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Amidst the current buzz of tidying our spaces since Marie Kondo’s hit Netflix series, I’ve been doing my own tidying in the depths of my psyche.
Tucked away beneath all the rubble—boxes upon boxes of various memories—I’ve found a box of my joy.
It was hard to get to; there were multiple heavy boxes on top of it and many surrounding it, making the path difficult to clear.
But once I spotted it, I knew it was time, and so I’ve been clearing the way. How did such an important box become so buried amongst so many other things?
In my mid 20s, I moved to Boulder, Colorado. I left a secure job as a teacher in a public school in order to begin a four-year graduate program.
When I lived in Colorado, I didn’t date very much. I had left behind an unhealthy relationship to move across the country, and I was focused on school, newly in love with the mountains, and devoted to my studies of what was becoming a fascinating and fulfilling career.
It was the first time since I had ever dated at all that I wasn’t pining for a relationship; I had found a spark of contentment within myself and I was already jaded enough to suspect that no man could ever make me happier than I could make myself.
I strived to prove this to myself, and in many respects, I was successful.
The notion of being in relationship had transformed from something I felt I needed for years into potentiality, but not something I felt desperation over. I wasn’t exactly averse to dating, but I’d taken a step toward my confidence which assuredly said, “Don’t give of yourself to a man unless you get something in return,” which is not a flawless notion, though an improvement to its predecessor, which said, “If you give enough of yourself, eventually you will appeal to a good man.”
In the five years I lived in Colorado, I dated a little, but none of the relationships lasted even a full year. However, all of them impacted my joy in varying ways, most of them negatively, and from those trepidations, I am happy to say I’ve risen from the ashes and have stepped back into a wave of joy.
One of the men I dated was a customer of mine when I was a cashier at Whole Foods. He came through my line regularly and we’d engage in witty banter that had become increasingly friendly with each exchange.
One afternoon, he came through my line to buy flowers—white and orange lilies. He paid for them and then handed them back to me and said, “Oh, these are for you.” I blushed and he gave me a business card. Above his name it said, “Writer. Author.” I sent him an email a few days later to thank him and he asked me out in return.
We dated for only six weeks, but a lot transpired in my life in that time.
He lived by himself in a beautiful condo in an upscale neighborhood in Boulder. He showed me multiple pages of his book he was writing and read me beautiful excerpts chock-full of intricate descriptions of mundane things. He talked about circles he ran in and people he knew, publicists and agents and other writers.
It was all very interesting, but I admit that even then, something felt off. I was having trouble putting my finger on it, but was giving it time to unfold.
I had only met one friend that he spoke of, an older Middle Eastern man who barely spoke English. He had spontaneously taken me to his home where we were offered a meal, and he charismatically exchanged with his friend in ways that felt exaggerated and showy.
One night, there was an unexpected knock at my door. I went to the door and opened it to find a bouquet of lilies on the doormat in front of me, and looked up just in time to see his car speed off.
I sent him a text message thanking him for the flowers, but asked why he didn’t stick around to deliver them to me directly. He was elusive and I couldn’t figure out why…and if I’m being honest, I didn’t particularly care very much at this point; I wasn’t feeling overly drawn to him and was having doubts this relationship would go anywhere. Five weeks had passed since we had first spent time together and I was beginning to feel uneasy.
I decided to look him up on Google, lest I find any morsel of information, and to my surprise, there were literally dozens of links with his name on them, titles like, “Con artist!” and “Stay away!” bannered across the search engine results.
Alas, this person who I had let into my life was a crook, a scammer by trade. In these pages, story upon story was laid out by varying people about how he had conned them out of hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, and in a couple of them, there were even photos of him included.
I paused for a moment without a breath. I felt sick.
Then I felt scared and concerned and embarrassed. I began to run a list in my head of necessary next steps.
The next day, I called him. He answered, unaware of my discovery. Without hesitation, I told him what I had found and told him never to contact me ever again. Without pause, he told me he could destroy my life and my career. He told me he could ruin my life with online reviews and stories about me. I told him again never to contact me and hung up the phone.
I searched my name regularly after then while holding my breath, but nothing appeared. Somehow, I escaped without losing any money or my reputation, though he was one of a list of men who taught me that I could not trust my own judgement of other people.
This was a small drop in a sea of reasons why I’d packed up joy quite a long time ago—but I mistook this box of joy’s contents for the things that made me pack my joy away in the first place.
I was scared to open it up, afraid that bad memories would come flooding out.
Interesting things happen when fear intercepts a wave of joy. Losing your ability to trust your own intuition about other people makes everyday interactions with the world frightening. Fear and joy are oil and water, yin and yang. Where joy is depleted, fear fills in and takes up space. Circumstances that would otherwise elicit delight are overcast by paranoia and an endless stream of “what ifs.”
I put my joy away for some complex reasons that can be found in these other boxes, and at the foundation of every one of those reasons was fear. I put my joy away in order to survive and to focus on difficult tasks at hand. I packed it up tight and I longed for it but I felt disassociated and distant from it; it felt unattainable.
I tried to create new contents for new experiences of joy, but I’ve learned something important: joy is a wave, a continuous linear stream that comes from around us, extends through us, and out beyond us. It is not something we are capable of creating; rather, it’s a train we jump on to go for its glorious ride.
Joy is bigger than we are. It cannot be had or harnessed or created any better than a human can make a spider web; it isn’t ours to create, it’s ours to acknowledge and admire.
You invite joy to approach you, you humbly honor its presence, and then you give it your hand and jump aboard.
This box before me contains my unbridled laughter, a sound I hadn’t heard in years. It keeps ridiculous inside jokes from high school, a few healthy relationships and being in love, and singing at the top of my lungs and not caring if I sound good. It contains feeling safe with those who have loved me.
This box is full of the sounds leaves make in the mountains as a rainstorm approaches. It is a vista after days of hiking, the taste of an intricate and skillfully created meal, feeling adrenaline in a thunderstorm, being in shape enough to run through the woods or bike up a mountain, and especially the feeling of air on my face as I glide back down.
Joy is the feeling of clarity and peace as my fingers extend in mantra, it flows beyond my arms and wrist as an offering in a simple yoga class, the unexplainable all-knowingness that infiltrates in such moments that I am held safely in the plans of the universe.
Joy is feeling intrinsically connected to the macrocosm and simultaneously autonomous and freewheeling.
Joy requires your time. It requires your attention. It requires bravery and vulnerability and candor. Joy insists that you acknowledge fear but do it anyway, acknowledge imperfections and do it anyway. Joy calls on you to admit your mistakes and unabashedly try again.
And also, joy requires pause:
I had intentions for so long to pull out my box of joy and to invite it back in, but I was swept up in the responsibilities of my life that were all backed by fear, afraid to remember this and other stories, scared they would sidetrack me, and so I missed many chances to authentically invite it back.
So I am opening this box now, because I am ready to pause and step aboard. I am ready for joy.