Observing. | rejoyce letters, vol. 50

Hi Friend,

How are you feeling? Can you notice how you feel in this moment without attaching a story to it?

Here's what I mean: So often, our brains do not simply observe how we feel, they observe and then attach. And it happens so quickly it doesn't feel like you are noticing the emotion, instead, it feels like you are the emotion.

For example: I feel angry. I shouldn't feel angry. I'm supposed to be a good person. Why am I angry? I'm enraged. God, now I'm angry about being angry. 

Or: I feel sad. Damn it, I'm always sad. It's not only sad, it's pathetic. I'm sad and pathetic. I'm thirty years old, and still so sad all the time. Do I have no perspective? When will I stop being sad? 

Those are just two negative feeling states, but the same can be said for most negative emotions: the judgements we attach to the initial feeling can be more damaging than the feeling itself.

We can feel angry that we're angry, sad that we're sad, frustrated that we're frustrated, upset that we're upset, disappointed we're disappointed, and on and on.

A dear friend recently sent me this quote and I can't stop thinking about it:

"Observing without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence." 

This quote, I believe, comes from Indian philosopher Krishnamurti, and my friend read it in Marshall Rosenberg's book Nonviolent Communication.

I often think of the power of observing without evaluating when I'm practicing or teaching yoga asana.

For new students (and I did this for years), it's very common to spend the entire yoga class worried about what others are thinking of you.

Is everyone able to balance in this pose except me? Is everyone's bridge pose higher than mine? Is everyone's forward fold deeper than mine? Am I the only one who can't do crow?

This is an exhausting way to practice. So most people reach the point where they either stop going to yoga class if they can't break this habit, or they stop obsessing over what others may or may not be thinking of them during class.

But the next hurdle in asana practice to observing without judgement—a harder hurdle, I think—happens in your own mind. Can your mind observe where you are, right now, today, and not attach a story to it?

For example, instead of the mind doing this: I don't understand why I can't hold warrior 3 on my left foot today. I did it yesterday at home but of course now I'm in a class and I keep falling over like a loser. Why could I balance on my right foot but not my left? It makes no sense.

Can the mind do this: I'm having difficulty balancing on my left foot right now.

I consider this the pinnacle of yoga practice: noticing where you are, without judgement. Without a longwinded story. Without making it all into a problem and swirling and swirling and swirling in your mind. Keeping your peace in all circumstances.

And, of course, since yoga always extends well beyond the confines of the mat, the same goes for emotions. 

Can you say: I feel angry right now. Or, I feel sad right now. And leave it at that? Can you drop the string of stories you've attached to those emotions?

In one of Rumi's most famous poems—The Guest House—he encourages us to take it a step further with our emotions. He says:

"Welcome and entertain them all!" 

and:

"Be grateful for whatever comes 

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond."

I think acceptance (welcoming your emotions) and gratitude (being grateful for whatever comes) can have transformative properties. As they say:

What you resist, persists.

If you keep resisting sadness, you'll get more sadness. But if—perhaps counterintuitively—you accept your sadness and are even able to cultivate gratitude within your sadness, you might just find a path to peace.

Observe without judgment, observe without evaluating, just observe—and then see how you feel.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

Forgive. | rejoyce letters, vol. 49

Hi Friend, 

In Christianity, this is a Holy week, the week before Easter. 

I've written before about being raised in a pretty strict Presbyterian household. As a child, I went to Church every Sunday, youth groups, Vacation Bible Schools, Christian week-long sleep away summer camps, etc. I still have many Bible verses memorized and know So. Many. Songs. 

I can sing you the Ten Commandments, the twelve disciples, the Lord's Prayer (with accompanying sign language), and on and on.

As a child, I felt a mysterious connection to Bible stories (I read the Bible twice through probably before I was 14. So many questions about circumcision and concubines), but as I got older, despite all the exposure, my religious connection waned.

So many Biblical interpretations take things so literally—and that was a challenge for my (somewhat) logical mind.

Only recently have I begun marveling in the metaphorical meanings of some of these stories and verses that have long lived in my mind, and appreciating them in a new light.

So let's talk Easter, a classic Christian holiday. 

The story, in short, is this: Jesus is betrayed by his disciple Judas, Jesus is sentenced to crucifixion by Pilate, Jesus is crucified, and three days later, his tomb is empty. Jesus has risen from the dead.

This story has so much depth for metaphoric interpretation, and is rich with meaningful details: from Judas's betrayal with a kiss, to Pontius Pilate washing his hands, to Jesus carrying his own cross, to the crown of thorns.

But, for today, I want to talk about Jesus's last words on the cross. There are four gospels in the New Testament and three which mention his words while dying (Matthew, Luke, and John); although there is some overlap, they don't align perfectly. In accumulation, they record Jesus saying seven phrases on the cross, thought of holistically as Jesus's "Seven Last Words." Theologians usually write or preach about his last words by addressing all seven phrases—though there isn't a single place which records all seven in succession. 

