What is joy? I know I am carried by the stream of joy when my soul goes on automatic pilot and I surrender to that stream and let it carry me. The best word for me to describe this is “flow.” I just “let go and let flow.”
An example? I am a dancer. My body naturally attunes to rhythms and the feel of music. It seems I’ve always felt this. Whether I am lost in drumming or moving across a dance floor, the joy of flow often carries me body and soul.
One special evening (years ago) comes to mind. I was at a church general assembly and I met up with a woman friend from California for an evening dance event. The music being played by the disc jockey was swing dance music: the big band era (a favorite genre of mine). Barbara and I had never danced together. But we let the music move us and we improvised as the rhythms gathered us in a long, free-style dance improvisation.
There were lots of people on the floor, but the room was so big we could move freely. The music came to life in our bodies, we “got our groove,” and let dancing just happen.
Quickly, we realized we were confident in entering the rhythms, both as a couple and independently. We let our hands release and we drifted apart dancing with abandon: each drifting across the floor alone and then returning to join hands and swing joyfully as a couple. We drifted away and then joined several times with that lively swing jazz music.
That evening of dancing stands out as a memorable time, moving with full abandon, being carried body and soul by the joy of dance.
Joy might well be described as an “eros for life.” Moments of joy awaken our bodies and souls with the spirit of life and love flowing through us, lifting us, and carrying us forward, ebullient and free.
Please do not imagine that I romanticize the feeling of joy. We can feel joy even in the midst of anxiety, pain and suffering. These emotions can—they often do—dwell together within us, alongside joy. Even now, during these troubling times when all people the world over are wrestling with the deadly Covid-19 Virus. We can pause and experience moments of joy. The poet and novelist, Barbara Kingsolver, offers this:
“In my own worst seasons I've come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again" (from “High Tide in Tucson”).
Joy need not be denial. It does not oppose tragedy. There are tragedies and there is joy. They co-exist in your heart. Joy can become a healing feeling, an awareness our souls offer to us, if we pause and notice its presence. Joy is here within you, nudging, prodding, tugging to get your attention and carry you with its eros for life. Joy pulls from our hearts through the deep loves that grace and feed our lives… if we pause to notice and feel its presence.
When have you sensed moments of being fully lifted by the feel of flow? Recall them as times of inner nourishment. Hold them in your heart. Love yourself into the reverie of joy. And feel your soul drifting into the grace of flow.
Roy Reynolds is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister living with his wife and life partner in the Kentucky hills. Roy’s retirement ministries are devoted to developing personal and small group practices for centering into and living from Wisdom’s Sacred Presence. Roy is Tonya Reynolds Ricks’ father.