Change. | rejoyce letters, vol. 40

Hi Friend,

I spent most of January in a single room with thirty strangers. On the third floor of a building on Broadway in Soho, we practiced yoga postures for hours, even when we were tired. We meditated, even though it's nearly impossible to meditate on Broadway in Soho without hearing sirens at least once. And we opened up to each other: about where we were from (Colombia, the UK, Poland, Venezuela, China, the U.S., etc.), about what we did for work (many of us had quit our jobs), about what brought us to yoga in the first place (some physical reasons, some mental, some spiritual), about our lives.

And, this morning, when I woke up and didn't have to rush to catch the F train, I was hit by a wave of sadness. None of those people were strangers anymore. I knew if I were to walk by any one of them on the street, we'd enthusiastically embrace. 

It's funny how much can change in a month. I am pocketing this January of 2019 experience of mine for later reference in my life. It's easy to get into ruts and to feel they are permanent. To buy into the belief that all the annoying things about life are just going to stick around for forever. But it's not true—and sometimes the belief that you are stuck, the belief that things will never change, is actually holding you back more than the circumstances themselves.

Change is possible.

And, furthermore, change is inevitable. Living is changing.

One of my favorites of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is sutra 2.5:

"Ignorance is regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant and the non-Self as Self."

Regarding the impermanent as permanent is something my mind does constantly. My mind gets caught up in all the seemingly endless cycles of all the negative things: things that are bad, things that are hard, things that are wrong, and I find myself falling into the trap of believing those things are all things that are permanent. 

When in truth, none of them are permanent. All of those things can and will change. Even BIG things, like societal or economic structures.

There was a time not too long ago—relatively speaking—when millions of people believed, "Well, we've always had a divine monarch ruling our lives so we always will." Now, of course, we can look back and laugh at those people as being wildly wrong—but what systems are we clinging to as permanent that are just waiting for us to stop clinging so that they can evolve into something better? What small things in are lives can we let go of in the name of our own personal spiritual evolution?

In yogic philosophy, ignorance is the mental obstacle that leads to all other mental obstacles (like egoism, fear, attachment, aversion). A large part of yogic practice is to remove the obstacles that are keeping you from seeing your true essence. That are blocking you from the Truth. 

About a year ago, I fell madly in love with Rumi when a dear friend emailed me this quote:

"Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and to find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."

It resonated deeply in my bones. If I had to condense the yoga sutras into a single quote, I'd choose this one. 

I'd also add that your task is not to seek to change yourself—or seek to better yourself or to improve yourself—but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against changing. Remove the obstacles that are blocking you from growing, from living, from evolving.

And—as Rumi so adeptly points out with the little, but powerful phrase "that you have built against it"—part of this process involves taking total and complete personal accountability for your own life. For realizing that in the areas where change feels impossible, you need not look outward, you need to look inward.

It's not about blaming yourself (it's never about blaming anyone), it is about clarity. It's about removing the veil of ignorance, and seeing things clearly. Seeing the impermanent as impermanent. And, maybe, even glimpsing what is truly permanent. 

Today, it's hard for me to imagine my life before Rumi came into it, but even two years ago, I had no idea who Rumi was. One year ago, sending a weekly email newsletter was not anything I had any concept of or hope of doing myself. And even seven months ago, Yoga Teacher Training wasn't remotely on my radar.

But I've found, through personal practice, that when you open to change, you open to life. 

I'm going to go spend some time on my mat now. I might miss those thirty "strangers", but I'll know when I'm practicing alone in my living room, I am practicing with each one of them as well, and with millions of people around the world.

People who are committed to removing the obstacles, to clearing the field of ignorance, to changing their lives, and to spiritually evolving.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. If you're in NYC and would like to do a private yoga lesson together, please let me know. You can reply to this email. :) Would love to share what I've learned with you. If you aren't in NYC, I'd happily chat about yoga with you on the phone or FaceTime/Skype if you want me to watch your poses. Also, would love to chat with any of you about life at any time. Always. Namaste. xo.