Don't fear, I'm not going to talk about all seven. :) I am only going to mention the phrase that's usually considered as spoken first, documented in Luke 23:24:

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

I distinctly remember a sermon from my childhood where the Pastor—staying true to literal interpretations—described how crucifixion logistically works. Yes, your wrists and feet are nailed to a cross which would undoubtedly be a severity of physical pain few of us have experienced, but, usually, this won't kill you. It often takes several days for those strung up on crosses to die, with the ultimate cause of death usually being exhaustion and asphyxiation. You suffocate yourself because you no longer have the strength to hold yourself up to breathe and your rib cage, essentially, collapses around your heart and lungs.

So Jesus, a teacher of Love and peace, a teacher of "turn the other cheek" and "Let he who has not sinned throw the first stone," a teacher who associated with societal outcasts (prostitutes, those with leprosy, tax collectors), died because of a collapse of the Heart Chakra, the body's energetic center for Love and forgiveness. (It would feel less appropriate if Jesus, for example, had been hung or beheaded—he was never preaching from his Mind; he was always preaching from his heart.)

He preached Love and acceptance and forgiveness, and the world rejected it. Not with subtlety, but with horrific violence.

(There is metaphor to that alone, most definitely. I think sometimes people imagine if they become these super loving, generous people, then they should therefore also become super popular and well-liked. Sadly, history would suggest otherwise, my friends. But I think a part of spiritual growth is relinquishing the inner need to feel super popular or well-liked—and be loving and generous anyway.)

And while he was strung up to die, while the world was actively rejecting his message, Jesus was still teaching love and acceptance and forgiveness.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

I do not think it's a stretch to say that every spiritual tradition or religion has an element of forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is a strong thread running through nearly every spirituality book I've ever read. In Anatomy of the SpiritCaroline Myss claims:

"By far the strongest poison to the human spirit is the inability to forgive oneself or another person. It disables a person's emotional resources." 

Perhaps you have negative associations with Christianity specifically or religions as a whole. I get it. And I'd like to posit that forgiveness is still very worthy of your attention. I've found peace, when seeing the symbol of the cross or walking by a church, rather than viewing it as a symbol of oppression (and I'm not denying that Christianity can be oppressive), viewing it as a symbol of forgiveness. To make the cross mean that for me. 

Rumi says: 

"Grace comes to forgive and then forgive again."

I see forgiveness as an ongoing, daily practice. As a lens through which I attempt to view all people and circumstances. As a way to reflect on my past and approach the present. I see forgiveness as a path to peace.

So, maybe—even if you've held a grudge for months or even years—you could open to the possibility of letting it go. Dropping it. Transmuting the negative experience with the balm of forgiveness. Not half-assed forgiveness. Not, "Oh yeah I forgive her," but you bitch about her every chance you get. Or, "Yeah, I forgive him," but you can't be in the same room as him for more than two hours without losing your shit.

That's not real forgiveness. That's lying to yourself.

I'm talking (metaphorically) hanging on the cross and forgiving the people who nailed you up there. That is the level where forgiveness is transformative. That is the level where forgiveness can be life changing. 

So what if you let your grudges die?

It's Easter week, after all. The perfect time to die to an old way of living, and rise again. 

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. Perhaps a more comical way of looking at forgiveness, which I still find helpful, because I like looking at it from all angles:"Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past." :)

Compassion for the Unhappy. | rejoyce letters, vol. 48

Hi Friend, 

One of my favorite yoga sutras is what I think of as the four locks, four keys sutra:
1.33 By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

In Sri Swami Satchidananda's translation and commentary in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjalihe goes on to say that even if you plan to ignore Yoga entirely, remember at least this sutra. :)

He calls these the four locks of the world: happy people, unhappy people, virtuous people, and wicked people.

And the four keys to keep your peace of mind when you encounter them: friendliness, compassion, delight, and disregard. 

[Note: some translations say "equanimity" instead of disregard, and "non-virtuous" instead of wicked.]

Learning this framework has certainly made me realize how strangely difficult it is for us to simply be friendly toward happy people—it's often easier to judge or resent happy people, it seems—but today I want to explore what I think of as a slightly more difficult lock: unhappy people.

Personally, I find I can have compassion toward an unhappy person up to a point but then I hit my limit, so to speak, where I feel that the person needs to do something other than complain about their current situation. It becomes challenging for me to show compassion when I feel like the unhappy person is (at least partially) culpable for their own unhappiness, and that if only they'd take responsibility and make some life changes, the very things they're unhappy about could change and their lives would improve.

When we were discussing this sutra during teacher training, I told that to my yoga teacher and I was blown away by her answer. She started by saying:

Well, that's not compassion. That's judgement. 

Which felt like a punch in the gut, and also a helpful label. A lot of us are trained to be "problem solvers" for others—but calling the habit judgement struck me. It's true. If you walk around saying: "Why doesn't he just do X, then he'll get Y." You are judging him for not doing X. You are in a state of judgement. You are dressing it up, of course. Pretending you are a smart, solution-oriented, helpful problem solver, but really you're just judging. And, as the adage goes, when you judge people, you have no time to love them.

