When I was 20 and working at a resort on Lake Michigan, I happily strode along a path one perfect summer morning under a bright blue sky. The sound of waves caressed me. The cool, soft breeze ruffled my hair. I lived and breathed joy. And then from one instant to the next, joy was the furthest thing from my mind. I wore sandals that offered no protection for the outside of my foot and had forgotten the half-buried bricks lining the path. From one step to the next, I slammed my little toe into a brick. I was in the middle of a full, vigorous stride when I hit that brick. The brick didn’t give, but my toe did.
To this day I don’t know if I broke my toe. I never went to a doctor, but the outer half of my foot turned amazing shades of blue, purple and charcoal gray. Immediately after smashing that poor little toe, I hopped up and down, screaming the most incredible variety of curses I’ve ever produced. Did I say it hurt? OMG it hurt.
In the moments after toe met brick, all I knew was pain. It wasn’t like I had much choice except to feel it. I had to gut it out. In the moments after our lives meet unexpected bricks, it’s natural to feel pain. We might have lost a job, been diagnosed with the one thing we never wanted to get, seen a great love affair end, or learned about the death of a loved one. We might have flicked on our favorite device and seen images that scare us.
It makes no more sense to deny this kind of pain than it would have for me to deny my agonizing toe. Sometimes, though, we get the idea that in order to be happy we must be happy every moment of every day. Those of us seeking a spiritual path may be more likely than most folks to punish ourselves for acknowledging our pain. Aren’t we supposed to be above it all? If we believe in the Law of Attraction, we might also fear that acknowledging pain attracts more pain to us.
I don’t buy that idea, and I don’t agree that spirituality means never having to hurt. The first trick to reclaiming joy is not to numb out pain, but to move through it. For me reclaiming joy starts with surrender — surrendering to pain, fear, anger, whatever. Every time I surrender the most amazing thing happens. I’m not going to lie; it can feel awful, but if I stay with the feelings, if I let tears-curses-fear-fury flow, the storm passes, my head and heart clear, and I’m at peace.
That smashed toe taught me a lot about reclaiming joy. In the next few posts, I’m going to talk about what I know about the spirituality of joy with a little help from that toe. Join me.
IMAGE: Kazuend via Unsplash.