/Crone with which I started the year.

For some time I had been intending to create a Green Man mosaic. Growing up in the West of England, the Green Man motif was often present. For a child who loved the woods and the wilds, it was an image that resonated.

Wood Coat of Arms

There is also a ‘family connection’ so to speak. My maternal grandfather was a Wood. The Wood Coat of Arms is topped off with a Green-Man-derived ‘man of the woods’ crowned with oak leaves and bearing a club. This figure was the image used as crest both for family silver and for signet rings.


Just a note for clarity before I go any further. In referring to ‘God’ and ‘Goddess’, I am using these terms in the context of traditional symbolism and archetype. I am not suggesting that they are beings that I worship.

Exploring the elemental masculine and feminine

Before I start work on any mosaic there is always a phase of exploring ideas, images and concepts. I have always lived my life through symbol to some extent. So this becomes a process that involves intellectual ‘research’, exploring representations that relate to my theme, and soul-searching as to the meanings I am reaching for. I rarely know with absolute certainty where it will lead.

What was interesting this time was that it was soon clear to me that, if I was to create a Green Man, who was increasingly becoming a representation of masculine energy, I also had to create his feminine counterpart. As I worked, I also found that I wasn’t prepared to display either until both were finished. I have always been aware of the importance of balancing male and female traits and energies. In this work, that sense came through loud and clear.

Concept Board

Masculine ‘God’

Researching the Green Man, what came to me was the overlap with Sun God symbolism. I listed the following phrases as key to my understanding of the elemental energy that I wanted to tap into:

  • Shining God
  • Light bringer
  • Life force
  • Revealer of Mysteries
  • Source of wisdom
  • Guardian
  • Cycles of renewal
Green Man/Sun God Mosaic

In creating my representation, I combined the Green Man with a Sun image. I tried to pick up Spring and Summer greens together with Autumn’s bronze and gold, honouring those ‘cycles of renewal’. I also wanted to access something both ‘ancient’ and ‘energetic’. There is even a hint of the ‘Horned God’.

Feminine ‘Goddess’

My Mother/Goddess image draws on classic Goddess symbolism. I have never, though, seen colour used this way. This form came to me during a group meditation. I had a strong sense of the way the Goddess connects to grounded, earth energy, deeply rooted. She has generative fire in her belly. But she also connects to Moon energy and to the ethereal. This connection is an incredibly powerful force.

As with the masculine image, I mapped out words and phrases that underpinned my conceptualization of the feminine:

  • Connection and relationship
  • Abundance
  • Fertility
  • Healing
  • Wisdom
  • Being
  • Spirit
  • Transformation
  • Nature
Mother/Goddess Mosaic

Distinct Energies

Working on these two pieces gave me an even deeper inner sense of the difference between these two energies. I believe all of us contain and have access to both. But I can see more clearly how these tend to play out in ‘male’ and ‘female’ behaviours and ways of being, which I hope increases my understanding of that ‘difference’. I definitely came away with a sense of the feminine as more grounded and connected, something we badly need.

That inner voice that insisted I could not create or display one without the other felt important. A world in which we truly integrate the elemental masculine and feminine would look so very different.

The Language of Animacy

In the beginning was the Word . . . Although I don’t identify as Christian so much as Multi-faith or ‘Faith embracing’, that phrase has always resonated at some deep level within me.

Words, language, and the way in which we use them hold such power. Today, savouring my reading of the wonderful Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer gifted me with one of those precious moments of illumination that shift the world on its axis.

A language of things

I had never particularly thought about how the distribution of a particular type of word in a language may mediate our relationship with the world. English is a noun-based language, a language of things. We make that which is not human an ‘it’, an object. Potentially, in so doing, we create a barrier between the human and everything else that makes it much easier to disrespect, despoil and destroy. Only 30 percent of English words are verbs, the words of being and doing.

Winter Lake Illumination
Winter Lake Illumination

A language of being

Learning her ancestral language, Potawatomi, Robin Wall Kimmerer was initially bewildered to discover that 70 percent of its words are verbs and that, whilst there is no dividing the world into masculine and feminine, the use of language is shaped by whether something is perceived as animate or inanimate.

It was the word for ‘bay’, which reads more like ‘to be a bay’, that provided that vital spark of understanding.