My teacher then went on to say:

You would have to know an immense amount about this unhappy person to truly know what's best for them. Do you know everything about their inner life? Their childhood wounds? What they might be secretly working through right now unbeknownst to you? Do you even know every detail of their current predicament of which their complaining? Probably not. So to even claim you know exactly what they should do is a bold claim, bordering on arrogant. 

To boldly say, "I know what's best for him." or "I know what's best for her." usually takes a certain level of self-delusion. How often do you feel like you don't even know what's best for yourself? Yet, you're positing to be an expert on someone else's life.

But let's just say—MAYBE, and it's a long shot—you do know exactly what this unhappy person should do to stop their current suffering. That is, you are offering sound advice. Well, how can you be 100% sure that taking that action right now is actually what they most need? Humble yourself. Maybe more suffering is exactly what this person needs right now in order to awaken to the answer within them.

This can be so hard to accept, because I'd guess most of us have unhappy people in our life whom we deeply love, so to accept that maybe this person I love needs to suffer more in order to wake up is no small feat of acceptance. And yet, consider the story of the lotus. In order for the lotus flower to bloom, it needs to grow in mud. The deeper and thicker the mud, the more beautiful the bloom. Sometimes, I remind myself when I'm suffering: No mud, no lotus. But how hard it can be to watch loved ones stuck in "the mud"—we want to yank them out. But yanking them out does not help them bloom. It could, in fact, do the opposite; it could delay their growth.

My teacher finished by saying:

The only true way to help someone else is to empower them to help themselves. You don't empower people by throwing answers at them or by solving problems for them. You empower people by loving them. Holding space for them, allowing them to be seen and heard. When people are seen and heard, they can get in touch with the answers and clarity that already live within them.

I wanted to share her answer with you today, because it's stuck with me for so long. As you face each of these locks in your life—happy people, unhappy people, virtuous people, and wicked people—know that the keys are already within you. And maybecompassion is what unhappy people need, not elaborate solutions. And remember what Jack Kornfield reminds us about compassion:

"If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete."

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. Rumi says, "Close the language-door and open the love-window." There are many interpretations as to what this means, but I consider it a gentle reminder that compassion for others doesn't always involve tons of talking. "Close the language-door" might be the most poetic way ever of saying, "Shut your mouth." (: 

Expand. | rejoyce letters, vol. 47

Hi Friend,

Last week, one of my cats, Tywin, got sick for a number of days. I took him to the vet on Tuesday, and then he got worse.

So, on Wednesday, I canceled all my plans and spent all day trying to coax him out from hiding under the couch or bed in order to force him to eat and drink. You can lead a cat to water in hundreds of ways, it turns out, but you cannot, as the adage goes, make him drink. Since this little guy had never refused a meal since the day we adopted him—October 7, 2014—I knew his refusal to eat was a huge red flag. After a long day, I was at a loss. I took Tywin to the emergency room and he was admitted to the pet hospital overnight.

I was pervaded with a sense of hopelessness when I left him in the hands of strangers—experts, yes, but still strangers—as I was completely unable to communicate to him some basic information like:

This is for your own good.

I will be back.

I promise.

Of course, he could never understand any it. To him, I was abandoning him, handing him off to people who were poking him and prodding him and putting him in a cage and shaving off his fur. I, the responsible party for these atrocities, was more or less evil incarnate.

Years ago, I read the novel Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, a quiet novel about an aging pastor in the small town of Gilead, Iowa, and ever since then I've occasionally contemplated what the thoughtful pastor said on cats while musing about his own pet cat named Soapy. 

I cannot remember the exact passage, but I remember the gist, and the gist is what I contemplate.

The gist is this: To us, there is a clear limit to what a cat can understand, but the cat doesn't know that. To the cat, he knows everything there is to know about the world. 

And what if we, as humans, are like that too?

My cats consider the whole world to be a 800-square foot (that might be an overstatement) apartment. That's it. They have no interest, for example, in arguably the best part of our Brooklyn neighborhood, the 526-acre Prospect Park. Why would they? They'll never go. Right now, Tywin is out on our balcony squawking at the same bird that often perches atop the neighboring building. To him, the six or so birds that frequent that specific rooftop encompass birds as a whole. He knows nothing of the many species of beautiful birds living near my parents' cabin on the Allegheny River I wrote about here. How could he?

And what if I, too, am living with massive blind spots in my worldview? I happen to believe that I am. 

I've found through meditation, yoga asana, and spiritual work in general, I've been able to expand my perspective a bit. And once I expanded my perspective—even a little, around certain situations and relationships—I realized I could probably expand it infinitely more. And maybe "truths" I've clung to my whole life, aren't nearly as "true" as they once seemed.

I believe cultivating skepticism around your beliefs and also a desire to expand your awareness are key, because if you don't, you'll likely interpret situations inaccurately, and, thus, create more suffering for yourself. 

In the yoga sutras, the first obstacle is ignorance, avidya. All other obstacles stem from ignorance. But how often do you admit your own ignorance? What's more ignorant than being ignorant of ignorance?

I visited Tywin on Thursday before his abdominal ultrasound and how did he react? He bit me (hard) above the eye. At thirty, I have the first black eye of my life, and I got it from my five year old cat. :)

When we are unable to see the the big picture, we often react similarly. Robison writes in Gilead:

"And often enough, when we think we are protecting ourselves, we are struggling against our rescuer."

