You Do Not Have To Be Good. | rejoyce letters, vol. 33

Hi Friend, 

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees 

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body 

love what it loves.

These are the opening words from a poem by Mary Oliver that I often return to.

I remember the first time I read the first line: "You do not have to be good." The words shot through me, like lightning, because it felt contradictory to everything I've ever been told. And it also felt...True.

It seems to me one of the greatest pressures placed on me as a child was the need to be good. Now, I can only speak for me, so I don't mean to paint with broad strokes. But I will say, this pressure seemed not to stem from a select few adults, but from nearly every adult I ever interacted with...maybe for the first 15 years of my life. So it's not like I'm making the claim, "And this pressure to be good all came down to my crazy Aunt Petunia in Idaho." I mean, to me, this pressure was everywhere. It was the air I breathed.

I fundamentally do not believe in blaming. Blaming isn't healing. Rumi says:

"The fault is in the one who blames.

Spirit sees nothing to criticize."

So, I'm not blaming any of the adults who shaped my worldview. I believe they were all doing the best they could in the moments they were in. (I'm not just regurgitating that line—I sincerely believe it.)

And yet, I've reached the point in my life where I'm deconstructing some beliefs I've long held as "facts"—so let's deconstruct the messages that could be sent when an adult repeatedly tells a child: "You need to be a good kid."

In a broad sense, the adult is suggesting there are two distinct groups of children in the world: Good kids and Bad kids.

That—in and of itself—is a really big claim to make. Of course, it's constantly implied in our culture. Bad kids get coal in their stockings, bad kids go to time out, bad kids go to detention, bad kids go to juvenile delinquent centers, bad kids go to jail.

So, we are learning—really, really young—that the world is a divided place. That there are two factions: the good and the bad. 

And, as a small child, I naturally drew this conclusion: I need to do everything I can to NOT be bad. I need to do everything I can to BE GOOD.

Which means I was not only believing the idea that the world was split between good and bad, I was also believing these premises:

a.) Whether I am good or bad is up to me.

b.) I could easily become bad if I mess up.

c.) If I am good, I will get everything I want.

Today, I consider all three of those beliefs total lies. Utter fallacies. 

I realize this might be a controversial stance, but it's what I fully believe. The first fallacy is judgmental and egotistical, the second is propagating a fear-based worldview, and the third—trust me!—doesn't work.

I was planning on dissecting each fallacy in detail, but instead I'm going to keep things simpler this week and ask:

How could you—yes, you, specifically, you—ever "be bad"? It's completely senseless. You are alive. You are a breathing being. You are a soft animal in a body who loves.

You are not bad, you never could be. Nothing you could do could cause you to be bad. 

If you think you're the exception—and don't we all, sometimes?—and you want to list the dozens of reasons why you are bad, you can if you'd like, send them to me, I'll read them, but nothing you could say could convince me of your badness. You couldn't "be bad" if you tried; just like you couldn't "be good."

Consider this: If you're like me, you tried to "be good" your whole life...and all that trying left you with was nothing but an empty feeling of restlessness. A feeling that you'd been deceived. And maybe (if you're a lot like me) a feeling of righteous resentment toward all those other people who, let's be real, weren't trying to be good nearly as hard as you were. And maybe, you start blaming those people. Because, you did everything right, you were good, and your life still doesn't look how you want it to, so it can't be your fault, you followed the rules, so it must be THEM those BAD PEOPLE you learned about as a child, those are the people responsible for why your life isn't how you want it, so you descend into the state of the self-righteous victim. You say: I don't know what's happening, but God damn it, I'M GOOD. I'M NOT THE PROBLEM. And this state of Self-righteous Victimhood is a state you could stay in for years. (I did.)

But here's the thing: What if you felt like you were deceived because you were deceived? What if the rules you were following from childhood were the problem, not the people in your life?

What if you don't have to try?

You just have to be.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. The Mary Oliver poem is called Wild Geese. One of my favorite books of all time is Mary Oliver's collection of essays calledUpstream

Arrived. | rejoyce letters, vol. 32

Hi Friend, 

I am grateful that my weekend was full of family and friends, including two beautiful nieces—one who is one and can crawl like a champion and almost walk (!) and one who is nearly three and likes to do the “Freeze Dance” endlessly (it’s basically the Cha Cha Slide for toddlers) and melts my heart every time she calls me, “Aunt Joyce.”

One night, after I gave my almost three-year old niece a bath and got her into her pink dinosaur pajamas, I got to brush her wet hair and braid it down her back and—I can’t quite explain it—but, looking at that perfect little braid, I felt like I had made it. Like, maybe, my whole life had been leading to the creation of that tiny braid. Maybe: this was it. And, for a moment, it was enough.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says that a beautiful mantra to repeat over and over to yourself is, “I have arrived.”

I wrote on arrival months ago—and the danger of constantly living for the next thing. 

I’ll be happy when X...

I’ll be satisfied when Y...

When Z happens, I’ll have made it...

All of these thought patterns are dangerous traps to fall into, because you’re deferring your joy to a (usually unreachable) future. People do this their whole lives. People spend their whole lives living for a time that isn’t now and a place that isn’t here.

And yet, even when you can train your mind to stop constantly projecting into the future, it can still  be tough to then actually believe, well, that this is it. To actually BE in the present. To say: I am here. I have arrived. 

Because it’s so easy to mentally understand future projections can be damaging yet still think, “Yeah, but...”

[Aside: One thing I've found with spiritual growth in general: Most people agree with spirituality principles, but many think they'rethe exception. (Another pattern: people often tell me how their partner really needs to start meditating, rather than themselves.) I was reading the awesome book How Yoga Works on the train the other day and the guy beside me started telling me he's been interested in yoga and meditation for years. But his mind? He's can't meditate. He has too much of a "monkey mind." He, simply, thinks too much. (Of course, this is the same problem nearly all of us have and one of the core reasons for meditating.)]

