Joy is the harvest when we cultivate gratitude

On Thanksgiving night I laid out fire-front, warm flames soothing this recovering belly and I thought about the nine lives mythology of cats. I reclined and re-lived six of my own mega-close calls over a lifetime and then added one more. Because on this day, of all days, the surgeon called to tell me the pathology report of the surrounding region was clear. In simple English: they got it all. So I figure I’ve got two lives left and that’s pretty good odds at this age. O.K. So much for making light of this.

The holiday weekend was full of family, food and celebration magnified by incredible news and our wedding anniversary woven in as well. But in captured moments of muted stillness, in the restlessness of night, in the hush of meditation I began to notice that the joy one would expect at this reprieve was not coming easy. And I thought, “why should it come easy?” I sat outside the doctor’s office in May and wept hot intuitive tears before I embarked on this slow diagnostic trail. Over the ensuing six months I got totally familiar with fear and vulnerability, buddy buddy with sadness and developed the best tolerance for mystery I had ever experienced. And actually, quite frankly, I was thriving in the sweet poignancy of this episode. Not so easy to just flip a switch.

The Thanksgiving holiday culminated in the Sunday Sweat. This place where I’d shown up the previous week, barely moving post-op, grateful for a big dose of healing, still living in the mystery. One week later, with the particulars of this mystery behind me, I held the space, spoke directly about my experience and invited us into a shared field of gratitude for our pulsating aliveness. I was stunned by the courage of a posse willing to dose with medicine available at the brink of their own mortality. So healing to witness this and the closing circle of soft sharing where I chimed in with the above musings. About the seductive nature of living in the mystery and my confusion about the slow onset of joy.

Grateful (theme word of the day) for the student who referred me to Brene Brown’s words of wisdom about the link between gratitude and joy. As someone who studies shame and scarcity and fear, Brown feels that the most terrifying emotion we experience is joy. How can that be true?

“When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding….

We’re trying to dress rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch.”

So here I am in this ripe moment for simply softening into joy, leaning into delight, breathing into rapture. Yet ancient self-preserving armor takes charge, clearly joy can be whisked away in a heartbeat and this warped protection trade-off is just a safer bet.

The prescription? Brown says that in 12 years of research she has never interviewed a single person who talks about the capacity to really experience joy who does not actively practice gratitude. I have this skill. And each time I practice today, I am aware that joy spontaneously bubbles up. We can get lost if we’re looking for gratitude in the extraordinary. Take a moment with me here. Name three ordinary right-in-your-face things you’re grateful for. Go ahead. Here’s mine: 1) grateful for the tree my neighbor planted several years ago, conveniently visible from where I’m seated, bright magenta in the sunlight 2) grateful for this green velvet couch that has patiently held my weight for two decades 3) grateful for the clean air that will pass through and nourish me when I walk outside today. And there it is…this thrilling little burst of bliss that rises from my belly to my heart and begs escape with an audible gasp. A momentary aura of joy.

Repeat as needed. Dedicating this full day to cultivating…..

love, bella