In that moment I could smell the water of the bay, watch it rock against the shore and hear it sift onto the sand. A bay is a noun only if water is dead. . . But the verb wiikwegamaa – to be a bay – releases the water from bondage and lets it live. “To be a bay” holds the wonder that, for this moment, the living water has decided to shelter itself between these shores, conversing with cedar roots and a flock of baby mergansers.
Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
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This ‘grammar of animacy’ extends not just to plants and animals. It includes rocks and mountains, water and fire, places, sacred medicines, songs, drums, stories – anything that is imbued with spirit. The inanimate forms of language are largely reserved for objects made by people. It strikes me that, in our English speaking and many other Western cultures, our art, our music, our poetry is often an attempt to reclaim animacy.

Animate or inanimate?

I remember my daughter at a very young age fascinated by making the distinction between male and female, boy and girl. Today I find myself looking around me with the same fascination, trying to distinguish between animate and inanimate.

I hold up a small candle, burning in a glass jar. The glass and the candle itself feel inanimate, though the changing state of the wax gives me pause for thought. But the flame is so obviously animate.

Looking at my nightstand, made from reclaimed wood, I address it as something inanimate, but which has also once been animate. I wonder, though, if a table imbued with love, with a reverence for the tree from which it is hewn, built with artistry and skill, is animate or inanimate?

'Somebody' who visits almost daily - rabbit in snow
‘Somebody’ who visits almost daily

In truth, I identified at least to some extent as an animist from my teens, so this is not entirely new territory. The last five years, living so close to nature, this sense has bubbled up with increasing vigour. I perceive the Lake as my greatest teacher, so obviously ‘alive’. I automatically think of the creatures we see or become aware of as beings, as ‘somebody’, even the ticks and the mosquitoes! Likewise, the trees and plants, with whom my relationship deepens as each season passes. This sense of animacy and its implicit connectedness is part of the underpinning of my sense of joy.

I can’t help wondering, now, how other languages reflect and shape their speakers’ relationship with the world – what a fascinating area of study for one of my parallel lives.

Braiding silence with animacy

How wonderful it would be to have a living language, imbued with this sense of being, in which to think and speak and write. Some thirty years ago, I wrote a poem entitled The Speaking of Silence. I still aspire to learning the language of silence. But now I would wish to find some way to braid it together with the language of animacy.

Embracing the Crone

Exploring the Wise Mother or Crone Archetype through Art Therapy

It has been a joy exploring and embracing the Crone in the company of other women!

I made a very conscious decision from the start of these sessions to work intuitively and, mostly, to avoid the easy familiarity of words in the pieces I created. I hoped this might open up new insights, coming from that non-verbal interiority.

I’m not sure I had fully connected to the tree as a form of the Mother Goddess/ Wise Woman, though I already had a strong sense of the Goddess as deeply rooted in the earth, yet also connecting upwards and outwards into the universe. Nor had I come across the bear as Primal Mother as within Celtic tradition, something I want to explore further.

Looking back at what emerged for me over the four weeks, the aspects I most want to hold onto to guide me as I move forward are:

  • Continued focus on letting go and becoming.
  • Using my increased ability for self-compassion to enable me to uphold my necessary boundaries and direct my energies in a more focused way.
  • Acknowledging and working with those parts of me that need healing and allowing myself times of true solitude, quietness and rest.
  • As well as connecting to the wilds around me, accessing the wild within.
  • Embracing not being productive as a valid and valuable way of being.
  • Increasing acceptance and befriending of that which I cannot control.
  • The abiding awareness of the interconnectedness of all things.
  • The fire in my belly that fuels curiosity and the desire to explore and have adventures.

Alongside this deep-dive into my own relationship to the Crone, there were some delightful bonuses!

This is a time for healing those places that need it, a time to lean in to what fills your soul. It is time for the disintegration of that which binds.

I don’t think I had previously encountered Hildegard of Bingen; her vision, dating all the way back to C12th, delights me!

We are shapeshifting creatures, through and through. Shedding skin after skin, till finally we reach the one that will see us out. The skin that is fused to the bone, that will not shift and will not shake – the skin that contains the essence of everything we were ever going to become. The skin with hagitude.

I love this term ‘hagitude’, coined by Sharon Blackie, and look forward to reading her book Hagitude; reimagining the second half of life when it is published later this year. I also embrace that sense of moving closer to that skin that is fused to the bone . . . the essence of everything we were ever going to become.


As a record for myself of the learning of these four weeks, I am gathering together below what I posted on Facebook after each session.