But back to the dangers of the "Yeah, but..." tendency with future projections. For example, you might be tempted to say: “Yeah, I conceptually get it’s best to live in the present and that living only for the future is a trap, and I can see how the world would be better with more present moment awareness, but I, personally, just need these two things to happen first, and then, I’ll totally be able to start fully living in the present.”

Which is, of course, the exact same mind game as before, just intellectually dressed up a bit. (My high school history teacher used to say: “You can put lipstick on a pig, that doesn't make it pretty.”) 

Because what if you’ve already arrived?

They say in sports: When you get to the End Zone, act like you’ve been there before. So why spend your whole life acting like the End Zone is completely elusive? Why not be professional at this thing called living?

What if you’re in the End Zone right now?

What if the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an illusion—what if the tunnel is the illusion?

And (perhaps a bit counterintuitively) what if tapping into the feeling state of having arrived in the present is exactly what will open up new, surprising, delightful opportunities for you in the future?

Here are three little mantras I’ve been using a lot lately (first two from Thich Nhat Hanh), which have allowed me to tap into more moments of presence, with my sweet nieces and otherwise:

I have arrived. 

I am home. 
I am here now. 

They all aim to get me more entrenched in the present, because that’s where the real magic happens. You don’t need to go anywhere else—in time or space—to find joy except for right here.

As Rumi says: 

“This is enough was always true, we just haven’t seen it.”

What if you have arrived? Right here. Right now.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

Family. | rejoyce letters, vol. 31

Hi Friend,

This letter is for those super rare people with tricky family dynamics. ;) Going into the holidays, it's nice to remember what the spiritual teacher Ram Dass says:

“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”

That always cracks me up, in a humbling way.

But, sometimes, doesn't it feel like we hurt those with whom we're closest?

A simple personal example: I don't mean to brag, but one of my cats, Arya, is totally obsessed with me. (My other cat, Tywin, is generally unimpressed by me unless I'm feeding him, but thinks Stephen is actually God.) 

Sweet little Arya sometimes shadows me all day long. When I'm putting away laundry, she'll even follow me back and forth from room to room. It's super cute, but she tends to get underfoot. A couple weeks ago, I was turning to put away a stack of shirts, and accidentally stepped right on her tail. Hard. The poor kitty squawked in pain, fearfully ran, and hid under the bed where I couldn't reach her.

I got on the floor, lifted the bed skirt and profusely apologized. If anyone had been witnessing, I'm sure they would've thought I was insane. I said, over and over, "Arya, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to. I'm so sorry, Arya, I'm so sorry." 

The whole time, she  crouched, tail puffy, staring at me with frightened eyes. Because how could I—whom she loves—have hurt her? I realized, obviously, I could never truly communicate with her. Nothing I could say could convince this hurt creature that I didn't mean to step on her, I didn't intend to hurt her. I had inflicted pain upon her. That was it. (There may or may not have been tears in my eyes.) (And yes, I know, she's a cat.)

But my point is this: sometimes we hurt people we're closest with simply because we are closest with them. They are in our proximity the most, in our energy fields if you will, so they get the brunt of our unresolved issues, our negative emotional patterns, our inclination to be over-sensitive, insecure, easily angered, judgmental, short-tempered, etc. 

And it can feel difficult to explain to someone whom you've hurt that you didn't intend to hurt them, especially if they're someone you're close with. Perhaps this is a family member, a mother or father or sister or brother, who you hurt years ago, or just last week. 

Maybe, from your side, it was completely unintentional, as accidental as stepping on an underfoot kitten, but, from their side, it hurts, and it hurts because of you.

Or, maybe, you knew what you were doing back when you hurt them. But, all the same, right now, you truly wish you hadn't. You long to go back in time and stop yourself. These instances can feel impossible to explain—you might as well explain intentions to a frightened house cat.

Yet, maybe, as you read this letter, you don't identify at all with the person stepping on the cat. You identify with the poor, innocent creature. You are the one always stepped on by your family members, always kicked out of the way, always hurt. And how could they ever do those things to you

Listen: I'm not your father [I'm also not a Sith Lord :)]. I'm not your mother, I'm not your brother, and (in all cases but three), I'm not your sister. I cannot apologize on their behalf. And I am certainly not condoning their past behavior. 

I am just a person who has spent a decent amount of time reflecting on my past, and I've drawn this conclusion: I was always doing the best I could in the moment I was in. Even when I did some REALLY STUPID things that REALLY hurt other people, I was doing my best at the time. 

This personal conclusion has opened me up to some compassion: Maybe those people who hurt me, family and otherwise, were doing the best they could in the moment they were in, too. 

If you immediately want to list the infinite reasons why your family member is actually the worst, okay. But how many years are you going to spend doing that? Does it bring you peace to make endless accusations against your parents—or does it bring you pain?

Because: What if? What if your mother didn't mean to hurt you? What if your father didn't intend to cause you pain?

What if each member of your family has always been doing the best they could in the moment they were in, just like you were?

What if, when you're sharing a Thanksgiving meal, you look around the table and you don't see villains and victims? Instead, you see a table full of people who are doing the best they can. Maybe, then, something within you can shift and soften, and you can find an untapped morsel of forgiveness to offer to your family member, or to offer to yourself.

As Rumi says, "Forgive: if you never know forgiveness, you'll never know the blessings that God gives."

Because you know what Arya did hours after I smashed her tail beneath my heel? She curled up in my lap, purring contently. She'd already wholly forgiven me. 

I am infinitely thankful for forgiveness.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. Book rec this week is a super easy read: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I love what he says about doing our best and not taking things personally.

p.p.s. A Reiki healer once said to me, "Your parents gave you the gift of life, the greatest gift of all. You will never—ever—be able to repay them for that."

p.p.p.s. Last year, we were stuck in Brooklyn for Thanksgiving, and celebrated alone, just us, the kitties, and a roasted chicken. This made me terribly sad at the time, but now I can see how lucky I was. If you're unable to see family this year, or are spending the holiday alone, I'm thinking of you, too. xo.

