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.

The Hierarchical Game. | rejoyce letters, vol. 23

Hi Friend, 

After I wrote on being a human being and not a human doing, I was reflecting on why people have a tendency to link their inner self worth with their productivity. What perpetuates this? I don't claim to know the root—but I think a huge contributing factor is our obsession with ranking one other, with winner and losers, and with measuring—stemming, I think, from our need to "accurately" rank who's "better" and "worse."

In my opinion, the very premise that someone's worth could be quantified is bullshit. 

In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman writes:

"I know I have the best of time and space, and was never measured and never will be measured."

[Aside: I read that sentence over and over while waiting to eat pizza at Rubirosa. Here's where I again recommend Leaves of Grass; reading it is truly a visceral experience. Same goes for eating Rubirosa pizza ;)]

And yet, despite Walt's insistence on our infinitude and in our defying measurability, our society is obsessed with metrics. We measure everything.

We track the value of stocks; we follow sports teams; we follow statistics of players on sports teams; we note how many followers a celebrity has on Instagram and how many followers our ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend has on Instagram; we discuss how many copies of a book sold; we say, “That movie was ranked 98% on Rotten Tomatoes” and, “That hotel only has three stars.” And then, the awards: the Pulitzer, the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys, the Tonys, the SuperBowl champions, the MVP, Michelin Stars, Hollywood stars, Dancing with the Stars, the Nobel Prize, and on and on and on.

The sheer number of metrics and awards suggests their collective importance to us.

All of these metrics and awards are—after all—completely fiction. One could live one’s whole life, for example, without knowing one’s I.Q. The world would continue if the concept of the “I.Q.” had never been invented. We know this, yet, many still care about the I.Q., though it is, at its core, fiction. You could also live your entire life without knowing your weight. (Stephen and I do not own a scale, so I often go months without weighing myself.)

But rejecting the metric of "weight" is only me rejecting one metric. In order to fully be free, I believe one must reject the myth of measurability in its entirety, i.e. reject the pervasive paradigm of quantifiable success. For it's one thing to rank restaurants and companies, but it's far, far more dangerous to rank human beings.

Do you know the ancient adage: "Don't hate the player, hate the game" ? :)

Well, I say: If you hate the game, stop playing it.

It's easy to say that, but admittedly extremely difficult to drop out of a game the whole world seems to be playing. (I'd argue the only thing harder, in the long term, is continuing to play, because by playing you slowly lose your own soul.)

Yet, it can seem easier to keep playing this metric game, this game of quantifiable success, because when you reject the existing paradigm of measurable success, you also have to reject the idea that any human being could be better or worse than any other human being. On a macro level, you have to un-rank the world. On a micro level, you have to be humble.

Humility is not my strong suit, and I'm finding this shift to be a huge personal challenge. Because if I stop (subconsciously or consciously) ranking people, I am faced with this truth: I am equal to everyone else. Said another way: I am better than no one.

You might say you want "equality" politically—but can you walk onto a Subway, see a drunk man sprawled out in his own urine on one side of the train, and an obese lady eating chips on the other side of the train, and truly think: "Here, are my equals."?

I am embarrassed to say I cannot. My mind immediately judges—it's less of a coherent thought than an automatic reaction. (I am not proud of this.) I immediately feel superior than them, my fellow train companions. As if my sobriety and my thinnest, somehow, prove my better-ness. (And earlier I pretended to reject the metric of weight! Who cares if you don't own a scale, Joyce, if you see a fat person and feel, on any subconscious level, better than that person? That's missing the point entirely.)

You cannot claim that you support equality for all and then spend each day feeling superior to others.

Perhaps more ironically flawed: Feeling superior to others because you claim to believe in equality for all and they do not. (Can you see how that, in itself, is a giant contradiction?)

[For example: Thinking, "White racists think they're better than black people, and I don't think that, therefore, I'm better than white racists" is a thought on the level of the problem, not the level of the solution. The core issue of racism is that one person could believe himself superior to another person. So, if you think you're better than a racist, you are only perpetuating the ranking game. The world doesn't need people to make new rules to the existing hierarchical game; it needs people to quit the game altogether.]

