In some ways very simple, yet also deeply profound. I stumbled across the work of James Baraz who wrote the book, Awakening Joy and also leads a course of the same title: www.awakeningjoy.info. One of the primary foundations of his work is mindfulness: by being present to ourselves & our surroundings, we can find joy in each moment. The soft kitty purring on your lap, the smile of a delighted child, the lovely feel of a soft breeze.
While these things may not change the circumstances that can make life difficult, it does give us a respite from that – it can interrupt the drudgery, or the irritation, or stress we are feeling – and potentially put us on a different trajectory.
Directing our attention and setting an intention for joy helps us to notice it more – it almost has the effect of creating more joy in our lives. Baraz invites people to create a Joy List — to list anything and everything that puts a smile on our face or uplifts us — a favorite song, a yummy meal, a luscious nap, a good chat with a friend, a relaxing yoga session. We can attune to what feeds us and deliberately seek this out.
Our mind is habitually inclined towards the negative or fear – it’s like a natural groove that pulls us in(and down). So it takes effort and intention to be receptive to joyful moments: to notice that we are stuck in a negative mindset and then re-set ourselves.
Baraz has offered some very wise reframes to his clients. For example, he works with a woman who dreads social events; all these fears surface in her mind and she usually imagines the worst case scenario. He invites her to imagine instead, “What is the best possible thing that could happen?”. Whenever her mind drifts to the fears, she can re-focus on this question and begin to reset her mind as she visualizes these different images.
Another one that struck me was a person who feels stuck in the rut of constant internal complaining or dread, “I have to do x,y, or z”. Baraz encouraged her to replace “I have to” with “I get to”. I get to do the dishes right now, I get to put my child to sleep, I get to walk the dog. Again, very simple – although, at first it may feel fake or mechanical.
Yet we can come back to our mindful intention to open ourselves to a genuine appreciation of our lives. We can inspire ourselves to work with this: perhaps make it playful by approaching it like a game, or envision it as an experiment. Can we be receptive? Can we re-orient ourselves to this frame? How does this lens promote a shift within me?
The premise being that if we can open ourselves to this lens in each moment, and if we find a way to stick with it, then a shift within us can occur. By engaging our minds this way, we are rewiring the neural pathways in our brain. Simply put, with mindfulness we can create our own pathway to Being Joyful.