Reteach. | rejoyce letters, vol. 30

Hi Friend, 

A couple weeks ago, I found myself silently crying, alone, on a nighttime G Train. Of course, I wasn't wholly alone, a smattering of other passengers dotted the orange and yellow seats as we sputtered beneath Brooklyn, but no one acknowledged me, which was fine.

I wondered if solo subway tears were some type of New Yorker rite of passage. I thought, in my year and three months living here, I'd already crossed off the big ones: I'd been shit on by a bird while waiting at a crosswalk, I'd been almost run over by a halal truck in Manhattan, I'd nearly forgotten garbage disposals, dishwashers, and central air existed.

And yet: tears on a train. The whole scene felt abhorrently cliché externally; internally, it felt strangely new.

I’ve cried in public myriad times before, but in this instance the quality of the tears felt distinct. I wasn’t crying my usual tears of negative emotion—anger, sadness, frustration, etc.—instead, I cried because I was so emotionally moved, so stirred, so, well, inspired. 

I had just met Anne Lamott on a book tour for her new book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.

I've met many authors on many book tours and never had an emotional response before beyond basic excitement or fleeting inspiration to keep writing. But this whole night had been wildly touching. As Anne sat on the stage speaking into a microphone, it was if she recapped my entire inner journey this year in one forty minute interview. It was bizarre. It was amazing. It was kind of hard to take in. 

Still, I didn't cry, just sat in a strange state of awe. But when I reached the front of the book signing line, unbidden tears began streaming down my face. Anne was abundantly kind in our two minute interaction. A palpable, loving energy surrounded her. Then, I was outside in the dark trying to piece together what had happened, the tears persisting.

What did Anne speak of that so moved me? Well, a lot, but I'm going to focus on one thread today: the thread of reteaching. 

You see, Anne was a star student in school with intellectual parents (in a miserable marriage), so she decided young she needed to get perfect grades in an effort to keep the family together. Anne said she was 35 years old before she realized a B plus was actually a good grade. (That certainly struck a personal chord; I always got grossly good grades. There's something distinctly disappointing about investing so much energy in schooling and then realizing that—for me, anyway—it was almost pointless.) 

After talking about school, she turned to the audience and said with urgency:

"You know, all those years of schooling. All those classes. And no one ever thought to tell me that I had value."

Thus encapsulating a year's worth of inner work me. 2018: the year of realizing my own value.

The last thing I want to do is paint some woe-is-me victim story. I was definitely loved as a child, and told I was special. But I was also sent many societal messages that linked my worth to things external to me. It's good to get A's; it's good to win basketball games; it's good to have a boyfriend. Along the way, I began linking my value to those things, linking my self-worth to my "results" in the external world.

This is super common, and also, not a sound approach, homie. As Anne said that night:

"The world is like an alcoholic man who's still drinking. One day, it loves you and wants to seduce you and the next day it can't remember who you are."

So if you hang your worth on anything out in the world (anything not you), it's a total crap shoot. Sure, some days you feel high-highs, but the low-lows are perpetually waiting. But: if you can shift and see your worth as inherent, life opens up in a whole new way. 

Saying "I have value" is one thing, feeling it something else entirely. It's ultimately not a mind thing; it's a heart thing. The mindthinks things. It wants reasons. The mind wants to say "I have value because ..." but that's flawed. That's putting your worth in a rationale that isn't you. The heart knows things. The heart knows: I have value because I have value. (Dropping from the head to the heart is an ongoing practice for me; meditation and yoga and breath work help.)

Rumi says it like this:

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,

as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts 

from books and from what the teacher says,

[...]

with such intelligence you rise in the world. 

[...]

There's another kind of tablet, one 

already completed and preserved inside you. 

A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness

in the center of the chest.

[...]

This second knowing is a fountainhead 

from within you, moving out.

And Galway Kinnell's poem Saint Francis and the Sow begins (emphasis mine):

The bud

stands for all things, 

even for those things that don't flower, 

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness, 

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing.

This isn't a new teaching—it's a reteaching. At your core, in the center of your chest, you already know your value. (If you need a metaphorical hand on your brow or reminders that you're lovely (I definitely did), hit me up.)

When I got to the front of the book signing line, I told Anne, "I'm 29 years old, and I finally realized, this year, that I have value."

I know it sounds like the simplest realization in the world—but the simplest realization, felt deeply, can be the most profound.

And when Anne looked in my eyes and said earnestly, "I know exactly what you mean." I realized I had tears on my cheeks.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. I wrote about unlearning a while ago; I see reteaching as naturally following unlearning old belief systems. Or, you can start with reteaching and watch the old limiting beliefs fall away. There’s no one way; nothing energetic is linear.

p.p.s. You have value. You have value. You have value.

Ease. | rejoyce letters, vol. 29

Hi Friend, 

For a few years in high school and college, I dated a guy named Jack. Jack was a hockey player, so we went on some dates to the ice rink.

Now, if you’ve witnessed the grace with which I walk this earth (or lack thereof) this might surprise you, but I could skate, technically speaking, because my Mom had forced me to take skating lessons in childhood. (Meaning: these dates miraculously never ended in the Emergency Room, all thanks to my Mom.)

But claiming “I could skate” still feels like a huge lie when held up against this indisputable truth: Jack could skate. I mean, the dude could fucking skate. 

It was like my definition of skating was “moving forward on ice at various speeds without falling over” and his definition of skating was, you know, “skating.”

He could skate backward and forward, skate really fast, and stop any moment on a dime, tiny ice crystals flying up from his blades. And he did it all with a carefree nonchalance. (A nonchalance that I perhaps have never summoned in any waking aspect of my life.) He literally skated circles around me. The spectacle was incredible to witness, though I always viewed it through the fear-based lens of focusing on not breaking my elbows or tailbone.

