This morning I found myself thinking about the art of love and the art of being joy. So many people over the years have asked me what the secret to my happiness is. Not only am I in a long term monogamous relationship that is as fresh and loving as a new connection, but I am also the mother to 4 children and the step-mom of 3 additional children. I have been asked so many times how I stay positive, stay in love and continue to love my life. I thought it time to contemplate this important question. Rather than write this in an article format, I will do what I often do and share a story that I hope illustrates my point.
A few years back, Mountain, myself and our four youngest children attended a Folk Festival in downtown Victoria, BC. Our kids were 3, 7, 9 and 10. As you can imagine, life with four young children can be exhausting, challenging and sometimes truly frustrating. However, life with four young children is also engaging, exhilarating and magical! I have seen many other families out and about with their large crew of kids walking around in sheer frustration, fighting against the inner nature of their children; attempting to control their every move. That is not how we choose to parent.
On this particular day, the weather was stunning, the temperature perfect and the mood excitable. While walking towards the location of the festival, we found ourselves noticing that there was far more homeless individuals on the streets than there usually was. In addition, the few regulars that we often gave change to looked more drained and exasperated than normal. As we approached the entrance to the festival, our oldest daughter, Eden, ran off without saying a word. We traced her path and found her squatting down in front of an elderly Native woman. The woman looked tired, hot and lost, but she was clearly delighted by Eden’s charming company.
Even though it was a hot summer day, the woman was wearing jeans and a sweat-shirt, which was clearly making her melt in the summer heat. Eden was chatting away with her, asking her this and that. The woman was openly sharing with our daughter, telling her some interesting stories about her colourful life. Just as we were about to leave, Eden bent down and said “Here I saved this up to spend today, but you need it more than I do.” She handed the woman ALL of her spending money! Eden had saved for more than a month so that she could have money to spend at the vendors in the festival. The woman tried to refuse her money, but Eden has always been a wonderfully stubborn child, so she triumphed and the lady accepted her gift. We also searched through our bag and found a t-shirt, some drinking water and a baseball cap to give this beautiful spirit.
The start of our time at the festival set the pace for the day. Together, as a family, we danced, played tag and ate wonderful food cooked by people from around the globe. We even got invited up on stage to dance with some Hawaiian performers. It was a glorious afternoon of music, laughter and bliss. At some point, the kids began getting a bit too rowdy and things could have potentially taken a turn for the worse, but instead of getting frustrated and trying to control the energy that was clearly building in our children, we started a tickle war. We found ourselves immersed in a heap of giggles and bursts of true joy!
A woman approached our family and asked me if I could spare a few moments to speak with her. I thought it an odd request, but accepted. It turned out that she was a marriage counselor and church pastor who focused on intimate relationships. She had been observing Mountain and I throughout the day and found herself in awe. She said that we were one of the most positive examples she had ever seen of a healthy family. Though I could have given her my time that afternoon, I asked her if instead, she would be willing to come over for tea sometime to discuss this, as I wanted to spend the rest of the day with my family. She agreed and we became fast friends.
During the afternoon, we attended the children’s concert in another area of the festival. As soon as we entered the space, I realized why we had earlier seen so many hot and bothered homeless individuals around town. The area they had blocked off for the children’s festival was the only space in all of downtown Victoria where the homeless could access shade and a water fountain. As I looked around the perimeter of the concert barrier, I began to see what others seemed to be blind to. All of the folks who generally take respite in this beautiful space in nature were locked out in the heat. They were sitting on concrete curbs with the heat of the day beating them down even further.
Of course my husband, Mountain, saw the look in my eyes and knew the day would take another turn. I went over to the perimeter barrier and began conversing with a couple of my regulars (I always be-friend the homeless in my community and attempt to provide as much support as possible). Beyond the folks I previously knew, there were another 10-15 people who had just come in to town. They looked so hungry, tired, and thirsty that it made my heart ache. Here our family was singing, laughing, sharing food and drinking refreshing beverages in front of a group of people who were suffering. Now I did not write this post for anyone to attack my point of view about the plights of the homeless. In the past, I have encountered scornful attitudes when speaking about this topic. It does not matter to me how much fault an individual has for the hardships they face, they are still humans who need to have their basic needs met.
