My whole life long, I have secretly nursed the belief that joy is a destination, a dwelling I can search for and, eventually, live inside of.
I think I loved Anne of Green Gables so much for this reason. She knew! She knew that if she could just find the right things and hold onto them (in her case, not-red-hair and a great adoptive home) life would be GOOD. Stars would shine brighter. Angels would sing.
In my case, my dream has been a vocation that I love. I’ve wanted to take the stuff of my life – the experiences, the disjointed education, the body/mind/spirit I’ve come to call “me” – and pour it into something that makes sense of it all. Something that feeds me and does the world good.
What’s puzzled me this year, therefore, is that I actually found my dream job, and right alongside of my joy (and the gratitude, awe, and even peace that are part of that for me) has been more fear, more adrenaline, more pressure, and more not-enoughness than ever I felt before. How is this possible?? I ordered JOY bricks for this house!
Last month Andrea wrote about finding herself disappointingly sans camera at a wedding she wanted very much to shoot; she had plans to include photographs as part of her gift to the bride and groom. And I was struck deeply by these lines:
I feel like I could ask the same of any of my life’s joys: when do they bring me deeper into the moment and when do they pull me farther away…and ultimately, farther from joy?
As I look at my life, I have this sense that my heart is happening, is doing its thing, at the very same time as my ego – that both reach out simultaneously for what they want and need.
And when my heart shouts, “SCORE!!” about arriving at some joy, my ego shouts it, too. Because nestled into what I love are so many possibilities for identity formation (I’m a [fill in the blank with my job title]! I have these colleagues, these known activities, this expertise!) and the security (income, identity, something to do with my hands!) my ego wants so much.
But here’s what I’m learning: that part of me – my ego – that jumps immediately from joy into calculation (Okay, how can you turn this love into money? How are you comparing with others in your field? Are you sure you’re really ready for this? Oh good lord, look what you just did!!) – that part of me doesn’t understand heart-song very well. It doesn’t understand joy.
It knows fear best, and assumes that my whole life will be better off safe inside of labels (things like job titles, a desirable relationship status, “one who has accomplished ____”) and activities that shore up things like status, income, and everything known.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with such things – indeed, many of them are essential for survival – but I don’t think fear can ever be the steam behind a life that’s marked by joy.
Or put differently, I don’t think my ego can take me where I want to go.
I don’t know all the ins and outs of what can, but I’m convinced that trust has a lot to do with it, and the antidote trust is to fear’s effects. Because ultimately, isn’t joy what happens outside of, or in the spaces glimpsed beyond, fear?
I’m giving my life to the practice of tending trust and have this sense that the deeper and fuller and wider my trust grows – trust that labels aren’t one of joy’s requirements, that I’m already and always enough, that in some wondrous, messy, inexplicable way, everything belongs – joy will flow like an underground spring.
I think it’s my ego that continues to root for joy as a home. My heart already knows it’s more fluid than that, and that the safest, most secure place to be is in the company and cultivation of trust.
Kristin Noelle is a Los Angeles based writer, artist, and healer. Her sketch blog, Trust Tending, explores conscious moves we can make to nourish trust. She recently launched an ebook titled Unspiking the Holiday Punch: A Trust Tending guide to self-kindness before, during, and after extended family time – a comforting, practical guide to navigating the relational challenges of holiday gatherings.