(written March 18, 2017)
The Quest for Joy sometimes seems as mystical and futile as the Quest for the Holy Grail. Whereas the Holy Grail is said to be the cup of the Last Supper and has curing magic properties, the Quest for Joy is said to be the cure to all our problems.
Just find happiness and life will be better. At least that’s what they tell us.
Now how do we do that amidst our pain and suffering?
Are you ready to join me on a quest to find the answer?
I recently attended a workshop at a retreat. The person who was running this seminar is highly respected among my recovery peers. He packs the house every year.
I’m going to call him Rafiki’s Uncle. I mean, Rafiki had to have learned his wisdom from someone right?
And what’s better than to learn wisdom from a monkey’s uncle.
The workshop this year was called Joy and the intro about this session was advertised as followed:
The 11th and 12th Steps are based upon our seeking, experiencing and sharing a conscious contact with a Higher Power. This workshop explores the meaning of Joy and its direct relationship to our experience of a Higher Power. The goal is to introduce and explore the experience of Joy as a reliable indicator of the presence of our Higher Power and to learn to discern and distinguish Joy from happiness, pleasure, excitement, and adrenaline.
Oh yeah! I’m ready. Tell me what I need to know so I can add Joy in my life!
I’ve been living in so much emotional turmoil over the past couple of years that all I’ve been trying to do was to learn how to live a life of joy and happiness.
I sat with pen and notepad, ready to write everything I could. Excited and willing, I pressed my pen on the paper as the first words from Rafiki’s Uncle came out of his mouth.
His words dashed my hopes.
In an enthusiastic, uplifting voice, Rafiki’s Uncle starts, “If you came into this workshop thinking you were going to create Joy…”
His voice drops an octave, “I’m sorry to tell you, but that isn’t going to happen. You will NOT create Joy in this workshop.”
Of course, he emphasizes the word “not”. A Rafiki trait if you ask me.
Ok, I’m outa here. I thought you were going to teach me how to experience joy.
Rafiki’s Uncle paused a moment, letting the words sink in. I think he was doing it to add a bit of dramatic flair. This tends to run in the family.
After hearing the sighs and moans fizzle away, like air that had just been let out of all four tires, and as the crowded room sat there deflated, he continued.
“The good news is, all the happiness that exists and all the Joy that you have, is already in you. You had it when you walked in the door. The key to finding Joy is to stop the stuff that blocks it.”
I already have Joy?
If I already have Joy, then why has the last two years felt like a living hell?
I felt peace randomly while going through separation and divorce, but prior to writing my blogs, I’ve been living in misery, trying to find ways to feign my happiness.
“You are already Enlightened. You need to meditate to clear away and dissolve the obstructions that are in the way to you experiencing your enlightenment.”
– Buddhist Quote
“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
– Buddhist Quote
“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.”
– Buddhist Quote
Oh, is that all I have to do? I just have to control my mind.
Wish it was that simple.
Blocks to Joy
The key to finding Joy is to stop the stuff that blocks it.
Ok smarty pants, what blocks Joy?
Here are a few things that block Joy:
Hmmm. Check that out!
All those emotions are the ones I’ve struggled with as I’ve gone through divorce. It’s no wonder I haven’t experienced Joy. I blocked it with my own obsessive thoughts and emotions.
“Joy is subtle. It’s that quiet voice inside that bubbles up during those moments when we take ourselves and our obstacles out of the picture. There is nothing interfering.”
Rafiki’s Uncle continues, “The block to Joy is that loud voice telling us not to do this and not to do that.
“It’s that critical voice that is constantly chattering in our heads, placing guilt and shame on us because we didn’t listen to the loud voice.
“It’s the internal judgmental and fault-finding parent that puts ourselves down for our choices.
“You see Joy in young children when they’re immersed in play. They are in the present, in the Now, not in their heads about the past or the future.
“If you accept what I’m telling you, you are already enlightened, or as the 12 steps calls it, spiritually awake. You just don’t know it yet.”
You most likely already know this, but let’s review brain anatomy…
The brain has two hemispheres; the left and the right.
