Hunting for the joy that once was

When was the last time you felt a moment of total elation? Feet off the ground, body weightless elation. Free of self-consciousness, free of worry, free of the impending burden of tomorrow. Has it been awhile? A recent computer clean-out brought me to a trip down memory lane. Suddenly, I was knee deep in photos, wondering that most annoying phrase; where did the time go? But really, where had it? I glanced through photos of my first music festival. Outside. Dirty. Worn happy from scorching days and relentless nights. On a higher plane with the discoveries of new music and the freedom of being there, with my friends, completely unattached from the outside world. And now? It feels like so long ago. Those same feelings seem somehow unattainable, withering away, freshly encased in glass. And why that is makes me wonder. I think: have I really let the weight of life impinge on my ability to let go, to have fun, to truly release? Can I not envision myself in a similar carefree situation now? What is stopping me? Why did it suddenly become so hard to have fun?

Now, don’t get me wrong, of course I have a good time every now and again, but that previous, unhindered lightness seems to have dissolved into the solution of daily life. The planning, schedules and contraptions of adulthood. Have they worked their way into every nook and cranny of my world? Or is it something else? Have my interests simply shifted? Am I sabotaging myself with the idea that the same things that elated me then should elate me now? And, if that’s so, what must be done to tap into that ecstatic place? Sure, simple pleasures are easy. Food, books, the cultivation of a home and writing bring some tender forms of spiritual comfort and release, but their limbs can only reach so high. To extend further, it feels like another platform is required. A hedonistic night out, a bigger community, an extravagant trip to a festival. There always seems to be something needed to spark that same quickness of step and lightness of being.

Elizabeth Sensky_Life Contemplation_Growing Up and Nostalgia

Maybe it’s true that this is just a part of getting older. That parts of your life fall away and others gain importance. But many things in me know better. Many things in me yell out in protest. Because what does age really have to do with it? Sure, parts of our lives fall away, but that’s a constant in life. And why should that affect our ability to access that unquenchable joie de vivre we all contain within us? It may, instead, be a consequence of the conditioning that comes with age, with the routines we feel ourselves beholden to and cradled by. But age itself, no, that can’t be the problem. So then how do we (struggling adults such as I) shake free of these grips and soak up the sweetness of an unweighted touch? The real question is: what was lost in the folds between adolescence and young adulthood, between young adulthood and adulthood? What glimmers of magic got stuck in the creases? And how do we coax them out and up into the same intoxicating puffs of wonder we once inhaled?

Well, in all likelihood, we don’t. At least, not exactly. It can never be as it was, but we knew that already didn’t we? Our only way forward is through the muck of our current reality. And even if our reality is positively beautiful and blessed, there is still muck. The first step is to stop shaming ourselves for being bothered by the fact that we are bothered by our insignificant muck. Getting tripped up by our problems, however small, that’s what makes us the beautiful, flawed humans that we are. And the good news is that we can use these problems as footholds to lift ourselves up and make ourselves wiser. Filling the holes in our own body so that we can focus on the greater concerns of another.

When we reach our height of nostalgia and remorse for the way we are now juxtaposed to the way we were then, or what we had then vs. what we have now, that’s when we let it go through us. We hate every ripple, we yell at every loss. We feel the feelings so we can pull the next layer back. Because uninhibited joy is predicated on a loss of control. And for those of us who need to feel like we’re at the helm of every detail in our life, to mold it into every etching we’ve sketched out in our minds, then this part doesn’t come easy. This part is like watching someone wrench a knife through our gut and choosing not to say hurtful words. It’s also choosing not to say hurtful words to ourselves. About how we are and what we should be doing to live a “good” life. It’s counting to ten and listening before jumping to grand conclusions. It’s sitting back and nodding as someone else takes the wheel. It’s giving ourselves the space to see what is missing and how we can get it. The freedom to not force mind-altering events to happen. To go and get life but not to try to wrap it into the shiny bows that the past now occupies in our minds. It’s letting the things come to us that should. Because in our moments of past elation, chances are we weren’t planning every detail or struggling to find a way to will the moments into existence. They just happened, because we had the space to be with the right people to do the fun things. We landed there by happenstance. We did things to get there, sure. But the circumstances were not contrived into being. They were simply allowed to happen.

And that’s the wide and expansive landscape that blips into focus when we throw up our hands and stop obsessing. When we look out our windshield and quit feeling uneasy by the blank expanse and infinite routes that faces us. Because, before we know it, there will be a dot on the road ahead that morphs into a shape and then turns into a form. A thing that wasn’t there a few minutes ago, until it was, right there in front of us. But if we fixate on how to find it, if we drive in circles over the patch where we think it may be, chances are, we will never reach it. Chances are we will be stuck in our old shell trying to pick up the pieces. Too busy with what once was to settle into what is now.

And that doesn’t have to be the case. We don’t have to wring out the joy of our past lives. We can wrap ourselves up in old memories, luxuriate in them even if we know they are tinted rose by the time and distance. We can do that and still have hope that that joy never went anywhere. It’s still in the ether, neither created nor destroyed. Sure, we can’t tap into it on-demand, but, with faith, it will appear again. It will spark into the night, a simple match emblazoned by a quick strike and an endless supply of air. It’s like that inscrutable speck on the horizon, lingering somewhere out there, patient and waiting until we are close enough to reveal its form.


 that had been stopped

is beginning to move: a leaf
 driven against rock
 by a current
 frees itself, finds its way again
 through moving water. The angle of light

is low, but still it fills 
this space we’re in. What interrupts me

is sometimes an abundance. My sorrow too,
 which grew large through summer 
feels to me this morning

as though if I touched it
 where the thick dark stem

is joined to the root, it would release itself

whole, it would be something I could use.

~Excerpt from the poem, “Heart Work” by Anita Barrows.

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