He, essentially, moved on the ice more gracefully than I moved off the ice. 

When I think of my skating the word that comes to mind is, simply, fear. I wasn't terrified, but my mind was consistently preoccupied with not falling. That's what fear does: insidiously preoccupies. It projects you into a scary future, thus depriving you of the present. Fear is the basis for worry, stress, and anxiety. 

But when I think of Jack skating, I think of this word: Ease. 

I turned thirty a couple weeks ago (I haven't seen Jack in over a decade, though I can still envision him zipping across the ice), and you know how people sometimes set a guiding word for the new year? I want to set a word for my new decade—my thirties (how is that possible?!?)—and make that word ease.

I consider ease underrated. People often associate "easy" things as "bad" and, to a certain extent, I get that. I don't advise eating Hot Pockets or going through drive-thrus for every meal. And there are obvious detriments of “taking the easy road” which implies you’re blindly following the crowd.

There's sound reason Rainer Maria Rilke advises in Letters to a Young Poet:

"We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us...that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it."

And that poet Robert Frost says in The Road Not Taken:

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by, 

And that has made all the difference."

But I think it’s flawed to assume the easy path to take equates to the ease-filled path. 

Consider the 50 closest people in your life: How many are living lives full of ease? How many glide through life's trials and tribulations like expert skaters? And how many are stressed and anxiety-ridden, always worried about (metaphorically) falling on their asses? 

This is where things get a bit paradoxical, but stay with me. [Or don't; I don't mind, I'm thirty now, so I'm completely self-assured. ;)]

I believe the road most taken, and thus, the perceived "easier" road, is actually the road that is more difficult, mentally and emotionally, to traverse. That is: the road that is easiest to take is the road that is hardest to travel. It is the drama-filled road. The road of fear and stress. The road where you spend most of your life either re-living the past's pain (immersed in guilt, remorse, regret) or panicking over the future's uncertainty (immersed in worry, anxiety, stress).

I said in my last letter that it's easy to hate, and I also believe it's easy to be stressed. I'm speaking from experience! I've spent most of my life riddled by stress—and you know what? Stress is easy. Which is a paradox in itself: when you're stressed, of course, everything feels really hard, but choosing to live always stressed out is easy. You want to be stressed out all the time? No one will stop you. 

I'm not shaming or blaming you if you feel constantly stressed, I often feel this way. In fact, I (inexplicably) felt very stressed over the weekend. I am simply encouraging you to open yourself (and me to open myself) to the possibility that there could be another way to live. As the great poet Hafiz says:

"Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions." 

Rumi says:

"As you start to walk on the way, the way appears."

When you walk with trust the way will appear for you, you no longer make constant fear-based projections into the future—you, simply, walk. You no longer skate not to fall. You skate to skate.

Making ease a focus for my next ten years doesn't feel like the easy road; it feels worthy. I even think—in a sense—Rilke would be proud, because committing to living a life of ease is choosing something difficult:) [I'm smiling because I recently heard author Anne Lamott say, "All truths are paradox."]

In loving-kindness meditation (i.e. Metta meditation) you focus on phrases, rather than the breath. You can direct the phrases at yourself, another person, or a group of people. The phrases I generally use are:

May I (or you or he or she or they) be safe.

Be happy.

Be healthy.

Live with ease. 

That is what I wish for you, personally, today: safety, happiness, healthiness, and a life full of ease.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce 

p.s. This statement could be completely nonsensical, hence why it's a post script, but it makes sense to me: I believe the road less traveled is the path of least resistance. (Mental and emotional resistance, that is.)

p.p.s. I like how this is volume 29. Thanks to each one of you for being a part of my 29th year, in small or big ways. Namaste.

Heliotropic. | rejoyce letters, vol. 28

Hi Friend, 

I don't follow the news too closely; I consider this a spiritual practice.

Now, let me assure you that I do keep myself decently well-informed, vote consistently, and regularly donate to various organizations that I consider to be making the world a better place. 

That being said, I consciously choose not to read many news articles, mostly to protect my own mental and emotional health. 

There are other reasons, too—for example, most news companies are profit-driven (not necessarily truth-driven) enterprises, always chasing "newsworthy" stories, and often, due to this, some issues get completely blown out of proportion while other important issues go entirely unreported. (Reading Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me opened my eyes to many widespread women's issues that almost never hit the newspapers.)

But mainly, as I said, I abstain from reading a ton of news for my own benefit. I do not believe in denial—I believe in encountering pain face to face, looking at it, sitting with it, and feeling it—but I also think that news stories are often not really what I need to be facing. I believe the pain I most need to face is my own pain. (And the pain you most need to face is your own pain.) News can even distract me from my healing, from facing the very thing I most need to address in my life at the moment (e.g. perhaps forgiving someone, letting go of jealousy, surrendering in a situation, etc.). I believe inner peace precedes world peace, and remain unconvinced our endless news cycle is moving us in the direction of peace. 

All this to say, that, generally, I don't mention "current events" in these letters. And yet, after the heartbreaking shooting in a Pittsburgh Synagogue on Saturday, which I find deeply upsetting for many reasons, some obvious, some more specific, like the simple fact I grew up outside of Pittsburgh, I feel compelled to write about evil. 

I've read a number of spirituality books this year and one thing that surprised me is they all define evil essentially identically: They define evil as an absence, not a presence. Evil is the absence of Love.

So, evil does not actually exist in its own form—it is merely what's left when Love is absent or blocked. Perhaps "merely" is not an apt word, because the utter absence of Love is unimaginably horrific, and, of course, unimaginably horrific things have happened throughout history. There are unimaginably horrific things that are happening right now, today.

But, despite the abounding and seemingly unending horrors of the world, it helps me to think of evil as an absence, much like black is the absence of all color. Because it doesn't make logical sense to fight an absence, rather, it makes sense to address it with a presence. You do not fight literal darkness when you cannot see; you simply shine a light to eradicate it. 

