How Much Joy Can You Let In?

On the heels of my post from last week about not settling, emerged another question: “What is my capacity for joy?” If I go after what I truly want, how comfortable am I getting it? Or experiencing joy in general? It turns out I’m not all that comfortable. It’s been humbling to realize I feel better when things are going wrong than when they’re going right. And also to recognize I stop myself from feeling joy by imagining all the terrible things that could happen.

Here’s a perfect example I keep thinking about. In September 2014, my dear friend Amal and I went to Tomales Bay and swam with bioluminescent plankton. For context, Tomales Bay only has a few nights a year in which numerous factors come together so that you can perceive the bioluminescent plankton in its waters.

He and I arrived on such a night and not only did we creep to the edge of the water and splash around, Amal made the impulsive decision to get into the water. Without a wetsuit. In the Pacific Ocean. While I was wearing a hat and coat and scarf on the beach. The water though? It was warm. Warm! With a little coaxing, I stripped down to my underwear and joined him.


This is the Maldives, so not Tomales Bay but it *is* bioluminescence. Photo by Ahmed Nishaath on Unsplash

It was the most magical, mystical, profound experience with nature I’ve ever had. Him too. It was so powerful, he wrote his master’s thesis about it and I highly recommend you read his account if you haven’t already. If you want the in-depth version, there’s also a video. Here is a small quote from his piece:

“It’s one thing to think, to believe that the universe is interpenetrating and interconnected – that everything resonates with everything else, and really we’re all a part of a web. It’s another thing to literally see it – to feel it. Spinning in circles, every thrust of my arm out before me was like a spiral arm of the Milky Way, the movements of my body giving birth to billions of glimmering stars. And the lights – the lights responded to me. If I moved slowly, they moved slowly. If I moved quickly, they worked hard to keep up. Violent or gentle, deep or shallow, no matter how I moved, no matter what I did, the lights, the bay, the whole universe, it felt like, seemed lovingly, longingly, intimately desperate to respond. I felt embedded. I felt like I was dancing.”

How does this relate to my post on joy? Because even while experiencing all this beauty and wonder, I couldn’t fully be there! I kept worrying I’d get stung by a jellyfish, or step on something weird, or cut my foot on a rock. When I told Amal about it on the car ride back, he said, “That makes me sad.” I heard what he said but I couldn’t take in the sentiment because it’s where I was at the time. My sleep disorder hadn’t been sorted out, my nervous system was on high alert all the time, I was in the middle of packing up my apartment to move again. In other words, I was a wreck and so of course it was hard to take in joy.

I’m not beating myself up about it but I also don’t want to keep missing out on my life because I’m so worried about what may or may not happen. I don’t want to think about jellyfish and rocks when I’m having a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I want to be fully present and immersed in joy. The solution? I’m still working on it but it starts with letting go of my old self and replacing it with someone new.

Louise Hay has a wonderful affirmation that addresses this: “I create a new life with new rules that totally support me.” In my new life with new rules that totally support me, it’s safe to be joyful. It’s safe to be happy. I allow myself to experience all the good that life has to offer and I want that for you too.

I dream of a world where we let ourselves experience the full range of our emotions. A world where we fully immerse ourselves in the moment without worrying it will disappear. A world where we know at any time we can choose to think differently. A world where we increase our capacity to feel joy.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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