The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and performs tasks that have to do with logic, analytical thought, language, reasoning, science, math, and written and number skills.
The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body and performs tasks that deal with art, creativity, imagination, intuition, insight, holistic thought, music awareness, and 3-D forms.
In simple terms, the functions of the left hemisphere blocks the artistic and creative side of the right hemisphere. The left side of the brain blocks Joy.
Jill Bolte Taylor is much better at explaining the difference between the two hemispheres. That’s because Jill is a brain scientist who had a stroke and learned about the function of the brain from the inside out. Her left hemisphere filled up with blood and she experienced what it was like to lose all logical thought.
I won’t do her justice by trying to explain it. Check out her amazing Ted Talk.
My Stroke of Insight
– Jill Bolte Taylor
In summary, the right side of the brain experiences a connection to God and each other. Unfortunately, all things on the left side of the brain block it.
Your Turn – Personal Exercises
An odd fact is that the logical side of our brain seeks happiness. However, recent research shows that the more one seeks happiness, the less likely they will find it.
Rafiki’s Uncle lectures, “The more you try to get Joy, to reach out and identify it with external things, the less likely you will experience Joy.”
Give yourself ten to fifteen minutes to do the following exercises before reading further.
I know, I know. You just want to read my blog, not do the work. I get it. I completely understand. However, trust me, if you take the time to do the exercises, you will get much more out of this reading.
For three minutes write down everything you can about this statement: “I will be happy when _____________.”
Don’t read any further until you’ve done this. Come on, bare with me. It’s only three minutes…
What did you come up with?
Think of one thing that you want. Just one thing. Now picture that you have it. Write about how that would make you feel?
Now that you have it, write about something else you want now.
What I learned from these three exercises, is that I believed what would make me happy was externally based. I believed that people, situations, and things would make me happy. And once I got what I believed would make me happy, I then wanted more.
I can never achieve happiness while I’m looking outside of myself to get it.
My biggest belief in the past was that if my ex chose us and to work on us, I would then find peace. I based all my joy on the success of our marriage. Not only was that an incredible amount of pressure and a burden to place on my ex, but I also held myself back, basing all my happiness on the success or failure of my marriage.
In addition, when my ex finally felt free and happy because she no longer felt strangled by me, my self-misery became worse.
My belief that I couldn’t be the one to “make” her happy and that she was happier without me, added to my despair because I allowed myself to feel rejected. I reinforced all my negative beliefs about who I was.
I’ve always known that it was my thoughts that affected my emotions. I know fighting the tiger and running on the hamster wheel kept me spinning for over two years. I realize that whirling thoughts created a “craziness” which only made my relationship worse with my ex. But I could never figure a way to get myself off the damn ride.
“Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think.”
– Buddhist Saying
Easier said than done!
It has taken time, acceptance, trauma work, and the ability to finally step outside my story to clear away the blocks that have prevented me from experiencing Joy.
I have stated in previous blogs that there’s a difference between sobriety and recovery. To be sober means to stop the compulsive addictive behavior that one does to medicate/block painful emotions.
Whoa! Screeching HALT for a minute!
I just wrote:
“…compulsive addictive behavior that one does to medicate/block painful emotions.”
Addicts use addiction to block painful emotions!
It’s those painful emotions that block Joy. The key to experiencing Joy is to remove the emotions that prevent us from feeling happy, not block them. We need to manage the pain.
No wonder addiction makes it worse for us addicts. Instead of dealing with painful emotions, we just block them. We don’t learn self-care. We don’t learn how to regulate our emotions. And, when we block the painful emotions, we also block our pleasurable ones.
When our drug of choice wears off, we then become overwhelmed with the pain that was never dealt with in the first place. To stop the pain, we medicate again, but only giving us temporary relief.
As we medicate the pain, we end up hurting not only ourselves, but the people we love.
The more powerless we feel, the more we try to control our lives. And the more we try to control, the more unmanageable our life becomes.
The more powerless and unmanageable our lives become, the greater the guilt and shame that we continue to break our promises and can’t stop doing the actions that harm ourselves and others.