I wonder if, when we are in difficult situations that are ultimately for our own growth, the Universe [or God or the Divine, etc.] longs to tell us:
This is for your own good.

I'll be back.

I promise.

But we're too busy throwing tantrums to listen. Why do have to be poked? Why do have to be prodded? Why do have to be taken from my comfortable home and thrust into this hellhole?

In those moments, we're wholly committed to a narrow life view. To constricted consciousness. To the fog of our own ignorance.

Years later, we may admit the hardest situations of our lives are the ones we grew the most from. How often have you heard the narrative, "Getting dumped/fired/rejected/injured ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me..."? You probably have your own personal story or two using that structure.

But when it's happening, in the present, we often have blinders on. We are the equivalent of an ignorant, sick cat, who would much rather hide under a bed and be miserable for days than go to a hospital where vets can actually help him.

This is why expansion of awareness is necessary. It decreases the amount of suffering in your life, since most suffering is self-made. (You'd never make yourself suffer intentionally but when you're seeing life through the lens of ignorance, you can't help it.) 

There is an element of humility required. You have to admit how little you know. I think recognizing the fog of your own ignorance is a "first step" on the road to expansion. 

Rumi says:  

"Alas, don't tell me the Christians are lost.

Don't tell me the Jews are lost.

Don't tell me the infidels are lost.

Alas, my brother, you are lost.

That is why everyone seems lost."

[Aside: One could replace "Christians" and "Jews" with any distinct group of people. For example, "Republicans" and "Democrats."]

For all Rumi's poems about love, he also has some that punch you right in the gut. But recognizing your position can open the door. It allows you to take steps toward changing it, toward polishing your lens and expanding it. Writer Anaïs Nin says:

"We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are."

How are you seeing your current life circumstances? 

Could you broaden you perspective? 

Could you zoom way, way, way out? 

Could you expand your view? 
Could you welcome expansion?

Breathe it in, breathe it out, feel it in your bones?

I believe the more we expand, the less we suffer. Through expansion, we create space. Space for peace to enter our lives.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. An affirmation I like: "My perspective is expanding each day." 

p.p.s. I'm ecstatic to report Tywin returned home Thursday night and seems to be back to normal. :) For the record, I was hardly mad when he bit me in the eye. I texted Stephen something like: "He bit me in the eye! He seems to be doing better!!" Thanks to all those who checked in on him. Hug your pets today. xo.

Days. | rejoyce letters, vol. 46

Hi Friend,


For a while now, this Annie Dillard quote has been haunting me (in a good way) so I wanted to share it with you:

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing."

I love this quote because it feels so obvious and also so profound. Equal parts "duh" and "whoa." :) That's often how Truth feels for me.

I once heard a lecture where a woman claimed that in order to gauge your health, all she needed to know was what you did in the last four days. Not what you should or could have done. Not what you plan to start next week or your dreams for next year. What you are doing now. In the last four days: what you said, did, ate and drank, who you associated with, how much you slept. 

The concept stuck with me as a self-gauging tool to monitor my own health. There is a big difference—as we all know—between wanting to run and running or planning to eat healthy and eating healthy. There is an equally big difference between wanting to be kind to your spouse or your colleagues and being kind to your spouse or your colleagues. Even the colleague who yells into speaker phone and constantly crunches chips two cubes over. 

But how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. What you are doing with your time today—is what you are doing with your life. 
What do you spend your days talking about?
At some level, I believe the conversations we consistently have inform our whole lives. 
For six years, I spent a large chunk of my life discussing healthcare software, as it was my profession. But at some point (almost a year ago), I simply had to stop. Since I earned good money, my career was perceived as "good." And, for the last two years of this career, I didn't work too many hours, and frequently worked from home, so my job was also perceived as a "sweet gig." And yet, I was spending my days discussing things I didn't care about at all.

Healthcare software does not interest me. It does not make me feel alive.

So I had to spend my days differently, since I longed to spend my life differently. I know many people were not comfortable with me leaving a high-paying "sweet gig" with no plan. But as my friend Lacy (who now has a new Meditation app out!!) says:

"It is not your job to make anybody else feel comfortable about YOUR life."

I'm not only talking about career, of course. What do you talk about with your friends and family?

In the last four days, did you hang out with people who made you feel inspired or who made you feel annoyed?

Have you ever gone four days without complaining? (I, probably, have not.)
It seems many people crave big life changes—a new job, a new romantic partner, a new place to live, a more healthy body, etc.—but few are willing or open to making daily changes. Or to even acknowledge that big changes start with daily changes. But where else could big life changes possibly stem from?

You cannot change your life without changing your days. Change always happens in the present tense.

Usually when I share Rumi quotes, I share excerpts from his poems, but in addition to his poetry, 147 of his letters survive. So today I'll close with an excerpt from one of his letters:

"Before death takes away what you are given,

give away what is there to give.

No dead person grieves for his death. He mourns only what he didn't do. Why did I wait? Why did I not...? Why did I neglect to...?