In The Seat of The Soul Gary Zukav writes: 

"The remedy for an absence is a presence. Evil is an absence and, therefore, it cannot be healed with an absence. By hating evil, or one who is engaged with evil, you contribute to the absence of Light and not to its presence. Hatred of evil does not diminish evil, it increases it."

I realize Gary Zukav, though he is beloved by Oprah, is probably a dude most of you have never heard of. And, if you Google him, you'll likely find some people calling him a totally off-the-deep-end spirituality nut job [which is hopefully my future job tite ;)] But hey! Have you ever head of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Because check out this quote from his book, Strength to Love:

"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

There's power in contemplating your own reaction to negativity in the world—in asking yourself if you are bringing the presence of Love to negative situations, or if you are fighting hatred with hatred and evil with evil. Because, honestly, it's easy to fight hatred with hatred. It's easy to hate a murderer. It's easy to hate everyone who votes opposite of you in elections. It's so, so, so easy to hate. 

But fighting hatred with hatred is like fighting fire with fire: It never fucking works. 

Pardon my cursing, but I find it upsetting when people who consider themselves on the "correct" side of history are still so quick to plunge into hate-filled vitriol toward the opposing side. Can't you see how this only adds a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars? We don't need more darkness; we need Light.

We don't need the absence of Love; we need presence. We need, specifically, your presence. And my presence. And we need those presences to be so full of Light and Love and shining so brightly that they illuminate the dark corners of the world, and, by doing so, put an end to the unimaginably horrific things that human doings can do when Love is absent from their lives.

So as for me, I might not read every news article every day, but I, like the sunflowers, will turn my face toward the sun. Even when—especially when—it feels nearly impossible to do so. I fully accept I will not be perfect at this, I know I will fall into the grips of hatred and anger and jealousy and other negative emotional states time and time again, but I also believe it is a worthy practice. 

The practice of living this heliotropic way is fundamentally the same as the practice I do each and every countless time my mind wanders in meditation. I notice without judgment, and I gently bring my attention back to my breath. Forget. Remember. Begin again. 

Rumi says:

"What you seek is seeking you." 

And I choose to seek the Light. It is the only way I can manage to have any hope for the future of the world—but, for me, it is enough. 

Hope is the thing with feathers

that perches in the soul

and sings the tune without the words

and never stops at all. 

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. That last excerpt is from this lovely Emily Dickinson's poem.

p.p.s. I also love this Jack Gilbert poem where he says: "We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world." Jack Gilbert was a poet who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, a city where, I believe, Love will prevail.

Body. | rejoyce letters, vol. 27

Hi Friend,

I wanted to buy a new pair of leggings for my trip, so I went to a new (to me) store in SoHo. The general motif of the leggings on display seemed to be psychedelic florals, so I asked an associate: "Do you have any...um...black?"

I was led to a table in the back of all black leggings, much to my relief. As I went to pick out my size (L or XL), the saleslady looked at me and said with authority: 

"No. You look like an Extra Small."

You guys. I thought she was messing with me. Nothing about me is extra small. I was basically born 5' 10" and have been 6' 2" for years. I've long operated in a space where anything marked "XS" in a store might as well exist in an alternate reality—I don't even see it.

Also, I don't weigh myself often, but I haven't weighed less than 170 pounds in ten years. And—it must be said—most of my weight is distributed in what one might deem the "leggings region" of the body. (Let's just say, as a teenager, I found Sir Mix-a-Lot's lyrics strangely self-validating.)

But this lady was staring at me, up and down, forcing an XS pair of pants upon me.

"I mean...probably more like Large," I tried, desperately searching the table for an XL.

"No way. At biggest, you're a Small. Listen, I know the sizes here better than you do."

I couldn't doubt that. She was, after all, a store employee and I had been in the store for a cumulative nine minutes, so I reluctantly took a Small to the dressing room. I attempted not to flashback to the time I tried on an expensive, zipper-less dress in high school and then couldn't get out of it. It fit at the waist—but though I'd somehow gotten into it, it refused to go the other way over my butt or my shoulders, so I found myself in a black-chiffon-and-sequin prison.

My high school boyfriend waited for like 30 minutes as I somehow performed a series of panicked acrobatics in the dressing room, miraculously removing myself from the dress' snares without ripping it.

I would not do that with the Small leggings, I decided. The second they proved too small, likely somewhere three inches up my right calf, I'd walk back out and demand a Large.

However: The Small leggings fit. (I ended up buying Medium though, for mental reasons.)

I don't actually know the point to this story. 

Maybe: Corporations will lie to you to get you to buy shit. But we all knew that, right?

I think there's more to it for me, though. Because I've spent my whole life being implicitly (or explicitly) told women should be small. Being stopped by strangers in the street saying: "How tall are you?" like I'm a museum exhibit. And yet...I learned not just to tolerate my size, but to authentically love it. So I think when someone then told me I was a size Small, I kind of despised it. It was, bizarrely, enraging. 

[Aside: I mentioned this before, but I made the conscious shift from resenting my height to celebrating it around age 19. If there's something in your life that's factually unchangeable—I recommend learning to love it. Or, at least, learning to not hate it. The book Loving What Is can help cultivate acceptance.]

But was rage justified in my legging situation? To be clear, I didn't show anger; I was perfectly pleasant. But I've become increasingly conscious of my inner emotional state, because I believe by observing our emotions without judgment (rather than being controlled by them), we can learn important lessons. As Rumi says in The Guest House:

"The dark thought, the shame, the malice

meet them at the door laughing, 

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, 

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond."

Eckhart Tolle corroborates this advice:

"Be at least as interested in what goes on inside you as what happens outside. If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place."

So, why was I angry about pant sizes, of all things? 

I think it comes down to a personal over-identification with my body. 