It’s a perpetual cycle that only gets worse. We need more of our drug to medicate the pain and we lose a sense of who we are as we find ourselves living outside our own morals and values.
We keep spiraling downward until we hit rock bottom.
The first step to experiencing Joy is to stop the compulsive addictive behavior (sobriety).
Unfortunately, we now must ride out the excruciating pain that we’ve learned to avoid for so many years. This is where recovery comes in.
Recovery is working our program and learning to use our tools to create new habits of taking care of oneself.
Recovery, the second step, is battling the blocks that prevent us from loving ourselves.
In my shares at the meetings I’ve attended this past year, I’ve talked about the difference between sobriety and recovery.
Sobriety is stopping the compulsive behavior. Recovery is learning to continue on the journey of changing behaviors that not only hurt others, but hurt you as well.
These past couple of months, I’ve been talking about a third stage of recovery. I named this transformation. This is the stage in recovery where you finally feel peace and solitude, especially when you’re alone. It’s where your actions match your words. It’s where your values and morals match how you respond to the world around you.
This is when you truly learn to love yourself.
I sit in the workshop as a realization sweeps over me. I’m overcome with this sense of warmth on a level I’ve never experienced. I feel lighter in my body, as if a weight has been lifted. Tears stream down my eyes. I’m swept away in a surge of emotion.
It’s not transformation that I’ve been experiencing.
I’ve been experiencing a Spiritual Awakening. This is what they talk about in the 12 Steps.
There’s a sense of endless Joy, a release of pain, loss, grief, guilt, and shame. For a moment, I’m completely transported into the Now. Past and future melt away, as the present moment becomes what is.
What an amazing gift I’ve given myself by going through recovery.
The Twelve Steps
When Rafiki’s Uncle speaks again, I’m listening with a more connected heart. “When we look at the Twelve Steps, they are not a list of things we do to add to our lives, rather they are a list of things we do to take away from our lives.”
“We use these steps to remove our blocks. We remove these blocks, so we can experience a Spiritual Awakening. And in doing this, we can pass our experience, strength, and hope onto newcomers.”
How do the 12 steps take away from your life?
I must admit I am powerless and my life is unmanageable. I am no longer in control.
I come to an understanding that there is a power greater than myself. It is not me, but something else.
I need to give that power up.
I need to make a list of traits I need to give up.
Step 5 through Step 7:
I work towards giving up those character defects.
Steps 8 and 9:
Allows me to let go of the baggage I’ve held onto by making amends to those I have harmed.
Steps 10 and 11:
Reminds me to work Steps 1 through 9 daily. It is here where I have my spiritual awakening.
I can pass my experience to others to help them on their journey of spiritual enlightenment.
Trauma and Recovery
I personally had to do deeper work than just the 12 steps to reach a level of Spiritual Awakening.
(I was listening to an addiction podcast on May 10, 2018. They are now finding in the medical community that any addiction also needs trauma therapy to fully recover. I’ve found that I’ve felt alone for many years. Many of us who attend SAA also see a sex addiction specialized therapist, attend group therapy, and also go through couple therapy with our partners to heal the damage our addiction caused in our relationship. There are however, a number of addicts that have recovered by only following the 12 steps. In our 12 step meetings we try to keep our shares only around step work, which is hard for me because I’ve needed so much other work to recover. I sometimes compare myself to others who didn’t “need” to do the additional therapy to recover. I know that what works for one person may not work for another. It’s just nice to hear an acknowledgement that due to a further understanding about how the brain and addiction works, we’ve come a long way since Bill W. started AA. I really am not alone.)
I still had childhood trauma triggers that caused me to react to the emotional and physical pain that were stuck deep within the cellular level of my body. I needed to do the deep trauma work to let those blocks go.
I needed to learn techniques to regulate my emotions. This is still a work in progress.
I need to learn to step away when I start to feel off or when I notice my emotional and physical energy ramping up.
And just stepping away isn’t enough. I need to parent myself with empathy and compassion, using the tools I have to distract, soothe, and cope with any situation.