I cannot think of better advice to send. I hope you like it. May you stay in your infinity.

Peace."

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. The only book I've read by Annie Dillard (who won the Pulitzer for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) is The Writing Life which is enjoyable if you like books on writing. My favorite books on writing are Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic (which is on creativity at large and, I think, applicable to all).

p.p.s. When changing your days, no need to start big. You do not need to blow up your whole life in a fit of rage. Start small. What's one thing you can do differently today? What's a single healthy decision you can make today that differentiates you from the you of yesterday? Is there one mean remark you can keep to yourself, one angry email you can resist from sending? As Lao Tzu reminds us:"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

Feel Deeper. | rejoyce letters, vol. 45

Hi Friend,

I recently listened to an interview with the late Elie Wiesel, who was a writer, professor, Holocaust survivor, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. (He wrote 57 books including Night about his experiences in Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp and Buchenwald concentration camp.)

He said that though he's hesitant to prescribe a "formula" for how to live—since everything is so personal and individual—he consistently shared this message with many of his students:

"Think higher.

Feel deeper."

I felt moved to share those four words this week. Four words that, I believe, could be transformative if you lean into them fully.
I went to Poland in September to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was in Europe paying respect to my ancestry and, since my maternal grandmother was one-hundred percent German, I felt compelled to visit what must be one of the most abhorrent manmade monstrosities in the history of the human race. I believe in looking at and learning from all sides of the past. 

I have nothing profound to say about my personal experience visiting the camp. (I recommend reading Night or visiting any number of Holocaust museums. In NYC, the Museum of Jewish Heritage is worth a visit.) Any words I could string together about Auschwitz-Birkenau would inherently come up short. The horror of the place defies the bounds of language and logic. As I walked through the grounds, my mind felt unable to compute what I was seeing; it's the closest I've been to hell on earth.

Yet, I was there by choice for a day trip from Krakow. The next day, I'd bus to Berlin. Elie Wiesel was sent there as a teenager and forced to labor with his father in unspeakable conditions. His mother and younger sister were murdered immediately upon arrival. His advice?

Think higher.

Feel deeper.

Feeling deeper is something many of us are trained to avoid. Emotions are seen as useless and excessive in a full-blown capitalistic society, so we've been taught to shut off our emotions—especially negative ones. But when we shut down before we can truly feel things, we stunt our emotional growth.

Rumi says:

"Darkness is your candle.

Your boundaries are your quest."

Wiesel adamantly condemns indifference. I consider indifference the opposite of feeling deeply.

He says:

"Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil...The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. To be in a window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and do nothing, that's being dead."

My wish for you is that you may feel deeper this week, even if that pushes you beyond comfortable boundaries. It is only through feeling that you can get in touch with the essence of being alive, the essence of our interconnectedness. 

I believe we are all one. And if you allow yourself to feel deeper, you will naturally begin feeling connected with other people, even people whom you perceive as wildly different than yourself. The more you feel deeply into your own emotions, the more compassion you have for others, and as your compassion grows, you begin to actively create a more loving world. A world where—one can hope—the terrible atrocities of the past are never replicated in the future.

Because some are guilty, but all are responsible.

As George Orwell says: "Either we all live in a decent world, or nobody does."
Creating a decent world starts with you. Think higher. Feel deeper. Your boundaries are your quest.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

An Intro to Surrender. | rejoyce letters, vol. 44

Hi Friend, 

I listened to a lecture by Marianne Williamson, the author of A Return to Love, where she said:

“An embryo doesn't need ambition to grow into a baby. An acorn doesn’t need ambition to grow into an oak tree.”

A rather subversive idea is encased in those metaphors: You don’t need to try so hard in order to grow into exactly who you are meant to, in order to reach your highest potential. And maybe, human ambition—a characteristic so often heralded in our society—is more harmful than helpful. What is ambition other than obsession with a result? And what's usually buried under an obsession with a result? Fear. Fear that you aren't good enough as you are, so you think you need to do something, get something, prove something, accomplish something, or win something.

I finished Yoga Teacher Training on February 1, and though right now I don't want to teach full time, I like the idea of teaching one class a week. So, my mind, conditioned to be ambitious, made a plan. I decided I'd go to all the studios in my neighborhood, take classes, meet owners, apply to teach if I liked the classes and owners, and then audition (teach a practice class, a pretty standard step in NYC to getting hired by a studio). After all that, I's start subbing and then work my way up to getting on the schedule. (Other teachers had told me this path: sub first, then get on the schedule.) So I was thinking of doing all that with the ultimate goal of teaching one class a week.

And then I thought: "Nah."

It seemed like such a striving approach. So I practiced the art of non-doing aka I chilled the fuck out. I still practiced yoga asana almost everyday, meditated daily, and read books on yoga and spirituality,  because I enjoy doing those things. I don't do them for a future result.

Then, a dear friend texted me and asked: "Do you want to teach a yoga class at my company? We have space and we'll bring our own mats."

It was so easy to say yes to her because it felt so aligned. (Also, I love her.)

