just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness

Making a Joy List

Published on 04/12/16
by randy

Shine On

Shine On

What are those things you do that give lasting joy? Our consumer driven society works us all day long trying to sell us on pleasure. Yet, this inevitably has short term effect, yielding a vacuum and increased desire for the next thing. I’m talking about those activities we engage in that feed a lasting sense of well being. So often, when we’re filled with restlessness, we may resort to unhealthy eating, shopping, various spectator entertainments, intoxicants, etc. Yet, after engaging these pleasures we feel worse than we did before. We know this restlessness is part of the human condition. No one is immune. We’re either pulled to wanting what we had or pushed to desiring what’s not in front of us. Yet, our real joy is to fully engage the moment with a gratitude orientation for the opportunity to just participate in this life.

I wish someone would develop an app that would quantify our sense of restlessness vs. our sense of well being. The more we cultivate our awareness, the better we get at sensing this felt sense of well-being. We’re repeatedly directed by our spiritual teachers to do what we can to move away from negative emotions and thoughts. We know that the more we attach to negatives, the more we suffer. The more we put attention to the moment and to gratitude for the opportunity to participate, the less we suffer. For some people, this process comes naturally. For most of us, it’s hard work that requires daily practice. Making a ‘joy list’ is an essential part of this practice. When negative feelings come up, do we go for short term pleasure or mindful practice of those skills that increase our awareness and sense of well being?

For me, I loved chocolate, ice cream, beer, crusty breads, and candy. Sometimes I’d try to comfort myself with these foods. Sometimes I corrupted any experience of the present moment because my thoughts were entangled with my addiction to these foods. For me, these were pleasure foods that had negative consequence. I enjoyed them in my mouth, but later my body was confused from my lack of awareness. I shifted my food consumption emphasis from the pleasure sensation of the mouth to the feeling of well-being from the nourishment of the food. I’m continually amazed at our lack of regard to the ‘feeling’ of well being or pain following our consumption of various foods. Some call my abstinence from chocolate and ice cream ‘will power’. It is. It’s my will to nourish my body for a long term felt sense of joy.

So when the restless, complaining, ‘not enough’ mind turns on, what do you do? Do you go for the short term pleasure, or sustained sense of well being? Do you increase your suffering or reduce it? Do you move from pain to numbness, or pain to awareness?

Some people have asked me about my ‘joy list’ as an example. Here’s a list of some of my favorites.

Review photos of my family, recalling gifts of the past, recognizing the fleeting moments in this live and just making space to acknowledge how so many have been such great support to my joy and sense of well being.
Meditate daily. The mind is a very dangerous thing as we’re so often entangled in negative thoughts. It takes tremendous discipline and skill to pause, to cultivate the silence between thoughts, and to allow the presence of that which is much bigger than our ego’s attempt to identify us as separate from the Divine. While I practice at least thirty minutes each morning, whenever restlessness comes upon me with negative emotions, I know I can meditate to once again discover lasting feelings of well being.
Yoga. This body that gets me around is the only one I have or will have. It’s huge mystery and performs so many functions beyond my awareness. A daily practice of yoga provides lasting joy as I develop greater awareness to the body, deeper listening, and cultivate a stewardship to lasting health. I consistently find a greater sense of well-being from all moving meditation practices, but have particularly found a place for yoga.
Breath instruments. A deeper sense of well-being is very much dependent upon breath and our awareness to it. Centered, balanced breath that comes from deep within the diaphragm provides great stability for meeting ‘what comes up’. My primary breath instrument is the trumpet. Even though I started playing at the age of eight, each moment the mouthpiece touches my lips, it’s new. Breath is the most important element. This awareness of depth, balance, and centeredness transfers to my secondary instruments, harmonica and voice. Whenever negative emotions and thoughts seem to be grabbing me, I know I can go to these instruments for relief.
Engaging in an activity with intention to relieve another from suffering. I know my healing from suffering is best fed from doing what I can to make myself available to others for the purpose of easing their pain. I’m particularly filled with a sense of well being when meeting pain and suffering of those who’ve been oppressed. When I can actually do something that creates opportunity for someone who’s freedom to participate has been obstructed, my sense of well being soars. When I can feel their imprisonment as mine rather than taking a ‘fix it’ attitude, my sense of participation leads to lasting joy, just for having met their suffering. In short, compassion yields deep joy when we have the courage to engage in it.
Boardsports. There’s something about putting my entire bodyweight on a single surface that alleviates my suffering. This activity takes great awareness, attention to the moment, and balance that challenges us in new ways. When caught in my mind’s restlessness, I always know that engaging in boardsport will bring me to greater sense of well-being, whether Stand Up Paddle, windsurfing, kitesurfing, skateboarding, wakeboarding, or snowboarding. The kinesthetic focus on ‘cultivating stability on an unstable platform’ is great practice and preparation for meeting the surprise of the next moment.
Engaging others in deeper conversations. While I get temporary joy from surface socializing with friends, the lasting sense of well-being comes from deeper conversations with those who are also exploring their spiritual journey. Conversations with curious, open minded and vital people feeds my soul and sense of well being in a very rich way. I find it helpful to have a list of those people willing to do this. It’s like going to church with an adventuresome mind, willing to ask deeper questions, forever humbled to life’s mystery.
Take a nap. Sometimes fatigue comes upon me. Taking a brief nap (about twenty minutes), can often change my sense of well-being, feeding me with new energy for meeting the next moments of the day.
Mindful consumption. I know I can improve my sense of well-being by holding awareness to foods and/or drinks which nourish and sustain. This is especially helpful when done with others from a sense of gratitude and community.
Engage nature. Taking a walk, ski, bike, or board into nature always improves the sense of well-being. Several in the mind/body health field recommend a minimum of thirty minutes in nature each day for a balanced life. When I’m particularly carried with negative thoughts and emotions, this is my ‘go to’. Get outside, breath deep, and just keep moving. It’s extremely effective at helping me to get bigger than the problem, even when the problem seems big.
Gratitude practice. Did you know that joy is a necessary consequence of gratitude? No matter how much pain and complaint we may be caught in, when we move to gratitude we increase our sense of well being. Try it. I was told this by a Benedictine monk when I was over fifty years old. It should be taught to every child at an early age. What parent doesn’t want their child to be happy? Well, here’s a practice that can do this. Yet, it is a skill that requires practice. When caught with feelings of ‘not enough’, ‘make space to find the gift in the given’. Some have said it’s not about getting what you want, but rather, wanting what you get. This practice at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day provides great momentum for lasting joy and sense of well being.

These are a few things on my list. They’re my ‘go to’ when negative emotion grabs me. No doubt, I’ve got my short term pleasures. Yet, over the years, I’ve seen how they’ve not served me, and so often, have harmed me. If this article has helped you think about your list, I’m happy. We all suffer. Our work is to let go and engage in practices that feed our sense of joy and well being. Throughout the day we’re tossed by the winds of change, moving from pleasure to pain, gain to loss, praise to criticism, fame and disrepute. We get ourselves in trouble when we step from our calm, joy and sense of well being. Life goes better when we can move from a sense of spiritual security, with balance and equanimity, holding a feeling of well being, no matter what. I hope you’ll consider your joy list after reading this. Do it when you’re feeling a strong sense of well being. Write it down. Make it your ‘go to’ when things get rough. Holding our light when an earthquake happens works better when we’ve cultivated our joy list.

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