I know that sounds slightly insane, but hear me out: I believe we are all trinities: Mind, Body, and Spirit. We live in a world that worships the external appearance of the Body and the thoughts of the Mind, and essentially ignores the Spirit.

When you're constantly told your external appearance is paramount, you ignore your inner body. The Body is undoubtedly powerful—but most of the power is inside. But since inner beauty isn't a gazillion dollar industry, through social conditioning, you start thinking, essentially, that you are your outer body.

You get mentally attached to the idea that your physical body is you.

You get so attached that even if you can accept your body exactly how it is, even if you can love your body, you still likely over-identify with it. You still feel an inner sense of unease when someone questions the body-story to which you cling. 

So, if you're me, and a sales lady says, "You look like an Extra Small."

You get pissed. 

The anger doesn't mean I'm a bad person—it means I'm over-attached. Because it's only a story, it's not the Truth. The "I'm tall and big" story might be my personal little-t truth for this transient lifetime, but it’s not the capital-T eternal Truth. My body will likely be gone in 80 years or so, along with the myriad stories I attach to it. The much deeper, infinite Truth is eternal.

Body. Mind. Spirit. I am not one of three; I am three in one.

Jesus famously called the Body a Temple—but a Temple is simply where you worship. You don't worship the Temple itself, you worship inside the Temple. 

So, my challenge is this: to love and to care for my Body, yes, but not to get over attached to the stories I tell myself about my external appearance.  

Because what's worth worshipping, is what's inside.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. This is another area where the Sanskrit word aparigraha has been applicable for me. I talk about it in my letter on clinging.

p.p.s. Oh. My. God. Becky—Happy (almost) 30th birthday, Beck. :) xo.

Returning. | rejoyce letters, vol. 26

Hi Friend, 

I once heard a woman describe her meditation practice in three words: Exile. Return. Belonging. Strangely, when she said this, I instantly thought of Judaism.

Now, I'm not Jewish, I've never worshipped in a Synagogue or even attended a bar/bat mitzvah, but I have read what Christians call the "Old Testament." (I was raised very Presbyterian.) And doesn't Genesis begin with the greatest exile of all? The exile of mankind from the Garden of Eden. (There are more exiles, too, of course—the Babylonian exile under King Nebuchadnezzar, for example—but I'm sticking with Eden in this letter. I feel anyone raised in a Judeo-Christian society has heard of Adam and Eve. In fact, I’d find it wildly interesting if you somehow haven't.)

The last thing I expected fostering a meditation practice would do is strengthen my connection with religion—especially since I find components of Christianity quite damaging. (Most of what the Bible says about sexuality I still vehemently disagree with.) But, I am a fan of the "take what resonates and leave the rest" philosophy—and parts of the Bible are shockingly (to me) really resonating metaphorically right now. 

I don’t speak of this much, though, because it can feel like the Bible is viewed in one of two extreme ways. Either people take the Bible literally (Virgin Mother and all) or they think the Bible (and all religions) should be completely ignored, and that science, rationality, and facts should be "worshipped." I respect each of those viewpoints.

I just find myself in a different place now, where I am consistently struck by the power of the Bible when read metaphorically. [Obviously, this is just my view, so if you hate un-literal Biblical interpretations or hate talk of religion at all, please feel free to stop reading. :)]

So, back to Eden. Eden is this beautiful garden of God where humans (namely: Adam and Eve) lived peacefully with nature. They had everything they needed; they lived in perfect ease. They were even naked and no one cared, because no one knew to care. It was a place free of shame. They didn't feel ashamed until "after they sinned" when they scrambled to cover themselves with fig leaves in a somewhat pathetic attempt to be clothed. (I picture the classic teenagers-scrambling-to-get-dressed when they hear the garage door opening.) But even with fig leaves, Adam and Eve still felt like shit—and were forever exiled from the beautiful, perfect place of paradise. ("Eden" is Hebrew for paradise.)

Of course a place like Eden sounds completely fictitious for infinite reasons—among them, we live in a world where life feels so hard and where shame is everywhere. We're constantly covering ourselves up—not only physically—but, perhaps more importantly, mentally and emotionally, in order to survive. We believe we cannot show our emotions and live. We believe we cannot be who we truly are. 

We hide who we are and then we feel bad internally for hiding our true selves but not brave enough to show ourselves because we are ashamed of that person so we keep hiding and then we, again, feel bad internally for hiding. This is an endless shame cycle. This is the metaphoric equivalent of scrambling to cover our emotional selves with fig leaves. It's not like the fig leaves work. Fig-leaf attire doesn't actually gets the job done, homies. You still feel exposed; you still feel ashamed.

This is the ultimate exile: not external exile from a land, rather, internal exile from yourself. 

This feeling—in hindsight—led me to make drastic life changes this year, including cultivating a meditation practice. I felt so far removed from who I knew I was. And beneath the excruciating pain of inner exile, I felt the subtle, yet persistent, longing to return. 

Here's the thing: as bad as exile is, I truly believe return is possible.

So, removing the literal lens: What if Eden wasn't a place, but, instead, was a time? Was there a time in your life when you had no shame? When everything was beautiful, peaceful, easy, and full of wonder?

For me (and, of course, I can only answer for me), there was. It was ages zero through about six years old. I remember glimpses: drawing flowers in preschool and knowing they were beautiful, touching Morning Glories and sucking on rhubarb in our backyard in Iowa, eating an infinite number of popsicles. I remember when my two younger sisters, Grace and Janice, were born. I don't quite remember this—but I know there was a time when being naked didn't matter. And I know for certain that, back then, I didn't feel like my body was wrong. I wouldn’t even have been able to grasp that concept. I wore ridiculous mismatched clothing (many photos prove this). I didn't feel too tall or like I had too many moles. I didn't feel like being female was a shortcoming. I didn't feel like I needed to wear a bra or shave my legs or pluck my eyebrows or wear mascara. I just...was.

That state, I think, is paradise. Living like you have nothing to prove. Embodying the feeling state that you are enough.