So last week, I taught my very first yoga class to a beautiful group of women at my friend's company! I can't get over how much I loved the experience; I felt high with happiness for hours afterward. I've never done anything professionally in my life that has made me feel so fulfilled.

I'd just like to note that these were the steps my "ambitious" mind thought I'd have to follow in order to teach:

1. Take Classes (which, of course, costs money)

2. Meet Owners 

3. Apply 

4. Audition 

5. Sub for a while

6. Teach Yoga 

And these were the steps that my "non-ambitious" mind ended up doing:

1. Receive Text from Friend 

2. Say Yes

3. Teach Yoga

What I'm hinting at in this letter through a simple example is an ultimate concept in spirituality: surrender. The idea of surrender is that when you relax, when you give into the present moment, when you let go of clinging to the fruits of your actions, when you stop planning and thinking so hard, when you stop conniving and manipulating and trying, when you stop hustling and working, and when you completely let go of any and all ambition—you surrender. 

And when you surrender, life flows to you and through you.

You realize that you are whole as you are. That you never need to hustle or work or plan. 

You never need to make things happen; all you ever need to do is allow things to happen. 

Maybe you think this sounds like bullshit. I get it. Ever since you were a tiny child you were likely taught that "hardworking" was a positive quality. Maybe you were taught that you needed to do things to get attention and, thus, to be loved. You were likely more or less trained to worship results. Maybe you even were told that if you didn't work hard, you'd turn into a lazy, no-good, drunk homeless bum begging for money. So you internalized that—maybe on some deeply subconscious level you actually believe that if you ever stop working so damn hard, you will become that lazy bum. So now you pride yourself in being a hardworking, hustling overachiever. 

I get that, I've been there, I lived there most of my life. And I have a question: does the self-pride in your hard work make you feel fulfilled?

Because the truth is, if you stop working so hard, you will not become a lazy degenerate. You might just grow into a beautiful oak tree. You are programmed to be magnificent. You don't need to work so hard at it.

If working super hard and living an "ambitious" life makes you feel whole and fulfilled and satisfied—then, please, do not change a thing. 

But if, perhaps, you're tired of trying so hard, sick of constantly hustling, exhausted of proving yourself, then, maybe, try letting go of ambition. Maybe, try something different. Stop making things happen; start allowing things to unfold.

Rumi says:

"Very little grows on jagged rock.

Be ground. Be crumbled,

 so wildflowers will come up 

where you are.

You have been stony for too many years.

Try something different. Surrender."

One of the laws of the universe is if you keep doing what you've been doing, you'll keep getting what you've been getting.

So, if you want to change your life, if you want to feel differently, you need to try something different. And if you've been trying, trying, trying your whole life, maybe that "something different" looks a lot like not trying.

Surrender.

And watch watch what grows in you life.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. After Yoda talks about unlearning he says: "Do or do not. There is not try." I think of this quote often; I think it's often misinterpreted. And though my husband will be the first to tell you I'm no Star Wars expert—years ago, I infamously asked him if Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were the same person—I will say this: I do believe in the Force IRL. So there's that. (: Namaste, my friend.

Pre-approved. | rejoyce letters, vol. 43

Hi Friend, 

One of my favorite songs is Florence + the Machine's Dog Days Are Over. 

[Aside: This is a particularly nice running song because multiple times it literally says the words: "Run fast" (run fast for your mother, run fast for your father...) which always makes me smile, just in case I forget I'm attempting to run fast. :)]

My favorite part is where she sings:

"And I never wanted anything from you

Except everything you had and

What was left after that, too."

I had this realization a while ago that—in certain relationships—I have this tendency to want people to give me approval. Not like a little bit. Like constant truckloads of perpetual approval. And then maybe a little more than that.

A perhaps embarrassing personal example:

A while ago, I was vexed over a friendship. As pathetic as this may sound, I just couldn't believe in the validity of the relationship; I couldn't believe this person would want to be my friend. So I made a list of all the things this person had done that would "validate" the friendship—texting me, calling me, hanging out with me, etc., etc.. The list was really long. And finally it was like my hand got sick of making this list, and seemingly of its own volition, wrote over the whole list in all-caps Sharpie:

WHAT MORE PROOF DO YOU NEED, JOYCE?

The problem is, when we seek approval from others—when we decide (perhaps subconsciously) we need external validation in order to prove our own worth, in order to feel good about ourselves—we will never be wholly satiated. We will be like Florence, claiming we don't want anything from another person except for—of course—everything. And then maybe a little more than that. 

It isn't our fault. We are conditioned to seek external approval as children (gold stars from teachers, pats on the back from coaches, proud words from parents, etc.), but when we keep up the habit as an adult, we risk becoming drains, siphoning energy from others in a desperate attempt to fill our own wells. Not only does this strain our relationships, but also this never actually works.

Because I did not need this friend (nor anyone) to give me a stamp of approval. In fact, it would have been objectively impossible for anyone to do that for me, even if they wanted to.

I needed to get that sense of approval from myself. You could say I needed me to give myself a stamp of approval—but, furthermore, I realized even the idea of "stamp of approval" is ridiculous. It's another unhelpful social construct. 