I did not have much to give by North American standards, but sharing my home-made ginger beer, our fresh picked strawberries, and some savories with these folks was like giving them a fresh start on their day. I also left the boundaries of our bliss cage and walked around giving hugs, shaking hands and engaging in small talk with these colourful people. After an hour or so, I could see that they were at least somewhat rejuvenated felt more accepted. This made my heart sing. They insisted that I go back to enjoying my day with my family and let go of my guilt. The concerts went on into the evening and we had a blast! We stayed to watch the fireworks, we danced and met new people.
The secret to my inner happiness is that, when I feel the pressure of the day weighing down on my soul, I think of those people sitting in the heat of the day, their spirits shattered and without even the proper clothing for the weather. We are so blessed! We have so much beauty in our lives each and everyday. Even when things get tough, which trust me, they have, it could still be far worse. When I am facing something severely devastating such as the death of a loved one, or my mother’s on going fight with cancer, I remember that I am blessed.
With this attitude ingrained in my soul, I find it easier than most to go about my day with a smile. To remember that my life, though it has it’s challenges, is filled with beautiful moments. Even when you face the death of a loved one, within that death, there is an opportunity. An opportunity to celebrate the life of the one you have lost. Even when your loved on is fighting a potentially deadly disease, there is the opportunity to honour your loved one’s strength. Even when money is tight and you’re not sure how you will make it to your next pay cheque, there is an opportunity to appreciate that you have a roof over your head and that you have fresh water that comes straight from the tap!
I have moved into the middle of the desert with my children. We have lived without running water, electricity or adequate shelter. We faced and conquered our fears together and when we heard the howl of the coyotes around our tents, faced a diamond back rattler, or found another scorpion attempting to change the fate of our lives, we felt blessed, because we faced our hardships together and we became stronger. I am not even sure where this is coming from today. I suppose it is because the last few years have attempted to beat me down. I have had so many hardships thrown my way, that it threatened to dampen my spirit. This winter, the weight of it all clamped down on my chest and manifested as pneumonia.
I felt myself somewhat lost. While thinking about my mother starving herself to death while the chemotherapy destroys her body and the electro-shock therapy attempts to save her from darkness, I felt hopeless. I wanted more for my mother. I wanted walks on the beach with her. I wanted family dinners and laughter. I wanted the old times back. It is this attitude nearly sank me. I was like a woman drowning in quick sand. The more I struggled against what was happening, the deeper I sank into darkness. Then I read a story about a young woman in India. I can’t remember the details, but I know that she was gang raped and left to die.
Though the story is fuzzy in my memory now, that day and for many days to come, I imagined myself living her life. Not only did I feel empathy for her, but I also felt a deep sense of shame. What gives me the right to feel pity for myself when this type of horror is going on in our world? When there are children being sold into the sex slave industry…children starving to death. When women are being beaten and raped because they want an education what right do I have to pity myself because of the trivial day to day hardships I face? I have no right..that is truth. So, with this inner understanding, I face each day…each moment with a renewed sense of gratitude. For my life is true bliss, especially when compared to the suffering of others.
I choose to live my life with gratitude. At birth, I was given the name Jennifer Eden Michael Richards. Jennifer because it was my mother’s favourite name. Eden because of a little girl my mother cared for at summer camp one year. Michael after my possessive birth father and Richards in honour of my birth father’s family. After I was adopted, my name was changed to Jennifer Eden Reed. Then, after years of my version of suffering, I felt suffocated by my name. To hear the name Jennifer made me feel sick to my stomach. I needed to free myself. It was a day many moons ago that I chose my name JOY!
Over time, this new name stuck and I truly became Joy. When Mountain and I were married, I released the past and the energy connected to my last name and accepted his last name, Nelson. My new name became Joy Eden Nelson. I embraced this new name with every cell in my body, soul and mind! My children have always known me as Joy. There are a few who are unable to let go of the past and so I respect their need to call me by my birth given name…But I am JOY. I refer to the freedom given to me by my new name as “The art of being JOY!” Within this tiny statement, there is so much power and wisdom. When we face even the darkest moments with joy in our heart, when we appreciate the life that we live, when we love deeply even in the face of hatred and scrutiny, we are joy, we are bliss. And in that moment, we become infinite.
From my heart to yours,