And maybe the new "game" is this: one with neither winners nor losers. A game beyond what seems to be the current infrastructure of society. A life outside of the Matrix. 

As Rumi says:

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other'

doesn't make any sense."

If you can stop measuring, you can stop judging. If you stop judging, you start loving. And if you can stop measuring yourself and judging yourself —then you can extend that mentality to all others, not just others who hold your beliefs. Finally, then, you can truly see all as equals, and then, and only then, you will have dropped out of the great hierarchical game. 

It's clearly a work in progress for me—but I believe it to be the path of peace: to radically shift my own personal success paradigm. And then, one by one, we can shift the worldview. 

As Bob Marley says:

"The day you stop racing is the day you win the race."

As Yogi Bhajan says:

"If you can't see God in all, you can't see God at all."

Is there any greater freedom than quitting a game that you know, at your core, you hate? 

Is there any greater joy than seeing God in the face of every single person you see?

You were never measured, and you never will never be measured. Same goes for everyone else.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. Lao Tzu: "Not competing, they have in all the world no competitor."

p.p.s. Eckhart Tolle: "Remember: Just as you cannot fight the darkness, so you cannot fight unconsciousness. If you try to do so, the polar opposites will become strengthened and more deeply entrenched...you will create an "enemy," and so be drawn into unconsciousness yourself...But make sure that you carry no resistance within, no hatred, no negativity. 'Love your enemies,' said Jesus, which, of course means 'have no enemies.'"

Depths. | rejoyce letters, vol. 22

Hi Friend,

I spent the long weekend at my parents’ cabin on the Allegheny River. There's something about having less (e.g. nine people, one bathroom) that makes you more conscious of what you do have. 

For most of my life, I figured I was decently knowledgeable about Pennsylvania birds and wildflowers, having lived in somewhat rural PA from ages seven to twenty-two. That is, until my parents bought the cabin in 2015 and I started visiting. My parents now know more about birds than I thought it was possible to know about birds. (Especially considering they're both engineers by training.)

When we’re sitting around the fire, my mom will say to me things like: “Do you think that was the call of a barn owl or a screech owl?” And, obviously, I haven't the faintest idea. 

This Sunday, when my dad said: “See that Osprey in the dead tree across the river?” I realized I had not a clue how an Osprey looked.

Still, I am starting to learn. I know the vibrant orange Orioles are only there for a brief stint in springtime, eating the orange halves my dad leaves out on a small plastic table in the yard just for them. And I know when we walked the trail in May we saw hundreds of blooming trilliums but, by late August, they’re long gone. Now, we bike by fields of tall, shining goldenrods, and the trail is lined by Queen Anne’s lace (which always reminds me of Bob Dylan's song You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go).

And though the brilliant Indigo Buntings of springtime no longer frequent the bird feeder, the Goldfinch convene both in May and in August and all the months between, swarming the feeder each morning as my dad hangs it outside. (He puts it in the shed at night ever since a brown bear started opening it and eating the birdseed after dark.)

There’s something about learning more about the external world that makes me want to know myself more deeply—as if nature compels me to explore my inner landscape, the tides of my mind, the rhythms of my heart, the seasons of my life. 

I am finally realizing that, for so long, I longed for others to wholly understand me, and, yet, I didn't even wholly understand myself; I hardly knew myself at all. 

Just like, before the cabin, I could hardly distinguish a soaring hawk from circling vulture, for so long, I could hardly tell within myself what exactly I was feeling, much less why I was feeling what I was feeling. Equally mysterious was why I was thinking what I was thinking or doing what I was doing.

Yet, I maintained the underlying vague desire that others should meet my needs entirely. That they (and by 'they' I mean everyone) should treat me exactlyas I desired to be treated. (Though, if pressed, I couldn’t really articulate what that was.)

Simone Weil says: 

"It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves."

And Rumi says:

"Your heart is the size of an ocean. Go find yourself in its hidden depths."