I was "stamped" the second I was born. So much so that to even talk about a "stamp" is preposterous, because it makes it sound like me being approved is separate from me being me. In actuality, I am, and always have been, enough. I am, and have always been, worthy.

I am, and have always been, pre-approved. As are you. 

Now, it's one thing to mentally grasp that and another to feel it.

Feeling is everything. 

I've owned Louise Hay's spiritual classic You Can Heal Your Life for a while, but I've been afraid to read it. (Probably some subconscious resistance toward certain areas of healing.) I recently worked up the courage to read a chapter where she recommends silently repeating this mantra over and over to yourself:

I approve of myself. I approve of myself. I approve of myself. 

She says—no joke—repeating this three or four hundred times a day is a good starting place. I laughed out loud when I read that because it sounds insane. And then I started doing it; I recommend it.

Look around: so many of us are like little Kindergartners craving head taps and cookies and medals and gold stars. (But we're adults so instead we crave Instagram likes and promotions and invites to parties, etc. But it's really the same shit.) We are looking outside of us to fill our well, unaware of the depths of water within us. 

Here's a long excerpt from a poem where Rumi explores this concept in many different ways. I'm sharing in hopes that one or more of his examples will resonate with you:

"Don't look for it outside yourself.

You are the source of milk. Don't milk others!

There is a milk fountain inside you.

Don't walk around with an empty bucket.

You have a channel into the ocean, and yet

you ask for water from a little pool.

...

There is a basket of fresh bread on your head, 

and yet you go door to door asking for crusts.

Knock on your inner door. No other. 

Sloshing knee-deep in fresh riverwater, yet

you keep wanting a drink from other people's waterbags.

Water is everywhere around you, but you see only 

barriers that keep you from water.

The horse is beneath the rider's thighs, and still

he asks, 'Where's my horse?'"

Perhaps this is the greatest trick of all: We spend our whole lives searching for Love outside of ourselves, only to discover we already have all the Love we could ever need within us. We were simply taught to look in the wrong direction.

You are pre-approved, my friend. No list could ever prove that, because it already is so. It is written.

You do not need anyone's approval to prove your worth. You do not need to do anything to prove your worth. 

You are worthy. You are enough.
Only look inward, and start to feel it. 

Knock on the inner door, and the door will be open unto you.

with Love and with Light,
Joyce

p.s. Can you hear the horses? 'Cause here they come. (:

Less. | rejoyce letters, vol. 42

Hi Friend,

I am lucky enough to be writing from my in-laws’ home on the sunny island of Sanibel in Florida. (A lot more sunny than the "island" I live on this time of year.) 

When I go from New York City to—well, to nearly anywhere—but especially to a Floridian island, it draws my attention to the pace of life in the city in which I live. I enjoy New York life, but could go without the constant honking. Sometimes, I long to ask the driver who’s incessantly lying on their horn: 

Where are you going?

(Cue Dave Matthews.) But, really, not just where are you going right now but: where are you going long term? The answer is obvious, and yet, we seem to forget it constantly. You have so much in common with the person you’re honking at, yelling at, annoyed by, pissed at, etc. You share the greatest commonality of all: in seventy years, more or less, you'll both be dead.

Maybe that sounds too morbid for a Monday (sorry!), but also, I don't really see it as such. I think of it as a recalibration toward what really matters in life. And what doesn't matter is road rage.

I've been thumbing through Meditations by Marcus Aurelius lately, a book I highly recommend especially if you're interested in gaining some perspective on how to approach the transience of life, and was recently moved to write down this quote and hang it up in my apartment:

"If you seek tranquility, do less."

Doing less can be the hardest thing for us to do. There was a case study years ago that analyzed soccer goalkeepers on penalty kicks, that proved the keepers had an action bias. They were way more likely to jump to the right or the left during a penalty kick, even though statistically they were way more likely to make the save if they just stayed in the center of the goal. (You can Google 'Goalkeeper action bias' if you want more info.)

The core idea is this: we are so worried about the perception of not doing anything we often jump into action even when we'd be better off doing less, or maybe doing nothing. But why do we fear doing nothing? We seem to have so much mental baggage associated with "doing nothing"—so much of our self-worth wrapped up in our perceived productivity.

So what I started doing in my own life is I no longer think of doing nothing as doing nothing. I think of doing nothing as practicing the art of non-doing. :) I know that sentence maybe makes me sound insane, but I first started contemplating non-doing when reading the Tao Te Chingsince non-doing (wu wei) is a core tenant of Taoism. The idea is when you master the art of non-doing, you then align with nature and things flow naturally for you and to you. 

During yoga teacher training, one of my favorite asana instructions we learned is this: in every single pose, even a handstand or wheel or any of the more challenging poses, always find somewhere to do less. My teacher says, "Find the savasana in every pose."

(Savasana is the pose often done at the end of yoga classes where you lie on the ground completely still, eyes closed.)

What if, this week, you found the savasana in every relationship? In every interaction at work? In every conflict? What if you did less?