Home. | rejoyce letters, vol. 39

Hi Friend,

A significant part of my heritage is Czech, so I spent four days in Prague this past fall during my ancestry trip to Europe.

Perhaps in part due to its geographical location—kind of between Western and Eastern Europe—the Czech Republic has had a volatile history. The land has changed hands a lot over the last couple hundred years, including a drastic shift from Nazi German rule to Communist Soviet rule after WWII. In 1989, communism ended in Czechoslovakia. And in 1993, Czechoslovakia (peacefully) split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. 

Anyway, whereas some countries have national anthems heralding their greatness, e.g., The Star Spangled Banner, O, Canada,etc. The Czech national anthem is literally called:

"Where is my home?"

This cracked me up because it felt super honest. 

[Aside: If you've ever read even a little Franz Kafka (one of the nation's most famous writers), the song title seems to make even more sense.]

I feel like Rumi would approve of this anthem title—and, naturally, take it a step further. He says:

“All language is a longing for home."

I've reached this point where home, to me, is not really a physical place. It is a feeling. An inner energy, if you will. 

Maybe it's because I'm officially in my thirties and have been renting my whole adult life with no end in sight of that lease life.

Still, we've been able to make our current Brooklyn apartment feel more at home than any of our previous rentals—and it has nothing to do with the apartment itself. (This is the smallest and least "equipped" place we've ever lived.) It has to do with how we feel when we're there. Yes, there's no dishwasher, and yes, you have to go to the building's basement with handfuls of quarters to do laundry, but it is a place where we can relax and just be. Our four rooms of respite within the frantic five boroughs. 

If you get real big picture about it [And why not? ;)], we're all just renting our bodies, too. They're not permanent. And yet, we can work on feeling at home in our bodies. A huge step in that direction for me was to stop looking for the feeling of home in anything outside of myself.

For years, I was searching desperately, like a person obsessively scouring real estate apps for a place to live. I was looking outside of me, looking for the answer to all my problems in something out there. Would a high paying job make me feel at home? What about a marriage? What about writing a book? What about a cross country move? 

And I kept feeling like I was coming up short. Like I was perpetually back at square one. New year, new apartment, new job, same bullshit. I began believing I'd never feel peace, never feel like I'd belong, never feel like I'd "made it." 

Until, in a radical shift of perception (spawned by a major low point), I started looking within instead of without. This shift changed everything.

Byron Katie (author of Loving What Is) puts it like this:

"We've been looking outside us for our own peace. We've been looking in the wrong direction."

My personal definition of spirituality is this: I do everything I can to pay more attention to what happens inside of me than what happens outside of me. That's it. And it is not an exaggeration to say my whole life has changed because of it. One way I can "measure" the effectiveness of this shift is I've begun feeling more and more at home in myself.

But how??? Is always the question. Well, the beautiful thing is, you know how. You can go on a long journey if you'd like (I sure did), just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. You can think you need to travel for miles and miles down a long and winding road. You can think you need to meet an expert, elusive Wizard.

But the truth is—you always have the power to return home. Dorothy had it from the second she entered Oz, she had it throughout her difficult trek. She didn't need the Wizard. She only needed herself. Same goes for you.

Rumi says:

"There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground; there are a thousand ways to go home again."

My way might be nothing like yours.

Walt Whitman says:

"Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know."

And also goes on to say:

"If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip, And in due time you shall repay the same service to me."

There's no shame in seeking help from others on your journey inward, as long as your fully understand it's your journey. It's beautiful to support each other on our individual treks home to ourselves.

Ram Dass says:
"We're all just walking each other home."

I'd be honored to walk down the path beside you. We can lean on each other when we're tired. 

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. Rumi: "Be a lamp, a lifeboat, a ladder. Help someone's soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd."

Tapas. | rejoyce letters, vol. 38

Hi Friend, 

There's a concept in yoga called tapas and it isn't referring to delicious Spanish dinners.

[Aside: if you're ever going to Barcelona, hit me up for restaurants recs. Stephen and I went to Spain in November of 2015 and have wanted to return ever since. :)]

Croquetas y aceitunas y jamon ibérico aside (now I'm hungry), tapas in Sanskrit is often translated as self discipline. The root wordtap is often translated as "to burn"—so it's a self-discipline with an element of heat. My teacher described it as the concept of accepting suffering or pain in the name of self purification.

Think: purifying gold in a fire.

If you've ever pushed your body to the extreme, you're likely familiar with tapas in a physical sense. Think of sitting back in chair pose and holding and holding. Your quads and glutes may start shaking. And you're about ready to die when the yoga teacher says: "Hold for three more breaths." And, somehow, you summon the discipline to do it, though your legs feel like they're on fire. You accept and endure the pain because you know, ultimately, you are strengthening your legs. 

Note: this is very different from acute pain indicative of an injury. It's never advisable to hold a yoga pose (or, I'd say, any exercise) when you feel injurious pain. Simply stop. (I've found if I'm feeling injurious pain in yoga postures, it likely means I'm doing the pose incorrectly so I stop and come out of the pose entirely.)

On the physical side, I think we can all distinguish actual injurious pain from what I call purifying pain, the pain it takes tapas to endure. We know, for example, that when we're holding a plank, the shaking and intense heat we feel in our core isn't truly hurting us, it's strengthening us. 

However, when it comes to mental and emotional pain, this can be trickier to accept. It seems we're conditioned to avoid any discomfort in our mental and emotional lives at all costs.

Feeling sad, anxious, depressed, jealous, angry, agitated, or, I don't know, bored? Drink some alcohol, binge watch some Netflix, take a pill, scroll through Instagram, play video games, eat a pint of ice cream.

To be clear: I'm not scolding you for doing these things. I watched all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls in a crazy short time frame and can put away pints of ice cream at record speeds. As an angsty teen, I remember retreating to the basement, watching seasons of Full House on DVD (pre-Netflix, you guys!), and eating boxes of Nutty Buddy bars. [I'm linking those as a future gift idea for me. Jk. :)]

My point isn't we should judge ourselves and feel bad about ourselves for doing these behaviors (please don't!), only that it's worth noticing if we've been conditioned to always take the edge off of mental and emotional pain. 

Can you see how always taking the edge off with a distracting or numbing behavior could be the equivalent of lowering your knees the second you start shaking in plank? Or standing up the second you start feeling it in your quads in chair pose? The concept of tapasreminds us:

The edge is where the growth happens.

I am certainly not advocating for a pain-filled lifestyle; I am advocating for a growth-based lifestyle. Sometimes, mental or emotional pain is the perfect indicator to get the hell out of a situation just like sometimes physical, injurious pain is the indicator to stop doing what you're doing.

But sometimes, we need the self discipline to face things, to accept pain and suffering in order to get through situations—rather than simply avoid them or distract ourselves from them. 

Rumi says:

"If you want the moon, do not hide from the night.

If you want a rose, do not run from the thorns.

If you want love, do not hide from yourself."

You cannot selectively dull specific emotions. If you're participating in numbing or dulling behaviors to avoid emotional pain, you're numbing/dulling your potential for experiencing positive emotions as well. And—perhaps more importantly—you might be delaying your own growth. You might be avoiding the very fire that could purify you. 

I am no expert; I'm obviously a long way from "purified." But I'll tell you one thing: Nutty Buddy Bars never solved any of my problems. Nor did alcohol. Nor did Instagram.

I never felt lasting transformation in my life until I started reckoning with things I'd spent years running away from. I have no sophisticated approach for dealing with emotional discomfort. My version of accepting suffering looks like this: I try to follow a line from Thich Nhat Hanh's book How to Sit when I feel the urge to metaphorically flee:

"Don't just do something, sit there."

I try to sit with my pain. I try to feel it. In stillness and silence, alone, for as long as I need to. 

It can hurt. And this process can span days or weeks or months. Letting go of things you spent your whole life clinging to can be painful—but, at this point, I trust I can decipher injurious pain from strengthening pain. I understand my dedication to tapas—to accepting pain as help for purification—is an integral part of the healing process.

One does not purify gold in the microwave. One puts gold ore into the crucible, the crucible into the furnace. 

And I promise you: there is joy on the other side of acceptance, if you'd only stop running away from the fire you may need to past through in order to find your true self. 

Do not hide from the night.

Do not run from the thorns.

Do not hide from yourself.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. "If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?" —Rumi

p.p.s. "Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs?"—Marcus Aurelius

p.p.p.s. "For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn't understand growth, it would look like complete destruction."—Cynthia Occelli

Practice. | rejoyce letters, vol. 37

Hi Friend,

[Starting with asides: Shout out if you read the subject in Allen Iverson's voice. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's just a quote from an NBA player that's my second-favorite professional athlete quote. First is Randy Moss's "Straight cash, homie," the inspiration for my Fantasy Football team name: "Straight Cats, homie." And yes, I'm the obnoxious person in FF who knows nothing but somehow always makes the playoffs.]

Anyway! We talking about practice this week. (:

As I mentioned, I'm in Yoga Teacher Training this month. Part of training is studying the foundational text of yoga, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjalia collection of 196 aphorisms that explain the theory and practice of yoga. 

'Sutra' means thread in Sanskrit (think: suture), so each sutra is a concise idea that a teacher could expound upon by adding his or her own 'beads' of personal experience. Yoga is the experience. It is not a belief system; it is an active, consistent practice.

So, reading books on yoga is only so helpful. Same goes for reading this letter, of course. :)

I liken it to reading books on ice skating. You can intricately understand the physics of blades cutting across a sheet of ice and how one must move those blades to stop and turn. You could read about famous skaters and their best advice. You could even re-watch Olympic figure skaters and Stanley Cup hockey games, obsessing over skating form.

But at some point, the only way you learn how to skate is to lace up and step onto the ice. And yes, that means you're probably going to fall on your ass a few times no matter how deeply you grasp the laws of physics behind it. But you keep practicing. 

As it is with yoga.

A difference with yoga is that the arena is not confined to a finite skating pond or rink—and it certainly isn't confined to a small yoga mat. 

(Of the 196 sutras, only one has to do with the physical asanas (postures) practice. A single sutra mentions doing poses, the mat-based practice we've come to think of as the entirety of yoga.)

If you take a broader view of yoga, then the arena of yoga practice is each present moment of your life. 

The very first yoga sutra is:

Now the exposition of Yoga is being made. 

It's said if you can fully understand and live out the first four sutras, you don't need the rest as they all simply explain the first four. The first one is tempting to blow off as an introduction, until you consider the depth of saying a practice is always present-tense. Yoga is always right now and right here. It is this present moment. And this present moment. And this one. It is not the past, it is not the future. It is now.

The second sutra:

he restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

For many of us, our minds are driving our lives. A way to know your mind is running your life? If you start on a train of thought and you cannot stop it. 

I learned to ski as an adult, and after flying down a hill once, wildly out of control but so proud of myself for not falling, Stephen scolded me. 

He said, "The whole time you were skiing down that hill, could you have stopped?" 

I shook my head, no. Not even close.

He said, "Joyce, if you can't stop, you can't ski." He was right. 

Your mind is the same way. If you cannot restrain your thought patterns, if you cannot stop your mind from wandering dangerous (and often well-worn) paths, you can't truly have real agency or autonomy in your life.

This restraint of the swirling mind is, of course, no easy feat! (That's why we practice.)

On this quest to live in the present and restrain your (perhaps) out-of-control mind, you will fall on your ass. It will hurt. A personal example I am slightly embarrassed to share:

I read lots of books on spirituality and, basically, loving this past year. I mean I literally read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called How to Love

Yet, one Sunday night, as my husband drove us back into New York City from a weekend away, and we were searching for parking in our crowded Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, I pointed out a decent parking spot to him. He slowed down, considered it, then decided to keep driving.

And I don't know how to explain it other than this: I lost my mind on him. I let him have it. My mind took over and all the spiritual principles I was studying went out the window in those moments of anger. And, afterward, I was ashamed, because I knew I was in the wrong, yet my ego was bruised, so I defended my position for a while, anyway. 

Finally, though, I came around. I had to see that I'd fallen, and I had to stand back up. That is the practice.

Love cannot only be a philosophy one reads about; it must be a present-moment practice.

Same goes for yoga, for living in the present and restraining the mind. It is a constant, consistent, active practice. And it's happening now. 

But don't take my word for it; lace up your skates and get out there. :) Rumi says:

"Do not be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth."

And to bring it back to AI: In the case of yoga, and maybe in life overall—unlike in the case of basketball—the practice is the game. :) 

with Love and with Light, 

Joyce

Fruits. | rejoyce letters, vol. 36

Hi Friend, 

I'm beginning Yoga Teacher Training today. It's a 200-hour program spanning a month, a basic training on the eight limbs of yoga with a focus on the third limb, the āsanas (postures).

When I tell people I’m doing Teacher Training, many say kind things, like they think I’ll be a great yoga teacher. I deeply appreciate everyone who's expressed this sentiment; however, I have no idea if I want to be a yoga teacher. 

I know, begging the question: Then why are you doing Yoga Teacher Training? 

My answer: I do have a feeling it will deepen my spiritual practice, but the primary reason I’m doing yoga teacher training is to do yoga teacher training.

One of my big takeaways from the Bhagavad Gita is this: relinquish the fruits of your actions. Completely let go of the results. (Now that's some serious aparigraha.) The Gita says, Ch. 2 verses 47-48:

"The action alone is your mandate, 

Never the fruits at any time.

Never let the fruits of action goad you.

Never get attached to your inertia.

Fixed in yoga, do your work.

Relinquishing attachment, Wealthwinner.

In success or failure, stay the same.

It's said that equilibrium is yoga."

This message—focusing on your actions and not at all on their results—is entirely subversive to modern society. Our culture is sickeningly transactional; our society is obsessed with “fruit.”

So much so that people do not know how to Love, in friendships or in romantic partnerships. They approach relationships like they approach Cyber Monday deals online. Always thinking: What’s in it for me? What can I get out of this, and how quickly?

Do you know someone who only wants to talk to you if they want something from you? Of course you do.

A more difficult question: Whom do you only talk to when you want something? 

The Gita advocates relinquishing fruit in all situations—not just relationships. I'm always finding more areas in my own life where I can let go of the fruit.

I have to remind myself of this often, as it's so easy to get caught up in so-called "results." For example:

Why do I write this letter? I write this letter to write this letter. 
Why do I meditate? I meditate to meditate.

Yes, there are results of me writing this newsletter. One beautiful result is I feel closer with a number of friends, because I feel my letters (and their responses) have encouraged deeper conversations between us.

And I could write an entire letter on my “results” of meditation. I worry less, my creative energy flows more freely, I’m consistently happier.

AND YET: those are not the reasons I write or meditate.

Right now, this instant, I am writing to write. And—in an hour or so—I will meditate to meditate.

Relinquishing the fruits—first off—has brought about a greater sense of peace for me, because it has brought me more often into the present moment, the moment where peace can exist.

I've also found if you cling to future fruit, it is less likely to come. So, when you stop being obsessed with results, you actually get better results. 

I know this might sound like bull shit, but, hey, if you've been trying for a specific result your whole life and have never gotten it, maybe it's time to rethink the approach, homie. (I am predominately speaking to me here. (Yes, I am my own homie.))

Here's an example that may sound trivial and ridiculous, but I'm starting to believe how I do anything is how I do everything.

Whenever I used to send a text message, I'd send it wanting a response. I.e. clinging to the fruit.

So, I'd send a text. And wait. And wait. And if I didn't get a response, sometimes, I'd start to panic. And then, depending on some variables (who I texted, my mood, etc.), I might start to spiral.

It's not like I did this with every single text message, but for years, various people here and there would vex me if they didn't respond. Maybe it was someone I just met, or someone I felt was "cooler" than me. Or, if I was having a bad day, maybe it was anyone. 

What if them not responding indicates dislike? What if I annoyed them? What if they're devising a way to never speak to me again?

It was such a well-run course for my mind, and so EXHAUSTING...all because I wanted "fruit." 

[Aside: I do feel that it's worth unpacking all emotional patterns, and rest assured, I'm doing that work, too. Questions I've asked in this unpacking: Why do I need external approval? Why do I believe people are 'cooler' than me? Can I be so self-contained I don't desire external validation at all?]

But still, I've found so much peace from simply relinquishing the fruit—even in this *tiny* action—and saying: I am texting her to text her. I am texting him to text him. Not because I want or need a response from him or her. 

And the weirdest thing is....when I text with this energy of non-clinging, it's like people can feel it. Often, they answer more quickly or thoughtfully or whatever. It's wild—and so counterintuitive.

Or, they don't answer me at all, and I don't care.

Which is even more wild.

This is what I'm finding across the board —when you relinquish the fruits, when you burn away striving energy, when you let go of expectations, when you stop trying SO DAMN HARD to get EXACTLY what you THINK you want, well, you create space for beautiful things to enter your life. Amazing, unexpected things. Things your mind wouldn't even know to want. Rumi says:

"Stop weaving and watch how the pattern improves."

I agree. Stop trying to get the fruit, and allow fruits to flow into your life.

Because why did Adam and Eve fall in the Garden of Eden? What caused the first man and the first woman to stop living in a perfect paradise, in harmony with nature and with God?

They ate the forbidden fruit.

Don't grasp for fruit. Relinquish it. 

Let go of the fruit, and see what beauty enters your life. 

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. In the Gita passage above, Krishna is speaking. When Krishna says "yoga" he's not referring exclusively to physical yoga poses, it's a lot more than that. :)

Gifts of Inheritance. | rejoyce letters, vol. 35

Hi Friend,

'Tis the season for gift giving (for those who celebrate Christmas), so I wanted to write a bit on the inheritance of emotional "gifts" rather than physical ones. :)

As an adult, you'll likely realize your parents did not give you everything you needed to thrive in life, and I'm not talking about money. Obviously, one needs more than money to thrive. What does one need? My retreat leader Lacy said during our meditation retreat in May:

"Life is really about loving and receiving love and giving and receiving forgiveness, and if you cannot do those things, you will be blocked."

Many parents, even if they're writing tuition checks, struggle in the areas of love and forgiveness. (Many people struggle in the areas of love and forgiveness, myself included.) 

Maybe, for example, your mother is judgmental. Or envious of others. Or your dad gets angry easily. (Judgment, envy, and anger are fear-based, and essentially block love.)

Or maybe your parents hold grudges and can’t forgive.

Or perhaps, your parent was (or is) an addict. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I think most addicts struggle with self love. If you can't love your self, it is arguably impossible for you to show love to others.

So, maybe, as an adult, you struggle in these areas, too. You've inherited these "gifts." You criticize your husband, just like your mom criticized you dad. You get angry at your kids, like your dad got angry at you. You're envious of neighbors, like your mom was. You can't forgive your father, just like your father couldn't forgive his father. And on and on. 

Noticing inherited patterns is a big part of spiritual growth. You can't break patterns if you can't see patterns. Many of your emotional obstacles likely are inherited, and it's healthy to acknowledge this. It's healthy to identify negative emotional behaviors as "gifts" you may have received—but no longer want in your life.

But it's not healthy to blame your parents. Although it's natural to say: It's all my mom's fault! Or: I only have this issue because of my dad! Or: Why didn't my parents give me something better than this shit??? Those responses aren't really helpful.

You’re like the petulant child under the Christmas tree ungrateful for any presents she did receive...because other people’s parents gave them puppies!

All parents have gaps. (Some parents are entirely absent from their children's lives.) Likely, those gaps are areas where your parents do not have the capacity to give you anything better. For example, they cannot give you the gift of showing you how to forgive others easily if they, themselves, don't know how to forgive others easily. 

Elizabeth Gilbert says it beautifully:

"It is not possible for somebody to give you something they themselves do not possess."

A physical example: My parents are hardworking and my sisters and I were always raised with enough money for what we needed. But my family didn’t splurge. We hardly ever ate out, didn’t get expensive clothes, and I was expected to figure out a way to pay for my college. I grew up with financial stability, and am eternally grateful to my parents for that gift. BUT—some people's parents give them $3 million Brooklyn brownstones, am I right?

Complaining your father didn't show you how to love, when your father doesn't know how to love, is like me calling my sisters and saying:

"Can you believe this shit? Another day goes by, and mom and dad still haven't given me a brownstone!"

That would be obviously and absurdly ridiculous. How could I be mad my parents don’t give me what they don't have? YET, it's the same thing people do when they constantly blame their parents for their own emotional shortcomings. 

"I'm judgmental and it's all my mom's fault. Mom should've showed me how not to be so judgmental."

"I'm angry and it's all my dad's fault. Dad should've showed me how not to be so angry."

Don't you think that your mother would stop being so judgmental if she knew how to? Living in a constant state of judgment is difficult.

Don't you think your father would stop being so angry if he knew how to? Anger is exhausting.

Don't you think your mother and father want to know how to love and forgive? 

Without knowing how to love or forgive, you are blocked. (I don't consider that an opinion.)

So, rather than blame your parents for their gaps—why not fill your own gaps? You’re an adult. Buy your own damn puppy. [I mean metaphorically but IRL is probably fine too. :)]

Because in 2018 I had this amazing realization: There are people who deeply know how to Love and forgive. There are people who know how to release anger, jealousy, and judgment. There are EXPERTS on these topics!!

And YOU can learn from THEM! Who are these teachers who profoundly understand Love and Forgiveness?? Links to their books:

*Thich Nhat Hanh

*Pema Chodron

*Walt Whitman

*Eckhart Tolle

*Colin Tipping

*Byron Katie

*Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi

And many, many more.

And then—the beautiful thing—once you fill your own gaps, you possess these qualities, so you can give these gifts of how to Love and how to forgive to others, including to your own children if you have them.

Namaste, homies. And Merry Christmas if you celebrate. I won't be writing on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, but I'll speak with you in January. 

Sending you as much Love as I presently have the capacity to send from Brooklyn.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

p.s. "We are born of Love; Love is our mother."—Rumi

p.p.s. If you want to discuss any of the books I linked to, feel free to email me. Or if you have questions on meditation retreats or meditation in general. Daily meditation has been a key tool for me in cultivating a more loving, forgiving approach to life. No time like the new year to start a new practice. Or—more accurately—no time like right now. :)

p.p.p.s. My favorite YouTube yoga teacher Adriene of Yoga with Adriene is doing a free 30-Day Yoga journey in January, if you're interested. :) 

Knowing. | rejoyce letters, vol. 34

Hi Friend,

Last week, Stephen and I went to dinner at this little Italian trattoria a couple blocks from our apartment. Before the food came out, I raised my wine glass for a toast. Naturally, I did this right when a guy was trying to clear an empty bread basket and plates from the table creating a bizarrely awkward situation. But hey! It's me.

Once the awkwardness subsided, I said:

"To nine years together!"

Stephen (romantically) said, "Not yet." 

I said, "But you came to my Yale game." 

[We celebrate our dating anniversary on New Year's Eve, but I Googled and my Yale basketball game was on December 5, 2009 and our Italian dinner was December 6, 2018. Almost nine years to the day! And yes, I remember exactly which games Stephen attended—there weren't too many other students in the student section, believe it or not. ;) We went to the bar with a couple other people after the game, and Stephen walked me back to my dorm room like a gentleman. :)]

The reason I'm starting this week off by embarrassing my dear husband is I've been contemplating the difference between knowing something is right and thinking something is right.

The thinking process is intellectual; the knowing process is intuitive. 

The thinking process can be explained (pros and cons! reasons!). The knowing process sometimes cannot, but it can always be felt.

After a semester together dating at Bucknell, Stephen graduated and we began a long distance relationship. In March of 2011 he began a job in Little Rock, Arkansas, and in July of 2011 I began a job in Madison, Wisconsin. We stayed in this situation for over two years. Long distance relationships are, by definition, not "reasonable." People came out of the woodwork to tell me how dumb long distance relationships are, while I was in one.