The more I learn about birds and flowers, the more I realize there is to learn, and there’s something amazing about that—that my whole life I was surrounded by these blossoming and flying creations that I never bothered to truly see. That I needn't travel to the heart of the Amazon to be amazed by the natural world, maybe I could just look out my window attentively. I feel the same way about self-exploration; the more I learn about me, the more there is to know. The more doors I open, the more doors there are. 

And this brings about not a feeling of overwhelm, but a sense of wonder at the depths that exist. Depths that have certainly always been there, but have been hidden in plain sight. 

Some days, it feels as miraculous as the camouflaged Great Blue Heron magically appearing and soaring from the stones of the river bank elegantly across the water.

Because if there's one thing I've never wanted, it is a shallow life.

with Love and with Light, 

Joyce

p.s. I began reading poet Mary Oliver’s book of essays called Upstream over the weekend and I love it so far. If you've never read Mary Oliver, this poemis a nice starting place. (That last line gets me every time.)

Nonlinear. | rejoyce letters, vol. 21

 

Hi Friend, 

I am starting to re-conceptualize how I think about time. It began with patience. Once I slowed down and started believing perfect timing was at work for me, my perspective on time made a notable shift. 

Right after I wrote this letter on patience I discovered this quote I love by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience." 

[Aside: This happens a lot: Right after I send out a letter on a topic, I come across a quote that seems perfect for the already-sent letter. My challenge is to look at these findings not as regrets or missed opportunities, but to look at them as beautiful synchronicities. Nods that I am on the right path. And, also, as humbling reminders that I've only just begun the journey and have much more to learn. Really, the challenge is the same: to believe that even the smallest things are happening in perfect timing.]

Beginning to cultivate patience (which is still a work in progress) led me to view time through a different lens. Our cultural obsession with clock time encourages us to think of time very linearly: as if everything (every moment, every life) has a discrete start point and a discrete end point. Since clock time is such a constant presence in our lives, thinking of it as exclusively linearly can cause us to start viewing everything as linear. As if life is a big trip from discrete Point A > discrete Point B >  discrete Point C and this big linear trip is full of smaller linear trips from A > B > C along the way. 

I guess I simply no longer believe life is like that. I believe life is nonlinear. 

One example is friendship. You know those people who say somewhat boastfully, "We've been friends since first grade" as if linear time alone is the key ingredient to deep, meaningful relationships? Obviously, long-term friendships spanning decades can be really fulfilling. But also, there's still the chance you have yet to meet the greatest friend of your life. And if you can open yourself up to the idea that linear time is not the most important thing, you give new friendships a chance to deepen and grow quickly—unrestrained by the artificial bounds of clock time.

Another example is healing. Probably the biggest takeaway I've had from inner healing work is this: You don't heal linearly. There is no "healing checklist." It's not like: Well, all my elementary school issues are healed, now it's time to heal middle school. Not at all. You have to follow the energy. 

Probably the most profound example, at least to me, is creativity. I've spent years toiling away on novel manuscripts that, when completed, were pretty mediocre...but some of the best writing I've ever done has just come to me. In a flash. We are essentially taught that the longer you work on something, the better it is. (Because we are taught to worship linear time—and even, sometimes, to value ourselves at an hourly rate, which is absurd.) But with writing, for me, linear time has next to nothing to do with my creative outputs. Patience is key—but hours logged? Not at all. Who even cares? Would you like your favorite novel any less if you discovered the author wrote it twelve hours rather than twelve years? 

But what is an alternative to linear time? Circular time. Circular time is pervasive in nature. [It's almost like this Emerson dude was onto something. ;)] Consider sunrises, sunsets, seasons. Trees shedding their leaves each autumn and budding each spring. The phases of the moon. The tides. The earth orbiting the sun. 

For all of these natural occurrences, there is truly no beginning and no ending. The tides are never "over." The moon is never "done." We intellectually know that when a sunset is "over" from our (very limited) perspective that the sun is still setting elsewhere for others. When you take the world view, the sun never stops rising or setting. It is perpetual—no beginning, no ending. 