And, maybe, what if you never honked again unless someone was in imminent danger? Especially if you're a New Yorker. ;) 

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. Rumi: "In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and watch how the pattern improves."

p.p.s. The Tao Te Ching came into my life in the most beautiful non-doing way. I didn’t buy it at a bookstore or check it out from the library. I never added it to a “need to read” list and no one recommended it to me. My husband simply found it on a stoop and Brooklyn, handed it to me, and said, “This seems like a Joyce book to me.” He was right. 

What's Inside. | rejoyce letters, vol. 41

Hi Friend, 

When I wrote on tapas or accepting pain for the sake of transformation—like purifying gold in fire—I didn't delve into the underlying assumption that, within each of us, there's something that longs to be transformed, that longs for purification so our true essence can shine.

The idea that transformation or purification could benefit you is a delicate message because it potentially could be extrapolated into the idea that something is wrong with you. Suddenly, we're back at the damaging concept of Original Sin—that each of us is fallen, innately flawed with a rotten core. I couldn't disagree with that idea more vehemently. Nothing is wrong with you. 

If you read the sentence, "Nothing is wrong with you" and instantly, adamantly disagreed, please read it again. And again. No need to read the rest of this letter. Just that one sentence. Nothing is wrong with you.

I believe each of us has a pure core of Love. Then why do we need to purify ourselves at all? Well, we wouldn't—if we weren't fed lies from society that breed negative emotions within us like anger, jealousy, judgement, resentment, and blame.

We get barraged with messages—from the media, from our friends and family, from society at large—that we are not good enough. That we need to lose weight, drink more water, have clearer skin with fewer wrinkles, make more money, then more money than that, have bigger boobs, have a more kale-based lifestyle, have more followers, have more friends who are cooler, have better sex more often, travel to more adventurous places, live in more perfectly curated homes, and on and on and on.

It's nauseating. I can't stand commercials. When we're watching sports, I mute them religiously. [We often miss Tony Romo's opening words of commentary wisdom, and yet, we've somehow managed to survive. ;)] 

But when I speak of accepting pain in the name of transformation I do not mean "pain" in the form of credit card debt so you can buy the $1000 winter coat everyone else in the five boroughs impossibly seems to possess.

The transformation I speak of is internal. Inner peace is an inside job. 

So when people speak enthusiastically about tossing possessions that don't spark joy, know that I've read the book and totally support it, and I want to say: Do you know what could be more powerful to toss out of your life than your Hopewell Vikings Powder Puff Football tee shirt from 2007?

Jealousy.

Anger.

Judgment. 

Resentment. 

Blame.

None of that shit sparks joy either, homie.

This is where purifying practices come in. Our societal messaging more or less breed these negative emotions within us—but though it's not our fault we have this garbage inside us, it's still our responsibility to clean it up. 

The trick comes—I think—in realizing where these emotions stem from. Rumi says:

"Come to the root of the root of yourself."

When I experience a negative emotion, I try to ask: What is the root of the root? What is the root of the root of my jealousy? What is the root of the root of my anger over this situation?

Listen, my yard isn't clean. I've been trying to write a letter on jealousy for weeks....to no avail. My envy towards others is too embarrassing for me to share. And I judge people subconsciously, automatically, and basically constantly. I have a long, long way to go. 

But I'm not writing this to chastise myself. And I’m definitely not chastising you. I simply want to share one principle that has opened things up for me as far as emotional purification:

I have realized my emotions come from within me. Not from other people. Not from my circumstances. My emotions come from me alone.

Maybe you think, "Duh." Because logically where else could they come from? 

But have you ever said, "He makes me so angry"? Do you realize saying, "He makes me so angry" is blaming someone else for your own inner emotional state? 

It's akin to a child saying, "He made me hit him." No one can make you hit them. And no one can make you angry. The anger comes from you. When you realize this—when you feel it in your bones—it is terrible and beautiful.

It is terrible because you are finally forced to take accountability for your inner state, and thus, for your life.

And it is beautiful because you are finally able to take accountability for your inner state and your life.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I’d push it further:

No one can make you feel anything without your consent.

Most people who know me know I'm very emotional. Overemotional, some (most?) might say. When I had the realization I needed to stop blaming my emotions on others, my inner emotional landscape was the equivalent of a hoarder's impassable yard with ugly furniture from the seventies, broken bicycles, scattered nails, and endless weeds. So (to mix metaphors) it's not like I'm the person whose been skinny her whole life now saying: "And this is how you lose weight!" If can work toward taking full accountability for my emotions then—I promise you—anyone can. 

Once I stopped blaming other people and external situations for my inner state, everything changed. My yard might still have a floral couch in it that I need work on getting rid of, but I can at least walk through it now without stepping on a nail. It's—strangely—peaceful. 

Wayne Dyer tells a story about an orange. He says, you can squeeze an orange any way you want. You can use a juicer. A blender. You can bang it with a hammer. You can run it over with a truck. And the only thing that will ever come out of that orange is orange juice.

You will never get grapefruit juice from an orange, no matter what you do to it. You will never get apple juice. Or pear juice. No matter what, you will only ever get orange juice.

Why? 

Because what comes out, is what's inside.

You and I are the same. 

And that is why we purify.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce