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Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Fight to Excavate Joy

There's a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness tends to be a fleeting emotion triggered by something external: a promotion, a surprise gift, an Auburn victory, all green lights when you're late to work. Joy, however, is a state of being that exists even in the presence of worry, stress and conflict. It's a condition of your heart that allows you to find peace and gratitude in the hardest of times.

In my life, I've experienced so many happy times. Moments of elation that bubble to the surface because of what's happening around me. When I got my driver's license, when I graduated from Emory, when I met my husband, at my daughter's first birthday party, when my puppy greets me when I walk in the door. Happiness feels like little bursts of laughter in your heart. It's wonderful but fleeting in the next moment.

Joy is what sustains us. Yet, it's the most difficult to cultivate and hold on to. Joy requires being in an abyss and finding the flicker of light. It requires closing your eyes not to shut out the world and what's happening but to instead force you to look inward for strength.

How do you cultivate joy? It's not easy because you can only cultivate joy by understanding pain. It's like love and hate. Two extremes that require you to experience one to have the other. It's riding the waves of life that push you down under the engulfing tide, requiring you to hold your breath and fight for the surface, so that when you reach it the breath of air that fills your lungs is the finest breath you've ever taken.

Unfortunately, joy can get buried sometimes. It exists deep within us having been built over time from our experiences. But sometimes life is relentless and throws brick after brick, situation after situation, moment after moment to the point that we throw up our arms for protection. Pull into ourselves in an attempt to deflect the bullets. And our joy gets covered in the rubble of our circumstances. There but covered in so much pain, guilt, shame, anger and hopelessness that it's quieted.

But if we close our eyes, take a deep breath, and look inward. Focus on the flickers of light that brought us to the surface before, we can push ourselves out of the rubble and back into that place where we can breathe. That's joy.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

How Do You Exhale?

Last night, someone asked me if I've been writing. It's been months since I've tapped  into that part of myself. The creative who can put fingers to a keyboard and effortlessly put thoughts down on paper. Often subconscious musings that I didn't realize were brewing inside my mind until I saw them written down. I replied, "No, I'm not writing." And I realized in that moment that I've neglected a part of myself that is essential to who I am. I see the world differently when I'm writing because, ironically, I look outward instead of inward. Writing is vital to me. Like breathing.

When I look back, I remember writing poetry as a high school student after my brother, Derek's, tragic car accident. Poems about pain, faith and grasps at figuring out what the future could possibly look like. I didn't write prose until law school when my poems morphed into free-flowing expressions of existentialism, fueled by my reading Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Nietzsche.

When I left the intellectual cocoon of Emory and started working six-hour days as a young attorney in Miami, I continued to read books by Milan Kundera, Kahlil Gibran and Daniel Quinn. But I didn't write down the thoughts inspired by them. Over time, I stopped expressing myself through words and simply absorbed those of others. I didn't know why at the time, but I now realize that writing is a catharsis for me and not simply a form of expression.

I didn't write anything of substance again until we lost our daughter, Abby. Her death sparked a need to capture her short life and I achingly did so by writing a memoir. In that memoir, I renewed my intensely vulnerable and personal expression of poetry by peppering it into the book before each chapter. In looking at it now, 10 years later, I see the chapters as filled with memories and emotions. But the poetry reveals the raw pain that simply telling the story couldn't express.

After Abby, I lost my little brother to an overdose and my mom to her battle with dementia. My novels In Search of Solomon's Wisdom and The Beauty of Grace allowed me to process and come to peace with those loses. Exhaling the pain through my fingertips.

Over the past couple of years as I've faced yet another crisis, I've neglected writing. I've blogged sporadically about other things but by not allowing myself to just sit, process and write about this crisis, I've bloated my heart with pain that keeps forcing its way to the surface. I realize that the reason I've felt lost and unrecognizable to myself is because I've been stuck. Frozen. Holding my breath.

It's time to exhale.