And we don't say, "Well guys, that was a great summer solstice, but now we're done with that for forever. Check summer solstice off the list!" Of course not. We know nature comes back, perpetually returns—we know life moves not in lines but in circles. 

[Disney sponsored aside (jk): Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba. Sithi uhm ingonyama. :) Did you know the opening lines to Lion King's Circle of Life are written in a language called Zulu spoken by an estimated nine million people, most of whom live in South Africa?]

So if we know nature lives in circles and in seasons—why can't we? Can we start viewing our human lives as a part of the natural world rather than separate from it? Can we adopt the pace of nature?

If we can, I think we may begin experiencing life with a limitless, perpetual quality—and our relationships and our creativity can transcend into an infinite realm. The realm of the sun.

Rumi: "To praise the sun is to praise your own eyes."

with Love and with (sun) Light,

Joyce

p.s. I read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn at the end of 2016, and I've recently been wanting to re-read it with my new perspectives. It's a philosophical novel that really made me think—about people, about creation, about the lies of our culture, about nature, about time. I highly recommend it.

p.p.s. Although I do think linear time is an illusion, and the present moment is all we ever have, I want to note that 30 years ago tomorrow there was a particularly special present moment for me, though I wasn't there physically. On 8.28.88 my husband, Stephen, was born in Rochester, NY and held down the fort for me until I entered the world a few months later in Omaha, NE. :) About 21 years later, we fell in love in Lewisburg, PA, got married 27 years later in Madison, WI and now live together in Brooklyn, NY. If that's not a miracle, what is? Happy 30th, Stephen! My Love for you is as infinite as the circle I wear around my finger. xoxo. c

Being. | rejoyce letters, vol. 20

Hi Friend, 

A quick note: This week, I share details of my struggle with clinical depression ten years ago in college. I can now look back almost as if the experience happened to someone else. If you (for any reason) don't feel like reading about depression, please stop reading. Feel free to delete and move on. Namaste. xo. 

***

My sophomore year of college, I hit what Fall Out Boy would label a "Sophomore Slump." I never thought I'd reference a FOB song title in a letter, but, hey, they were huge in my college days (though I'll always be more of a Dashboard Confessional girl, personally). I suppose "slump" is a drastic understatement, though. I entered a period of all-consuming suicidal depression.  

There are some linear "events" I could site as triggers for this depressive state—my high school boyfriend dumped me, my best friend from freshman year abruptly transferred—but, really, those are just things I say when people want "reasons."

I had no reason, not really, for how bad I felt each day. I'd spend hours in my dorm room in my lofted twin bed crying into my mascara-stained lime green pillowcase asking God: Why? Why? Why? Why? 

It was like I had a song stuck in my head that said: "Everyone hates me. Everyone would be better off without me." It fluctuated in volume, but was always there.

I can now see that song for what it was: Bullshit. But back then, I believed it. It felt so true. Please always remember, friend: Depression lies. 

There were also visions—gruesome images of my dead body (after the act) that my mind would regularly land on. By "regularly land on" I mean I thought about this constantly. Hundreds of times a day, all while "Everyone hates me" played as background music. It was almost like I was addicted to these disturbing images. Obsessed with my own pain.

Suffice it to say: during essentially my entire sophomore year: I was very, very, very down.

I ended up going to Psych Services when a basketball teammate forced me to (I'd cry in the locker room constantly, too). She threatened to "tell Coach" if I didn't go. Yes, the brain of 19 year-old me ostensibly didn't care about my own life but desperately cared about what my Coach thought of me

[Aside: NCAA athletics are weird.]

At Psych Services, I saw a kind woman named Linda an hour a week for about a year. There's one message Linda repeated at our sessions I still remember:

"You are a human being, not a human doing."

We live in a "Just Do It!" results-obsessed society. My letter on striving touched on how I tended to validate my worth through external metrics, always wanting more, more, more—but I think the power of being versus doing is deeper than simply letting go of the striving mentality. 

It's also about realizing at a deep level that, as the great Walt Whitman said:

"I exist as I am, that is enough."