Inner Wise Woman (week 1)

The Nurturing Heart of the Crone

My first piece from my Wise Woman/Crone Art Therapy Group – so exciting and liberating to just let it flow.

There were no constraints as to medium and everyone came up with very different pieces from a 10 minute presentation/ meditation, with about 40 minutes to work in. The purpose of these sessions is exploration, not the creation of ‘works of art’!

I will write a much longer post on my blog after the 4-week course ends when I have steeped in all the perceptions.

But some key elements in this for me were:

  • the wise, old tree, with a very female base, roots both linking it deep into the earth and connecting to all that is;
  • the Crone’s waning crescent moon;
  • the tree as connection between grounding earth energy and ethereal sky/moon energy;
  • the upside down heart, containing power, wisdom, creativity, sexuality, femininity, motherly energy;
  • The green abundance may seem odd against the bare tree, but this represents the nurturing, green-fingered quality of the crone;
  • the sunflower represents hope; the basket, woven from the wisdom of the years, contains an abundant harvest.

Where I have come from and where I am going (week 2)

Grounding the Crone

This week’s Crone Art Therapy session around “Where I’ve come from and am going” included a very word based symbolic image of a tree as a prompt. I responded by wanting to get away from words and also from obvious ‘representation’ to something much more deconstructed.

I felt drawn to rush outside to find some birch bark, as well as some heavier bark. There was something here about authenticity as a core value, as well as my deep connection to the wild (and the wild within), to nature.

I didn’t want a white background and the tissue gave me a sense of the interconnectedness of all things, something that underpins my life. And the gold in this and the ‘leaves’ seemed to represent my focus on joy.

If I had had copper wire, this would have formed the ‘roots’, but I used string. For me there was something about the important grounding of our roots, yet also how roots can form tangles that we need to explore and unravel.

The thicker bark represented the ‘hardening off’ of age, endurance, strength, but also the possibility of masked areas, linking to the shadowed area to the left, that which needs healing, grief.

The birch bark captures for me a sense of a protective layer that is also delicate and beautiful, and which can be peeled back to expose the softness and vibrant life beneath.

The ‘leaves’ are somewhat heart shapes, gilded, my precious heart-kin, the larger ones at the core representing Paul and Jessica. I feel truly blessed at this stage in my life by a sense of a genuinely heart-connected community of friends.

The ‘fruits’ are caught up in these ‘leaves’ of loving friendship, as they, together with the ability to find joy in the everyday and the richness of our natural environment, are my greatest blessings.

One of my fellow explorers saw in it a Spirit Bear, which I now also see. This is lovely, as it perfectly captures something of the ‘where I’m going’ part of the brief. These were just a few of the insights from a quick review of Bear symbolism:

“If the bear shows up in your life, it may also be time to take care of your own needs for healing, whether it’s at the physical, emotional, or spiritual level. . . Be sensitive to where you are at and reflect on where you would most need healing. You can call on the bear spirit guidance to direct your energy in a more conservative or focused way. . . Bear medicine emphasizes the importance of solitude, quiet time, rest. . . The spirit of the bear provides strong grounding forces.”

Personal Power and Authenticity – Unique Wise Mother (week 3)

Light Embrace

Today’s Art Therapy session was for me like being wrapped in a warm embrace. There was a wonderful sense of tapping into self-compassion.

I rooted myself in the sacred space of the lake, one of my greatest teachers these last few years.

Having in my early thirties defined the purpose of life as learning to love in the broadest sense, the heart is central. At this time in my life, I seek to draw more on the wisdom of my heart than the intellectual processes of my mind.

I wrote some eighteen months ago ‘I want to be a lighthouse when I grow up!’, and this figure radiates and is surrounded by light. That light is also a reflection of the emphasis I have put on experiencing the world with joy. Interestingly, I didn’t see the prismatic quality of what I was seeing as a ‘gold’ paper until I photographed it, but I love that it contains all colours!

There is also that golden joy within, the wellspring, as well as a ribbon of blue, the desire to look inwards and focus on spirit.

Even in Crone-age, there is a fire in my belly that feeds my curiosity, my desire to explore, to have adventures.

Nature has been key to my living since my early childhood, so the greenery acknowledges this.

I have surrounded myself with golden light, which is also the embrace of self-compassion.

Passing through this are the necessary boundaries, somewhat fluid, permeable, yet vital.

There is a sense that this is both who I am and what I aspire to be. I still struggle with boundaries, especially those that protect me from overwhelm and seesawing wellbeing. At best, that golden self-compassion does enfold me, as it did when I was creating this. But too often, it still gets pushed aside by ‘living’

Moving Forward in Embracing the Crone (week 4)

Balanced Flow

My focus in this last session was the Crone I want to be, the qualities I want to cultivate the me I want to live.

I have always felt a strong affinity with the turning seasons, the cyclical nature of living. The prompt video spoke of a cycle of healing, creating, resting, and blooming. This really resonated as exactly what I aspire to embrace more fully and in a much more balanced way.

I started by creating a circular swirling blue background. I wanted it to reflect an acceptance that there is much we can’t and don’t control. So I used wet watercolour and salt – not as effective as I’d like due to time and probably also that this was not water colour paper as I wanted some scale. It represents the universe, the great blue yonder, the mystery. It may even encompass an ongoing preparedness to make waves!

There is a healing hand, cut from some marbled paper I made years ago. Again, this acknowledges that I cannot fully control my physical healing, the need for acceptance of things as they are, particularly as I age. I also chose a paper that included yellow for self-compassion.

The purple and blue object represents creating and living creatively. Implied within it are the embrace of eccentric purple, of fun and of doing your own thing.

The meditative figure on grey is rest, whether the rest of just stopping and being or the more active rest of meditation.

The final circle for ‘blooming’ contains elements of all these, is rooted in them but blossoms into something more.

At the centre is ‘the handwriting on my soul’, another phrase that caught my attention. I need to read the handwriting on my soul to return to the land of my soul.

The image lacked connectedness to the many wonderful souls whose paths intersect with mine. So, I added dancers to the circle of life. They also represent the freedom and exuberance that the years bring.

Then there are two badly drawn Chinese characters, intended to read laugh and live.

I would like to have include interweaving coloured threads, the strands of all that makes up a life.

There was a sense as I created this that no circle, no element, should be perfect in honour of the great teachings that imperfection gifts us.

Others commented on the sense of balance – I titled it Balanced Flow. I think holding awareness of this cycle more consciously may be helpful to me.

Joy and delight in challenging times

What is the relationship between joy and delight and how can we cultivate joy and delight in challenging times?

Joy and delight

I think those things that delight us may often connect us to joy. But for me joy has more of a sense of rapture, bliss, ecstasy, and transcendence than delight.

In my 2019 post Revisiting Joy I described joy as a momentary glimpse of absolute belonging within the flow of all that is, a moment of total connectedness and as existing only in the ‘now’. Saint Thomas Aquinas describes joys as ‘delights of the soul’ – yes, this sums up the distinction beautifully.

Opening to joy and delight in challenging times

In challenging times, I believe it becomes more important than ever to nurture and tap into joy as an underpinning of resilience and hope. I have worked consciously for more than a decade to cultivate the capacity for joy. So part of my ability to remain open to joy is simply ‘practice’. A key element of that practice is regularly and consciously opening out my senses into the now. Over time, this has become a normal way of being. This brings with it a constant stream of small joys that feed my soul and connect me to all that is. That sense of connection is fundamental to my understanding of joy.

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.

Implicit in and emerging out of ‘connection’ are love and compassion for all beings.

If you develop a strong sense of concern for the well-being of all sentient beings and in particular human beings, this will make you happy in the morning, even before coffee . . . Joy is a way of approaching the world.

Perhaps, too, the recognition of the existence of that unlimited capacity to encompass both the ecstasy and the agony of living and being human, both heart-filling and heart-breaking enables me to maintain my connection to joy even in times of suffering.

There are, of course, moments when I lose the connection, times of utter weariness and despair. But I have learned that these times pass, to rest easy with them. I don’t force my way back. But I do try to continue to open my awareness, to some extent to ‘fake it till I make it’, to rest in faith. I retain a sense of trust in the calm that runs underneath the turbulence always.

Delight in the everyday

I am constitutionally curious, and my curiosity reaps an abundance of delights!