"Oh? Your boyfriend is in Arkansas? I tried long distance, lasted two months, it isn't worth it."

"What's the point of dating someone if you can't see them, you know?" 

Et. cetera. 

We continued long distance dating, even though it didn't "make sense." Even though it wasn't "reasonable." Even though we saw each other at most monthly for over two years. Even though the cost of plane tickets between Little Rock and Madison was comically high. (Am I going to Bora Bora, or am I going to Arkansas, Delta?) 

This is where I want to step back from our personal situation and ask: Is the aim of life to be reasonable? Is the point of your life for it to make sense to other people? Is the goal to check off a series of predictable boxes that make all of your extended relatives feelcomfortable about your situation? 

I just don't buy it. I think there's more to living than behaving rationally and predictably. Jane Austen explores this theme in her novel Sense and Sensibility, which I read about nine years ago. 

There are many definitions of Sense, but the primary one refers to the way your body perceives external stimuli, i.e., the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. It also refers to being sane and realistic.

Sensibility, though, seems to transcend the five senses and the thinking mind. It is defined as "the ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional or aesthetic influences; sensitivity."

We know—intuitively—that life is more than sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. And we also know—intuitively—that life is more than thinking. We've all met people who have all sense and no sensibility, and often those people can be rather frustrating to get along with. So why let sense run our lives?

If I'd thought too much about my long distance relationship with Stephen, I never would've seen it through. I would have ended it. He was in Arkansas working long days, I was in Wisconsin working long days, I had no idea when we'd be living in the same state again. It "made sense" to call it off. (It pains me to type that; it's such "rational" bullshit.)

Thankfully, I didn't need to think about it—because I knew. (Don't get me wrong: I went through low points where I unnecessarily tortured myself with swirling thoughts, but, honestly, I didn't need those thoughts.) I knew. It wasn't intellectual, it was intuitive. As Bob Dylan sings in Up To Me:

"If I'd-a thought about it, I never would've done it, 

I guess I would've let it slide,

If I'd-a paid attention to what others were thinking

the heart inside me would've died."

Today, I'm a different woman than who I was when I fell in love with Stephen—and he is a different man. And yet, there was something within me, nine years ago, that knew. That knowing sustained, even in situations where it didn't "make sense" to keep dating. I'm so glad I didn't ignore that inner knowing. I'm so glad that I didn't let reason override my feelings, that I didn't let my Mind override my Heart.

Never ignore your knowings—the world will give you "reasons" to ignore them, because the world consistently prioritizes meaningless things. The world worships at the altar of reason, completely suppresses feelings, and then mentally wonders, What's missing? The world will encourage you to reduce a loving relationship to a crude pros and cons list. The world will tell you to reduce your beautiful, infinite Soul to a piece of paper called a résumé and claim that's what matters most. (Bullshit.) The world will tell you Love is transactional. It's not. The world will tell you Love is scarce and about possession, when Love is truly abundant and about freedom.

Don't ignore your inner knowings; ignore most of the messages the world is sending you. 

The key is to try to be in the world, but not of it. (I definitely didn't coin that concept. H/t: Jesus of Nazareth.]

And to remember: "The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore." (Rumi) 

You always, always, always know more than you think you do. For the Mind thinks, but the Heart knows.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

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

Hi Friend, 

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees 

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body 

love what it loves.

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

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

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

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

"The fault is in the one who blames.

Spirit sees nothing to criticize."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if you don't have to try?

You just have to be.

You do not have to be good.

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

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

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

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

Arrived. | rejoyce letters, vol. 32

Hi Friend, 

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

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

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

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

I’ll be happy when X...

I’ll be satisfied when Y...

When Z happens, I’ll have made it...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because what if you’ve already arrived?

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

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

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

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

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

I have arrived. 

I am home. 
I am here now. 

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

As Rumi says: 

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

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

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

Family. | rejoyce letters, vol. 31

Hi Friend,

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

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

That always cracks me up, in a humbling way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am infinitely thankful for forgiveness.

with Love and with Light,

Joyce

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

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

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