I don't just mean a mental acknowledgement like, "Yeah, that sounds true," and then diving back into to endless checklists of doing, doing, doing. And beating yourself up before you go to sleep in bed each night because, God, you just didn't get anything done today. That's not what I mean by "realizing" that you are a human being not a human doing, for that’s not a realization at all.

The truth is: our pervasive societal obsession with productivity effectively reduces glorious human beings into stressed-out production-obsessed machines. So much so that I would posit the real reason you feel so bad at night is not because you didn’t do enough during the day but because you are living with the false belief that your self worth is tied to your productivity. That is not so; your self worth is tied to your being.

You exist as you are. That is enough.

Because even though Linda (for whom I'm eternally grateful) helped 19 year-old me turn off the bullshit song and horrible images in my head, and though she told me over and over and over: "You are a human being, not a human doing" and, though, as a college sophomore, I resonated with the sentiment intellectuallyI didn't really start feeling the truth of it until this year—at twenty-nine, a decade later. 

It's like a full-body realization of an ontological truth—one of the greatest perspective shifts I’ve ever made. The shift from human doing > human being.

The difference between thinking something's true and feeling something's true is immense. It's akin to the difference between thinking about food and actually eating food. Or, to put it another way: 

Question: What’s the difference between intellectually knowing what sex is and experientially having sex?

Answer: Everything.

So it is with this. You can think: "I am enough" all you want. In fact, I recommend thinking it. It’s far better than thinking total lies about how fat, dumb, or useless you are. (Those thoughts aren’t serving you; they are false; let them go.)

Still, thinking, “I am enough” will only get you so far. You must move toward feeling it.

Recently, I was out to eat with a new friend telling her how most people seem baffled with my current situation—no job, no kids. They seem almost perturbed as to how I’m spending my time, extremely curious as to what exactly I’m doing.

She asked, jokingly: “So, what do you do all day?”

To which I responded, with a smile: “I am.”

I only wish I could go back to 19 year-old me, crying in bed, and hold her in my arms. I would tell her, “Don’t ask why, darling. Ask, who.’”

Because the answer to: Who?

 Is always: I am.

I exist as I am. That is enough.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. A Rumi quote that surmises my experience with depression: "I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I've been knocking from the inside."

p.p.s. If you were in my life during my sophomore year of college, know that you treated me exactly perfectly. 

p.p.p.s. Former Brooklyn-dweller Walt Whitman wrote the beautifully spiritual Leaves of Grass which I recommend dipping (or diving) into. Here's the quote above expanded, from Leaves of Grass, stanza 20 of Song of Myself:

"I exist as I am, that is enough,

If no other in the world be aware I sit content,

And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,

And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait."

Space. | rejoyce letters, vol. 19

Hi Friend,

I'm writing you a shorter letter than usual this week as I want it to reflect the theme: space. I am consciously holding space for those who are suffering. This includes a few specific suffering individuals, the larger sphere of all the souls I have come in contact with (including each of you) who may or may not be currently suffering, and then expands to include humankind. 

[Aside: I hope it doesn't sound pretentious to claim to "hold space for the suffering of humankind"—that's not my intention. It simply feels right for me right now to reflect deeply on suffering—at the micro and macro levels—by taking time to deepen my understanding about horrific historical (and contemporary) crimes against humanity. I’m reading up, attending museums in Manhattan, etc.]

At times, it seems there is great suffering everywhere. And also, as Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet reminds us: "...still, there is much beauty here, for there is much beauty everywhere." 

A key to connecting to the beauty surrounding you is making space in your life for it to enter by removing the obstacles (physical, mental, and energetic) and allowing.

I encourage you to create space in your life this week. Maybe with daily meditation (you can do it!), maybe with a social media "cleanse", maybe by donating possessions cluttering your physical space (you're probably never going to wear that Aéropostale halter dress from '09), maybe (if you are braver than me) by cutting processed sugar, or maybe by just pausing for 30 seconds when you do something routine (sitting in the car, stepping into the shower) to just be.

As Eckhart Tolle says:

"Stillness is the language God speaks, everything else is bad translation."

