Harvesting Joy

By Miriam Hall

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“What if joy is not only entangled with pain, or suffering, or sorrow, but is also what emerges from how we care for each other through those things?“

- Ross Gay, Inciting Joy

Joy. A three-letter word that is so simple and short, and yet, experiencing joy often feels complicated. Through my study and work in Karuna Training, I’ve seen joy as a spectrum, from contentment to ecstasy. There’s a wide range in there - celebration, happiness, satisfaction, playfulness, delight, wonder, and more. And, as Ross Gay says in the quote above, joy is not separate from sorrow.

Pause for a moment to consider the following:

  • What is joy to you? 
  • How do you know you are experiencing joy? 
  • How does your body feel? 
  • What are the qualities of your mind? 

You can make a list of what brings joy, but I invite you to go deeper and consider how joy feels in your body, heart, and mind.

If we are going to harvest joy, first, we have to plant the seeds for it. When I woke up this morning, the sink was full of dirty dishes. I remember grumbling to myself before going to sleep that I’d take care of them in the morning. When I saw the sink this morning, I momentarily cursed last night me, but then I recalled I was exhausted and couldn’t do one more thing last night. I turned on some fun music and dug in because leaving them for future me would kick the struggle down the road a bit.

This morning, I had the ability to give my afternoon self the gift of joy that comes with getting to see a clean sink and the minor, but important, accomplishment of finishing something. I can’t always do that. I struggle with cyclical depression and anxiety, and sometimes planting joy looks more like leaving a favorite stuffed animal in bed to snuggle with that night. Sometimes it looks like crying with a friend until I am emptied out, and we can laugh about something silly. 

In other words, small bits of joy resource us, give us the strength and ability to handle hard times, and help us be receptive to further joy. Deb Dana, a polyvagal researcher, and therapist, coined the word “glimmers” to refer to the opposite of what we commonly call “triggers”. While triggers set our nervous system into states like fight, flight, freeze, and fawn, glimmers help us recover from those states and, sometimes, even attain equilibrium and joy. Though the idea and experience of glimmers are often small or momentary, we expand to the whole spectrum of living - joy and sorrow- when we practice joy in microscopic ways.

All of this talks about joy as if it is an “inside job.” In a way, it is. But the inner aspect of joy isn’t the whole story. The fact is, some people can’t access the basic resources they need to survive, which can mean joy becomes a lower priority on the list. I think it’s important to look at joy as both an outside and inside job. Everyone can enjoy the small things in our lives - butterflies, children’s smiles, beautiful flowers - even as we struggle to survive or work toward liberation for all. Survival and joy don't have to be pitted against each other; we can always keep the joy in mind and heart. Joy and care often come together. Joy isn’t meant to bypass pain; rather, to help give us more than just pain in our lives. 

Once we begin to recognize joy on a personal level and a larger scale, we need to harvest it: take it in, savor it, and share it. Since it’s intermixed with sorrow and everything else, this harvesting of joy isn’t always clean and simple. When we harvest joy, we have to harvest the full complexity of our lives. 

In August, I am facilitating a Karuna Live to take a deeper dive into the concept of harvesting joy. I invite you to join me for an hour to collectively cultivate a sense of interconnected joy, embracing the richness of our overall experience.

Article written by Miriam Hall

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