In addition, I must also realize that I am human and I will make mistakes. I am imperfect. I will do things wrong. I will say the wrong things. And that’s OK. It’s a daily review of Steps 10 and 11 to recognize that I made a mistake and to make an amends to acknowledge it.
Just when you thought you were done, here I go and give you another exercise. You are most welcome! I’m here for you my Fledglings.
Think about and write down:
“What is the one thing you don’t want to feel, admit, or experience?”
Did you write it down or are you continuing to read my blog? Come on, do this one last exercise with me. As they say in many Adam Sandler movies, “You can do it!”
As I answered this question, I realized where my biggest block to Joy has been these last couple of years. It has all been focused around acceptance of my divorce, that a chapter in my life has finally come to a close. And after listening to a fellow peer respond, I realized that my pain and my fear goes even deeper than that.
In an instant, I felt fear seize it’s gigantic hand right around my throat. I could hardly breathe. A sadness washed over me, threatening to suffocate the very breath of my being.
His comment was, “I don’t think I will ever get the love from my daughter because of my past actions.”
I clutched my stomach. The pain I felt was intolerable. How was it that I just felt this sense of lightness and freedom, as if my soul was finally awakened, and here I was back in the deep, dark abyss of my mind?
Rafiki’s uncle forcefully exclaimed, “That kind of pain will kill Joy. It will stop it every time! It’s because that belief is so painful.”
That is where I’ve been stuck for so many years.
Stuck when I didn’t feel good enough to be a father for my two daughters. Stuck because of the belief that I was not worthy of my ex’s love. Stuck because of my belief that my ex will never forgive me and let go of the past. Stuck because my ex will never love me for the man I have become and that my two daughters will someday see the monster their father once was. Stuck because I fear that not only did I lose my ex, but I will one day eventually lose my girls too. Stuck because of the belief that if I lose the three people that mean the most to me in the world, I am not worthy of anyone else’s love either.
There’s a saying in Beauty and the Beast (2017) that hit me with such force when I heard it. “It’s silly of me to believe that a beast could win your affection.”
In my words, “It’s silly of me to believe that after all the hurt I’ve done to you in the past and that no matter how much I work on growth and change, I could ever, once again, win your affection. It’s silly of me to believe that when they find out the depth of lies and betrayal I did to their mother, I could ever win the affection of my daughters.”
That kind of pain, those beliefs, blocked all my Joy.
My Joy has been dead for years.
Love Yourself in the Here and Now
I need to continue to love myself.
I need to accept that my ex’s resistance to let go of the past and accepting that her unwillingness to love me for the man I’ve become, are her issues not mine.
I need to believe that when I love myself, I will be able to love my girls wholly, and that love will surpass my past mistakes. My girls will love me for who I became, not for who I was.
I need to hang onto those beliefs.
To hang onto those beliefs, I am released from my own personal shackles. I can stop the left side of my hemisphere blocking the serenity the right keeps trying to give. I need to continue to do the work of staying present, not worrying about the future or hanging on to the past.
I can love me for who I am today! Not who I was.
And from that self love, I will be able to feel Joy.
Rafiki’s Uncle finished our workshop with these final comments, “While we are alive, it is within this moment that we have the potential for everything. God only exists in this moment.
“We can go into the past, but there is no God in the past. We can go into the future, but there is no God in the future. God only exists right now.
“You can go into the past and into the future if you want. But, you go at your own risk. You go without God.
“When we live in the present moment, everything is fine the way it is. My longings, my dreams, and my desires don’t define me. They are a part of my experience right now, right here. They energize me and feed me.
“I won’t confuse my dreams with ‘getting’. They are miraculous on their own. They are mine and a part of me. But they don’t define who I am.”
Another way to look at how to experience Joy is to read Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now.
“People don’t realize that Now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.”
“…the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.”
“Most humans are never fully present in the Now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not Now.”
“As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the most simple action.”
I’d like to leave you with one final thought. You don’t need to write this one down. Just reflect on it.
How would you treat yourself today if you were already Enlightened, already recovered, and already Spiritually Awakened? How would you treat yourself if you were experiencing Joy?
Start living your life Right Now!
– Van Halen
Together We Can Heal.