Though, sometimes, I know, it feels like there's no space, no stillness in your mind or life. Your mind is an overcrowded party full of annoying guests. Your life is a miles-long standstill traffic jam; you sit there, uncomfortable and angry, breathing in the fumes. (In moments like these, it helps me to revel in the transitory nature of everything in the physical realm. As Bob Dylan sings in To Ramona (a woke song, imo): "Everything passes, everything changes. Just do what you think you should do.")

So please know, if you are suffering, I am holding space for you to process your pain, even if your life feels void of space right now. Even if it feels like it will never get better. It will. Bob Dylan doesn’t lie. ;) Everything passes, everything changes. 

I promise you'll start seeing the beauty again. Sending love from my heart to yours. xoxo.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. As previously discussed, I dislike the word "should"—but I consider Dylan so aligned that his thoughts likely reflect his heart. I believe he's referring to intuition when he sings: "Just do what you think you should do." (Note: there's a huge sketch of him hanging in my apartment, so I could be biased.) Regardless, for most of us, it's likely better to do what we feel is best vs. to do what we think is best. 

p.p.s. THE GUEST HOUSE by Rumi (emphasis mine)

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

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.

Striving. | rejoyce letters, vol. 18

Hi Friend, 

As many of you have likely gathered, I love quotes. In my apartment, you'll see little handwritten quotes taped up all over the place—walls, doors, mirrors. One quote I recently read struck me so profoundly I might make it the "theme" for my next few letters.

Artist Georgia O'Keeffe said:

"I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free." 

We live in a world that constantly says: Don't settle! 

On one hand, I do not believe in settling. That is, I don't believe it's ideal to throw in the towel, lower your standards, and live the scripted life everyone is tacitly telling you to accept. (I wrote on accepting back in volume 4.)

On the other hand, I think settling within yourself is one of the healthiest (and most difficult) things you can do. Getting to a place where you are self contained.Where you can confidently say, as the Beatles sing in Across the Universe, "Nothing's gonna change my world."

When we hear the societal message of "Don't settle!" it is often infused with striving energy. It's pitched in this package: Don't settle! Keep pushing! Keep striving! Work harder! These messages often inherently imply you shouldn't settle while working toward accumulating exactly what society says you should want. And that, for this, you should sacrifice everything (your time, health, energy) to push, push, push. Never settle. Never be satisfied. Always get more. 

And honestly? Fuck that.

Or, as Jesus (who, to my knowledge, was never recorded dropping any Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek F-bombs) puts it in Matthew 16:26, NIV:

"What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?"

Still, our society is essentially obsessed with striving to gain "the world." We collectively worship the Alexander Hamilton mentality. I assume most of you are familiar with the musical Hamilton. (If not: slight spoilers ahead. Since they happened IRL in the 1700s and 1800s I don't feel bad for mentioning them. ;) 

Hamilton (a founding father of the U.S.) is this go-getter who always wants more. He's never satisfied; he works nonstop. His mindset is mostly celebrated and treated as noble.

To be clear: I love the musical. I saw it in Chicago, I've listened to the soundtrack a million times, and I think Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius. Yet, I am becoming less and less enamored by Hamilton's striving mindset.Because I think at the core of this ethos of dissatisfaction is an internal sense of not being enough on the inside unless you can accumulate power on the outside

And I just don't think that ever actually works. I no longer believe in the promise of the external "power" that is acquired by striving.

In The Seat of the Soul Gary Zukav says:

"You are striving for external power. By striving for this reward and that reward, you ask the world to assess and acknowledge your value before you can value yourself. You place your self-worth in the hands of others. You have no power even if you win every gold medal that the world can produce."

Hamilton cared a lot about external power. He didn't have enough money, he needed a rich wife. His wife was not enough, he needed an affair. It's wasn't enough to tell his opponent his feelings, he needed to duel. 

Recently, I'm finding this steadfast commitment to never settling (externally) very unsettling (internally). It is, arguably, this energy that led to Hamilton's early death.  

But what if the idea that we must work really hard and struggle and strive in order to be powerful (and, therefore, fulfilled) is all a giant fallacy?