Sometimes what draws me is something not previously perceived in an everyday experience; the musicality of dancing across frozen ‘puddle-drums’; the shadows cast by individual pieces of gravel on the road in the stark, bright sunlight of an early winter’s afternoon; the exquisite crystals forming at the bottom of a bottle of maple syrup. It might be natural beauty, which often illuminates some interiority. Or perhaps an interaction with another being; the infectious chuckle of a baby; a leisurely conversation with a dear friend; the knowledge that, in some small way, I have been able to make a difference, whether to loved-one or stranger; the now familiar gentle knock of our favourite squirrel on the window; the regular visits of the Cardinal lighting up our bird-feeder. Invariably, implicit in the flashes of joy there is some sense of flow and connectedness.

I realize that joy is often, for me, a multi-layered experience that instinctively links me with deeper knowing. I feel delight in what my senses are gifting me; the breathtaking majesty of a mountain range; the wondrous lake that is the backdrop to my life; the fractious flurry of goldfinches fighting for a place at the window feeder; the scent of lavender. But beyond that delight exist additional layers, rooted in association, symbol and insight.

My eyes may be drawn to the mountains, but the soaring of my soul reflects an awe that extends my awareness outwards into all of creation.

The lake tethers me to the constancy of change. it reminds me that there is a place of deep calm within me too that remains even in the midst of the wind’s tumult or the immobility of ice. I remember that it is the moments of absolute stillness that most fully reflect the light.

My delight in the goldfinches links me back to my Grandfather’s love of ‘all things great and small’ and to the benediction of his transmitted wisdom. The lavender is my Grandmother’s gentle, loving presence.

These do not need to be conscious or articulated thought processes. But as I have cultivated joy, they increasingly underpin and amplify my experience. Joy, it seems, for me at least, can be cumulative.

Bodily delight

Saint Thomas Aquinas distinguishes bodily delights from the delights of the soul and thus joy. I’m guessing he is referring here to ‘pleasure’ and ‘sensation’. I think, though, there are other dimensions to bodily delight.

Like many of us as we age, I see my mother in my hands. I sometimes hear her in the words that emerge from my mouth. I think the delight I feel lies in a sense of recognition, perhaps even of presence, of continuity and, again, of connection.

As I spoon round my husband each morning, there is always a flash of joy. Yes, that dear familiarity, that skin on skin delight in touch is still the first layer, even 30 years on. But it also connects me to the whole of our history together, all the growth, learning and co-creation, the deepening of mature love.

And, recently, I seem to have moved into a new relationship with my body as simultaneously separate from and integral to that which constitutes ‘I am’. With this has come an unaccustomed tenderness and compassion, as well as a stream of fresh awareness and delight. A fleeting perception of my body as a community of cells within that greater community that is existence was just the kind of momentary glimpse of absolute belonging within the flow of all that is that forms part of my definition of joy.

Joy and gratitude as an act of resistance

Whether it’s the transcendent joy of sacred ritual or the simple joy of cultivating a garden, the pursuit of joy amid great struggle is a way to tend our humanity when it is most threatened. . . Joy is also a manifestation of abundance.

Although a key focus of my life has been an ability to help create the circumstances that support change for individuals and organizations, I’ve never really identified as an activist. I have always believed that the deepest and most enduring change always begins with the individual. So in looking at joy and gratitude in the context of resistance my focus is a more subtle, personal form of resistance.

At the most basic level, if joy underpins resilience and hope then it offers each one of us resistance against the negative emotions, the despair that might otherwise overwhelm us in dark times. There is great power in this.

To lay claim to joy and gratitude when the collective mood is one of loss, fear, grief and anger is to reassert our humanity, our vitality. By choosing to cultivate our capacity for joy, we retain the ability to expand rather than contract, which in turn drives our ability to embrace and energize change and so to move forward.

Similarly, in challenging times, the rootedness of joy in connection holds back the tides of isolation and alienation, certainly for self and possibly for others. We remain able to function from an abundance mindset.

Whilst it may seem counterintuitive to be joyful in the face of social ills and struggle, joy actually increases our ability to engage with the world empathically and effectively.

The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others. The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves but . . . to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you.

These last few difficult months have gifted many of us with an opportunity to turn our gaze inward. Although I have, like most people, struggled at times, I have been surprised to discover an increasingly persistent undercurrent of joy. Sometimes this brings feelings of guilt. How can it be OK to experience joy when so many are suffering?

This takes me back to that sense of joy as underpinning the capacity to encompass both the ecstasy and the agony of living and being human. Those of us who are able to tap into this capacity and to keep joy alive are, to an extent, light bringers and keepers of the flame. I can’t think of a much more profound act of resistance.