The practice of joy

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Fall is a magical time in New England. One by one and then in clusters the leaves give way to hues of red and yellow and orange, as if bursting into flames. “The trees are on fire” I say. As a native Southern Californian, a hillside of such colors are usually framed by black billowing smoke. 

My favorite way to experience the foliage is by walking through the forest on a sunny afternoon.  On a recent hike, with a dense canopy of leaves overhead, I took a few steps off the trail and stretched out on a soft bed of moss and fallen leaves.

Staring up from the trunk of a tree I imagine what it would take for an artist to recreate this view. Each leaf would need to be carefully cut from brightly colored parchment, hand painted with tiny veins and then painstakingly glued to artificially branches and limbs. Thousands of dollars. Hundreds of hours.

Back on the trail, the leaves crunch beneath my feet as each step brings me more deeply into a meditative state. Perched on the edge of a small valley I take a deep breath and scan the foliage below.

This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced.

Joy courses through my veins.

Then, in an instant, I feel overwhelmed with sadness.

All of this beauty will be gone soon.

*** 

Why is it so difficult to be present to joy?

I recently attended the Women and Power Retreat at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, and Dr. Brené Brown shared her research findings. “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience”,  she said to an audience of over 500 women. “If you cannot tolerate joy, then you start dress rehearsing tragedy.”

How can we overcome this? Brown’s research showed that certain people had an ability to experience a great amount of joy. What did they do differently? These joyful people cultivated a practice of gratitude.

What is one thing you can do today to practice gratitude?

 

 

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