For most of my own life, I was addicted to striving.

I started with grades and sports. I was the valedictorian of my high school; I got nearly perfect grades in college; I played Division 1 basketball on a full scholarship and spent years trying to run faster, jump higher, lift more weight, score more points, get more rebounds. More, more, more.

Then, after graduation, I shifted this striving energy straight into the corporate world. More emails, more clients, more money. At my last software consulting gig, I was making $95 an hour. 

 

Yet, a chasm was growing within me. I knew deep down that how I was spending my days was not how I wanted to spend my life. I was not being true to my core; I didn't truly desire what I was "gaining." I could feel myself getting farther away from inner peace each day. It's almost as if I could feel the energetic equivalent of Jesus's words: "What good is it to gain the whole world—and lose your soul?"

This spring, I turned down a contract extension, and haven't earned a dollar since March. I do not regret it. My soul now feels more aligned than it has in my entire life. (Though there are still some shifts and some inner settling left to work through.)

Recently, while practicing aparigraha I was going through an old box of papers and found a folder with my "Strengths Finders" assessment I did for a class in college. I'd been moving around this folder with this packet of my five "strengths" for nearly a decade. (From PA > WI > NY). My very first strength, my allegedly strongest attribute, was "Achiever." I tore the piece of paper to shreds.

I'm no longer interested in external achievements; I'm interested in settling on the inside, on reckoning with my soul.

I am interested in this: What if I could be so settled within, so self-contained, that I fully believed I already had everything I needed? Could I be so settled that flattery and criticism always flushed right down the same drain? Could I say, John Lennon style: Nothing's gonna change my world?

Rumi:

"There is a basket of fresh bread on your head, 

yet you go door to door asking for crusts.

Knock on the inner door. No other.

Sloshing knee-deep in fresh riverwater, yet

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

What if you drank the water of your own soul instead of working so so so hard to get water from the external world? 

What if you stopped striving and started living?

Would you, then, be satisfied?

Would you be free?

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. Georgia O'Keeffe was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. (Fun fact for my Wisconsin friends!)

p.p.s. The striving mindset implies living in the future (for the result) rather than living in the present—which reminds me of the arrival letter I wrote in April.

p.p.p.s. My favorite Hamilton lyrics: "Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now." Applicable constantly, if you're willing to be present and look around. :)

p.p.p.p.s. Across the Universe features Sanskrit. (Jai guru deva om.) Namaste, homies.

Unexpected. | rejoyce letters, vol. 17

Hi Friend, 

I recently saw The Band's Visit, a musical about an Egyptian band who accidentally goes to the wrong town in Israel and stays the night there with the locals. 

After the show, my friend said, "If I described the plot, it would sound like nothing happened, but the entire experience was so emotional." (Sometimes how life feels, no?) 

My other friend said, "That show is like a poem." 

My friends are more articulate theater critics than me. My take: they mention Rumi in a song lyric (!), what more do you need? 

Now, I fully realize there is possibly no one else on the entire planet who'd get as excited as I did when the beautiful actress sang, "Is this a hymn? Is this a love song? Something ancient by a poet, maybe Hafiz, maybe Rumi?" 

It was a moment when two things I love—musical theater and Rumi—converged. I realize now that the true joy stemmed from it being entirely unexpected. I would've never expected to go to a Broadway show and hear someone sing about Rumi; it was a possibility my mind never entertained.

Later in the song (called Something Different) she sings:

"Nothing is as beautiful as something that you don't expect."

I've been contemplating expectations. In May, my meditation retreat leader said: 

"Expectations are like drinking rat poison and thinking it will kill the rat."

Still, most of us can't help but envision our lives working out a certain way. We think things should happen and that we should do certain things. We carry these expectations for the world (outer) and for ourselves (inner) around on our shoulders and, over time, they become terrible burdens.

I think we get so caught up in expectations because we believe:

a.) It's "easier" to live in the future than the present and

b.) We "enjoy" prolonging the illusion that we have control

Yet, ultimately, it is not easy and less enjoyable living with the heavy weight of expectations. It's kind of like working a job that's tearing your soul apart—yet it somehow feels easier to stay. It's likely not actually easier to stay, not in the long run, but inertia is powerful. Similarly, we've been drenched in expectations since birth—it's difficult to imagine life without them.