I'm willing to bet that, at some point, you had everything you needed. Is it possible to open up to the idea that maybe you still do? 

Thich Nhat Hanh says:

"If you are fully present in the here and the now, you need only to make a step or to take a breath in order to enter the Kingdom of God."

I love thinking the metaphorical Kingdom of God could be here, in this lifetime—not in some far off, far away "Heaven." I love considering that, maybe, Eden isn't an illusion; maybe the illusion is that we ever left. And yes, maybe we internally exiled ourselves...but the lovely part is this: if you are the problem, you are also the solution. 

The Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita (I'm currently reading this beautiful translation) says:

"Only the self is the self's friend.

The self alone the self's enemy."

Isn't there something empowering embedded in those 13 words? Because even though inner exile is terribly painful, you also have everything you need to end it. If you are in your own way, you can also get out of your own way. 

You always have the power to return to who you truly are.

Exile. Return. Belonging. 

And the returning can feel like paradise. 

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. Rumi: "The garden of the world has no limits, except in your mind." 

p.p.s. In Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks sings:

"And if I was a child and the child was enough,

Enough for me to love, enough to love."

I admit that quote is much better in the context of the song, but I simply had to include it. Also, the last line is: "It all comes down to you." [My personal favorite deity: Queen Stevie. Kidding :)]

Rightness. | rejoyce letters, vol. 25

Hi Friend, 

Although the overall theme of my European trip was to experience the homelands of my ancestors, another daily focus was embracing this challenge: to view nothing as wrong. That is, to see the rightness in every situation. 

Seeing the rightness was tough for me, as, obviously, not everything went perfectly over the course of two weeks—or, I don't know, maybe it did. I no longer think I know what cosmic perfection looks like. :) As a J.M. Barrie character says in one of his plays:

 "I am not young enough to know everything." 

So I'll just say: not everything on my trip went as planned and it was often tempting to view the things that didn't go as planned as wrong. I.e. to judge the situation.

We live in a judging world. We're trained to judge from birth, educated in the realm of the dualistic mind. The world of opposites, where everything that is positive has its negative waiting for us on the other side of the coin. Good/Evil. Pleasure/Pain. Right/Wrong. Etc.

So, it's tempting to judge events automatically—without even thinking. My new practice had three parts. When something happened I would attempt to:

a.) Pause

b.) Not judge or label the situation as wrong

c.) Decide the situation is right as is

Now, I certainly didn't always get to the last step (or even the first), but, just like with meditation, I view this lens-change not as something one "achieves" but, rather, as an ongoing practice. It's a practice I hope to continue now that I'm back home because it helped me move through the world with a little more ease.

Rumi has a lot to say about ongoing practices. In his poem The Sunrise Ruby he writes:

"Work. Keep digging your well.

Don't think about getting off from work.

Water is there somewhere.

Submit to a daily practice.

Your loyalty to that

is a ring on the door.

Keep knocking, and the joy inside 

will eventually open a window

and look out to see who's there."

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said, "Knock and the door will be opened unto you."—but sometimes I want the door to open on the first knock, you know? I love how Rumi keeps it real with timing. Keep knocking. Eventually.

[Aside: some Bible translations say: "Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you." but the version above was the one I memorized as a child. Always nice to remember the Bible was not written in English. (Nor were Rumi's poems, for the record.)]

Now I'm going to share some examples of things on my trip which were tempting to label as "wrong." I want to be clear these are not complaints; in fact, the opposite. But not really the opposite because when you commit to seeing the rightness in everything, you essentially commit to transcending the pervasive dualistic worldview. You leave the world of opposites. You stop creating self-made "problems" and take Kierkegaard's advice to heart in real time:

"Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced." 

In short, you stop creating pain in the present. (Tolle has so much to say on this in The Power of Now.) Of course this isn't easy! But it is...simple. I'd argue it's—ultimately—easier than making every damn thing that happens in your life that slightly deviates from your expectations a new problem. 

Anyway, I can now see these trip moments as valuable teachers: 

In Cologne, it rained one day. In Prague, the famous astronomical clock was under construction and covered by a tarp to be revealed on September 28; I left Prague on September 25. In Berlin, I began menstruating at a quite inconvenient time. In Paris, it turns out the French painters' wing (the Sully) of the Louvre is closed on Monday, my last day in Europe and the day I went to the museum. In hopes of seeing Monet and based on a Louvre worker's recommendation, I walked to the Musée d'Orsay, which, it turns out, is closed on Monday in its entirety. 
It is tempting to start each of these sentences with the word "unfortunately." But must everything be judged and labeled? Must everything be categorized as "good" or "bad"? Can some things just be? Can I cultivate a little faith that I am guided and that everything is happening in perfect timing for me? Can I do this in the present moment rather than years later in hindsight? Can I see the rightness? That was my challenge, and still is.

Some of the "rightness" was instantly apparent. The rainy day in Cologne led me to spend time in an emotionally moving museum and then a beautiful church and then a cozy literary cafe where they didn't have English menus but they did have Bob Dylan playing over the speakers.

Some of the rightness is more elusive. I don't yet "know" the silver lining of not being able to see Claude Monet paintings while I was in France, but maybe that's okay. Maybe it's enough in the moment not to judge. Not to torture myself with "woe is me" narratives and just move on. (Hilariously, that day, I also walked to a restaurant that was full for lunch, another small museum that was "exceptionally closed on October 1" as per a sign taped to the door and then a creperie that was closed on Mondays. The Universe was really driving this message home!) 

But that's why it's a practice. A polishing of a lens, not flip of a switch. I will continue to knock, continue to dig my well, continue to look for the rightness in each situation. It was beautiful to see new places, and equally beautiful to see the lens through which I view the world with a little more clarity. 

