Does choosing joy count as a spiritual practice? You bet it does! There is no greater spiritual practice than using your joy to flood our world with light. But sometimes joy can be elusive, especially these days as the harsh realities of living in the 21st century come closer to home. We read headlines that the very nature of civilization is at stake if we don’t act now. Or that the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals is occurring at a rate never seen before, mainly as a result of human activity. We see human injustices that break our hearts. Frankly, we live in radically uncertain times where a deep current of anxiety and instability rumbles below the surface.
You may find yourself asking: “How can I find joy when my heart is breaking because of what I see occurring in the world?” Or even: “I feel numb.” I know these feelings. I’ve been there. Know that you’re not going crazy when that bone-deep grief hits or you just feel like checking out.
Maybe you find your heart aching for the people in Flint, Michigan drinking lead-contaminated water since 2014, or the forest destroyed by the raging wildfire, or the death of the last rhinoceros. Or maybe your grief hits closer to home because of the loss of a loved one or even an unfulfilled dream. Or maybe it’s a combination.
Yet amidst all of this uncertainty and heartbreak, a worldwide collective heart expansion and awakening is occurring. Together we are learning what it means to open our hearts and it’s because we are allowing ourselves to feel deeply. Doing so is reshaping how we connect and relate, not only to each other but to all beings. I call it The Story of Our Awakened Hearts and your awakened heart is essential for this story to be fully told.
As we open up to The Story of Our Awakened Hearts, it becomes very apparent how intimately connected all beings are. In the beginning, this can feel overwhelming. Don’t be surprised if your heart begins to ache and feels like it’s breaking. While writing the Story of Our Awakened Hearts for a book I’m working on, I swept myself into a tizzy by simultaneously experiencing deep awe and profound grief.
Nature’s beauty really moves me. I can feel amazing awe by simply witnessing the morning sun rising over the field in front of my house. Or hearing the early morning songs of birds that flew thousands of miles just to eat at my birdfeeder. I am thrilled when I think about the amazing potential we have within us if we fully claimed our light. On the other hand, profound grief arises when I consider the possibility of losing these nature gifts or hearing of human injustices that cause me to wince, or the possibility we are unable to rise up to the infinite potential contained within our light.
As these emotional waves of awe and grief washed over me my heart literally began to ache. It felt like it was cracking open. Maybe you know this ride too. For a brief period, it was beating too fast and it was hard for me to sleep at night. An emotional cocktail of excitement, anxiety, fear, anger, and grief washed over me. (At times like this, the Clearing Emotional Congestion qigong exercise is very helpful.)
Although alarming, I eventually realized my energetic heart was undergoing a major expansion to experience a more inclusive connection to all life. I began to understand what the Lakota Indian tribe means when they say: Mitákuye Oyás’i which translates as “all my relations.” It is a prayer that recognizes the oneness and harmony with all forms of life including other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys. It recognizes that everything is interconnected and requires our utmost respect.
As this deeper connection to all my relations unfolds, my relationship to life is transforming. I am now wide open to receiving guidance from the world around me and especially from animals (from toads to butterflies to grasshoppers!) that regularly show up to offer me messages. Birds fly into my hand to eat, something I’ve patiently waited for. The compassion and love I feel for myself more easily radiates to all beings. Even when the deep pain of human injustice washes over me, I can still access my Sea of Tranquility. Yes, of course it’s still a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but this expansion continues to unfold. There really is no limit to it, (even saying that increases my heartbeat!)
So let your heart break open. As author Joanna Macy writes, “As it does there will be room for the world to heal. That is what is happening as we see people honestly confronting the sorrows of our time.” So when we feel emotions that cause our heart to break, the key is to not sweep them to the side or stuff them in a box. Our emotions need to be felt, honored, and when ready, transformed into compassionate radical action to ensure The Story of Our Awakened Hearts is told by everyone.
As we see, feel, and deepen our connection to all, we awaken to the reality that there is one collective heart beating together. “If you connect deep enough,” author Matt Kahn writes, “you will discover the same Universe within you residing in every heart.” When this realization occurs, it’s impossible to feel disconnected or alone. You will see the sacred in everyone and everything around you. Your capacity to feel love and compassion, once limited to a small circle of human beings, will radiate and ripple out across the world. As this happens, you will sense, feel, and/or just deeply know that there are beautiful golden threads of energy that intimately connect all beings. As each one of us wakes up to this realization, one by one each thread in the tapestry of life is restored. This worldwide collective heart expansion is occurring now. For this tapestry to be completed, your awakened heart is needed.
Grief is a well-known catalyst for an expanding heart, but it’s essential we don’t let it immobilize us during this epoch transition. As your heart recalibrates and opens to its true capacity, emotions of sorrow, anger, and even anxiety are important fuel for birthing the new vision. But let’s not forget about the power of joy! Joy and happiness are some of the best heart balms available.
I often call upon the words of Valarie Kaur, founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, to fortify my awakened heart. She says: “In a time such as this, joy is an act of moral resistance.” She reminds us that: “Joy returns us to everything that is good and beautiful and worth fighting for. Joy gives us the energy to continue our labors to make a viable life and more just world. Joy comes when we draw our attention to the present moment — a child’s laughter, a neighbor’s cookies, a lit candle.”
Don’t underestimate the value of prioritizing your happiness, in whatever way you define it. Make time for what brings you joy as if it was the most important thing in your life, especially during the challenging times! One of the best ways to do this is to connect with loved ones. There is nothing like having a heart to heart discussion with someone near and dear to you. And if you can throw in some good belly laughs, all the better! Let’s spread the joy!