I wrote about clinging and practicing aparigraha—the Sanskrit word for non-clinging, non-possessiveness, non-attachment. Aparigraha has been applicable in many aspects of life, including releasing expectations.

You likely carry more expectations than you consciously realize (I know I do). For example: We think if we work hard, we should get financial security. We think we should find someone to marry. We think our partner should meet our every need. We think the baby in the seat next to us on the airplane shouldn't cry.

I mean, we actually think (consciously or subconsciously): a baby shouldn't cry. Then get upset and annoyed when a baby cries. Consider how absurd it is to even allow your mind to entertain the thought: a baby shouldn't cry. 

Drinking rat poison, you guys. Drinking rat poison.

Equally ridiculous are the inner expectations we have for ourselves. E.g.: I should work out more, I shouldn't have bought that, I should have texted her back sooner, I should've emailed him, I should call my mom, I should drink 8 cups of water everyday for my entire life, I should stop swearing, I should learn Spanish, I should go to the dentist at some point as an adult, etc., etc., etc.

An expression for this common phenomenon: Should-ing all over yourself.

There's likely some religious basis to this obsession with should-ing. The church is clearly super into the Ten Commandments; sermons often feel like long lists of "Thou shalls" and "Thou shall nots."

Well, no offense to Moses, but I'm working on cutting the word "should" from my speech (and thought) entirely, because I view "should" as a form of resistance. We are either resisting others (She shouldn't have said that!) or resisting ourselves (I shouldn't have eaten that entire pint of Ample Hills Ooey Gooey Butter Cake ice cream!) or resisting reality (It shouldn't rain!).

Resisting, to me, is a form of not loving. Not loving someone as they are, not loving yourself as you are, not loving the present moment as it is.One of my favorite spiritual adages is this: What you resist, persists. 

So when you drop the expectations, it can be (counterintuitively) transformative. For example, you may find you no longer eat the whole pint of ice cream, not because you think you shouldn't but because you'd rather eat in a more nourishing, loving way.

Love and acceptance can be transformative forces with others as well. I know when I say "drop expectations for others" it can sound like I'm saying "lower your standards." I am not. I am suggesting, though, you stop pretending you can control other people. You can control other people about as effectively as you can control the random baby on a plane. That is, not at all. But why would you want to? Mother Teresa says:

"When you're busy judging people, you have no time to love them."

And when it comes to dropping inner expectations, I'm not suggesting you abandon any "moral code." Should you steal, murder, or lie? Probably not. But when you operate from a place of Love, you won't steal, murder, or lie—not because someone told you "You shouldn't!" but because Love, in its natural state (which I believe is your natural state), doesn't do those things.

[Aside: Not stealing from someone because you feel you shouldn't is a fear-based action. (You fear getting caught.) Not stealing from someone because you care about them is a love-based action. The end result is the same, yet I'm beginning to believe in the underrated importance of underlying intentions.]

Ram Dass says: 

"It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed."

Maybe the point of the story of the Ten Commandments, of Moses climbing Mount Sinai and hearing God's voice, is not that we need to fill our heads with "shoulds" and "should nots"—but that we need to climb mountains and listen to the sky.

When you drop expectations, you create space for beauty, space for the divine. You don't need to live in the future when you can feel how beautiful the present is.

Nothing is as beautiful as something that you don't expect.

Expect nothing.

with Love and with Light, 

Joyce

p.s. Rumi's take on poems and music (and musicals like poems?): "Poems are rough notations for the music we are."

p.p.s. "What you resist, persists" stems from psychologist Carl Jung's work. Jung takes it up a notch and says: "What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size."

p.p.p.s. My favorite book on shedding expectations is Byron Katie's Loving What IsAnd when Eckhart Tolle had his spiritual awakening, described at the beginning of The Power of Now, the two words he heard were: “Resist nothing.”