My first night in Paris, I stumbled upon the Notre Dame Cathedral as the sun was setting, golden rays magnificently illuminating the beautifully intricate building. There were swarms of people taking photos. Adjusting shirts, sucking in stomachs, seeing the Notre Dame through their phones. Then, there was one girl, seated cross-legged, in the midst of the large square who was still and peaceful, looking at the building. A quote came into my head that I'd first read a year or so ago. Initially, I'd disliked it; it had felt somewhat aggressive and accusatory to me. But it came to me then in Paris, and deeply resonated. It was Wayne Dyer:

"Change the way you see things and the things you see will change." 

I sat down in the busy square, put my phone in my pocket. And I looked. 

By seeing new parts of the world, I learned to see my own world differently. And I'm starting to believe, with a little faith and patience, we can (eventually) see rightness unfolding in many more places than we initially think. 

Keep knocking.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. I missed writing to you while I was away; I hope your October is unfolding with beauty and with ease.

Root. | rejoyce letters, vol. 24

Hi Friend, 

Tonight, I fly from NYC to Paris!! I am going to spend two weeks on a solo trip in Europe. :) I am calling it my "Root" trip. 

As I've mentioned before, there are seven Chakras, or energy centers, in the body. The first Chakra is the Root, located at the base of the spine. The Root is a center for safety, security, and basic needs. It provides a foundation for our lives—it is a place of grounding. 

Some say you need both roots and wings to thrive in life. Imagine a tree. It's branches sway in the wind, but you know under the soil there is an intricate, often massive, root system holding it in place. It is solid but flexible. It is alive and growing, and also grounded. 

One reason I'm calling this my "root" trip is I want an excuse to plan seven trips (haha), but a larger aspect is that, through this journey, I'd like to feel more grounded in who I am by acknowledging the homes of my ancestors.

I've never had much family "culture." I'm a white American, somewhat of a "mutt" when it comes to where my ancestors immigrated to the U.S. from: Germany, Czech Republic, France, England, and Ireland. But other than calling my 100% German maternal grandmother "Oma" (German for "grandma") my family had basically zero traditions tracing us back to those countries. (Also, my Oma died when I was in second grade.)

There were many Italian Americans in my hometown, and I was always envious of their seemingly endless Italy-centered family traditions. I remember in third grade or so doing a heritage project, and there were only two children in my class without an Italian flag on their posters: the only black kid in the class, and me.

I realize there are worse fates than not being Italian. [Though I can think of some families who might argue against that point. ;)] I also realize that there are millions of Americans whose ancestors were violently forced against their will to come to this country on slave ships (likely including the ancestors of the only black kid in my class). And there are millions more Americans whose ancestors fled here seeking refuge due to various forms of persecution (the relatively recent German persecution of Jewish people is worth mentioning specifically—though the word "persecution" seems a vast understatement).

It is a privilege that most of my ancestors (to my knowledge) came here by choice. In fact, my maternal grandfather's side got here the second ship after the Mayflower! (That's the English bit of me.) (For the Gilmore Girls fans: though I haven't applied, I could technically be a Daughter of the American Revolution; Emily Gilmore would be proud.) 

And still...when I was growing up, I experienced this pervasive sense of un-groundedness in regards to where I came from. Coming from five disparate far-away European countries can feel like coming from nowhere at all. 

In addition to not identifying with my ancestors' countries of origin, my family also moved around a lot in my early childhood so I didn't even identify with any specific region of the United States. I was born in Nebraska, lived in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids in Iowa, and then moved to a small depressed steel town about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when I was seven. My parents still live there, and have built a community there, but as a kid, it often felt like we were the only ones in town who didn't have nearby aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. It seemed most of my classmates' families had lived in the area for forever. They would say things like, "My grandparents live so far away" when their grandparents lived thirty minutes away on the other side of the Ohio River. Mine lived in Maryland and Nebraska. 

Even today when people ask me where I'm from, and I obviously say Pittsburgh, I still feel the answer isn't wholly true. I know families who are fromPittsburgh. Families full of Penn State and Pitt alumni who might say "yinz" and who definitely bleed black and gold and whose grandpas and great-grandpas all worked in steel. That's not my family. 

I don't want to pitch this as some hugely damaging childhood experience—not having crystal clear roots—it wasn't. It merely surfaced every once in a while as a spurt of discomfort—an undercurrent of not truly belonging in any one place. 

Right now in my life, I am experiencing a strong desire to feel firmly grounded. Mostly I mean grounded in a spiritual or emotional sense, but I think deepening my understanding of my physical lineage could help establish this sense of groundedness. 

So, when I felt called to do solo traveling, I wanted to return to my roots. In Europe, I'm predominately visiting France, Germany, and the Czech Republic. I've never been to any of these places before, and do not speak the languages, so wish me luck. :) I am hoping this "Root" trip will be an opportunity for growth, a time to further expand my perspective, and a time to get in touch with the safety and security in who I am on physical, mental, and spiritual levels. I hope to cultivate a feeling of belonging, perhaps counterintuitively, by going alone where I've never been before.

I guess I believe that all feelings—ultimately—stem from within. And we can spend our whole lives blaming our external circumstances and our less-than-perfect childhoods for our feelings of dissatisfaction, or we can take responsibility for our own emotions, and water the inner fertile soil. We can tend to the roots that are already there inside of us, waiting to be cultivated. Roots that are eager to connect us—to the earth and to our souls and to each other. Roots that want to help us feel grounded within ourselves, if we'd only stop ignoring them. Roots that remind us: You belong now, and you have always belonged. 

As Rumi says:

"Maybe you are searching among the branches, for what only appears in the roots."

with Love and with Light, 

Joyce 

p.s. I am bringing Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto to read on my trip, among many other books, naturally. (:

p.p.s. I won't send letters on Monday, September 24 or Monday, October 1. The "goal" of my trip is to spend each day doing exactly what I want to do...so we'll see how it unfolds. :) I fly back on October 2 and plan to write you again on October 8. All my previous letters are archived, if you're interested. Namaste. xoxo.