The Enchanted Forest of Childhood
There was a wooded lot two houses down from my home in the neighborhood where I grew up. We called it “the woods.” At times, the lot became an enchanted forest. This was especially true when I invited a friend to play in the woods with me. One of my friends shared my enthusiasm for vintage horror films. We transformed into monsters and created our own scripts using the enchanted forest as our stage.
One afternoon, I remember playing Frankenstein to my friend’s Wolf Man. I can still clearly remember scenes from this “play” forty years later. When our time together had almost expired, an invisible alarm clock sounded inside me. We had to return to my house. My friend’s mother would be calling any minute to arrange a pickup. I stood at the border of the woods, one foot in the wilds and the other on the neatly mowed grass of an adjacent home. This is the thought that ran through my head:
Next year we’ll be in seventh grade and we won’t be able to do this anymore.
Another alarm clock had sounded, only the chimes of this one struck an infinitely more somber note. The chimes said the time had arrived to put this chapter of my life behind me. I was not in the least bit happy at the news.
The Paradox of Growing Up
Growing up is often associated with pain, and I am certainly no stranger to this experience. We have to separate from the umbilicus of parents, stand on our own two feet, compete for a niche in society, establish loving relationships, become parents, and face death at the end of our journey. Truth be told, I’ve never really wanted to grow up. To this day I am not a big fan of “putting away childish things.” But it seems growing up is something a human being cannot avoid if he or she desires to lead a constructive, creative life.
Here’s a trick I’ve learned that makes the medicine of growing up a lot easier to take—ladle in generous doses of daily joy.
You may be thinking (or laughing to yourself and at me): How do I do that with the uncomfortable pressures and time crunch of work and family responsibilities? Relax. We’ll get to the answer, but first, we need a little more background.
I get stuck creatively and psychologically if I’m not experiencing joy on some kind of a regular basis.
The Power of Joy
Obviously, joy is a precious and elusive commodity. It takes effort and a multi-faceted strategy to experience it. Joy is the elixir of life in my universe. It is the oil that allows this machine called me to run smoothly. When I’m feeling joy, I’m more creative. My work reaches a higher level. I am more motivated. I want to expand my heart and mind. I want to do what it takes to reach my goals. I am more equipped to help others. When I’m feeling joy, work becomes play. I’m back in the enchanted forest with my sixth grade friend. Resistance evaporates in the presence of joy.
Where does this joy come from? It comes from within me. It comes from within you. The only way to find the joy that does not depend on something outside of ourselves is to establish daily practices that uncover this innate joy. Since we are all unique individuals, we have to find the way to tap into this joy, or source, that we resonate with, that works for us. The only generalization we can make is: JOY IS WITHIN YOU, waiting to be discovered, if you haven’t discovered it already.
I’ve had to go out of the mainstream to find my joy. It hasn’t been easy, because I’m a very conventional person. Yet, something inside me kept pushing me to find an undefinable something more. I was always attracted by the idea of finding God within me, but the Eastern inspired approach of dissolving the ego never remotely interested me. And it is obviously impractical and inappropriate for survival and success in our Western culture. I would add that it’s also a mentally unhealthy approach.
Thankfully, I’ve found that any ego destructive approach is totally unnecessary. Through my research and personal experience, I’ve learned that consciousness has evolved beyond the concept of ego dissolution. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy ego. We need one in our Western civilization to survive and enjoy our lives. I’ve found a path that honors both the individual self and the universal self. It’s a path of embodied consciousness. It embraces both transcendent and every-day awareness.
You Are More Than You Think You Are
The foundation of my practice is meditation. It is my gateway to a reservoir of inner peace, joy, and love.
What do you want? Don’t settle for less than you deserve. Anything is possible. Peace is possible. Love is possible. Joy is possible. Find it. It is waiting for you in the depths of your heart.