Cultivate Joy

“May you cultivate times of hope and joy this Advent season” is something I have been finding myself telling others recently.  

I don’t know how the extended dual pandemics have affected you, but for me this time has significantly decreased my joy and hope and creativity.  If this is true for you, too, read on.


“No” November

November is beginning to rival January for times of turning over a new leaf.  There is No-Shave November and NaNoWriMo November.  I’d like to add to this “”No November.”  

My therapist friend, Phillip Bass, told me about “No” November.  He’s taken on the practice this November of challenging himself to say “no” at least once a day to something that limits his joy. 

  • Get together with that couple who doesn’t agree with the way you are raising your kids?  “No, thank you, I can’t this month.” 
  • Stay at work late to finish up a few more emails?  No. Clock out and take that time for yourself. 
  • Watch one more rerun tonight?  No. Get ready for bed and spend some time journaling or having a conversation with a family member.  

“No” November is all about reclaiming boundaries so that you are mindfully spending your limited time, money, energy and resources in ways that support the person you want to be.  (Click here for Phillip’s worksheet clarifying your goals and resource usage.)

As I write this, we’re closing in on the end of November, so we’ve missed being able to fully participate in “No” November this year.  But this practice of committing to a daily “no” to those things that limit our joy can work just as well in Advent, or at New Years, or for Lent or at the equinox or any other time it feels right for you to begin this practice. 

Gently Waiting

One of the things that has consistently brought me joy for decades is engaging my creativity.  By no means am I a “good” artist — but when I’m playing with fabric or clay or color, I can get into the flow and become filled up with joy and hope and wonder.  

Truth be told, I’ve grappled with a big change in my life these past few months.  Most of the time, in most of the ways, I’m doing really, really well.  But if I pay attention, there is a clear signal that I am continuing to hold some significant grief:  I am disinterest in being creative. 

Now instead of forcing myself to work on a creative project or wallowing in shame about my loss of creativity, I simply notice it and hold it gently.  I don’t panic — I know this won’t last forever.  And I don’t fake it — I know that in this case “just do it” will not bring me joy.  I simply needed to allow myself the time I need to lick my wounds before I am ready to be creative again.  I wait…

Paying Attention

Recently I noticed myself connecting more deeply with Mark Rothko’s paintings.  My daughter and I had seen some of his works at the Met during a trip to NYC this fall.  That museum visit was the beginning of my emergence from the creativity desert.  A few weeks ago, my hotel room had a framed Rothko print on the wall.  I snapped a photo and sent it to my husband joking with him (maybe…) that I thought we should paint an entire wall like this.  As these pieces of Rothko’s art continued to speak to me, I watched a few videos about how he created his work.  Layer after layer of thinned paint. Almost scrubbing it into the canvas. Working it in. Believing that the viewer could be drawn in deep into those layers, and into a new understanding of reality.  

So this week I pulled out an 8×10 canvas panel and my professional water colors and started applying color á la Mark Rothko.  A simple color blend.  Add water.  Scrub it in.  Scrub some more.  Go away.  Let it Dry.  Another color blend.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Another color blend. Three shapes.  Repeat…

It is nothing yet.  But working with the brush and paint and canvas…simply looking at the canvas drying as I walk by…is beginning to unlock joy.  It is beginning to unlock wonder.  It is beginning to uncover my creative spark.  

Reclaiming Joy

My daughter is turning eighteen next week.  When I asked her what kind of cake she would like she originally suggested chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.  After a beat, I could see a new idea pop into her mind, and she updated her request.  She asked for a silly green dragon cake — just like the one I made for her fifth birthday and again when she turned thirteen.   This dragon cake is something that brought her joy as a young child, and on the cusp of her teenage years, and she is claiming that joy again as she becomes an adult.

As adults, we can sometimes forget what brings us joy.  Thinking about what gave us joy as a young child or during our teen years or as a young adult will help us remember joy.  Sometimes we can reclaim our joy by click into the exact same thing–like a dragon cake.  At other times, we can take the joys from our younger lives and reimagine them for the person we are now.  

My friend Phillip loved going out dancing in college.  Today, he’s a morning person and a family man.  But he has reimagined this joy nugget: Some weeknights, he cranks up the music and dances around the kitchen with his family as they cook dinner.  His kitchen is nothing like a dive bar, but all the important elements are there: Moving his body; Good music; With folks he loves.  

Maybe just reading this has reminded you of things that bring you joy and you’re ready to grab them and go.  Maybe you’re already imagining what the important elements of a joyful activity from your past, and thinking about how to get some of those elements in your life today.  If you’d like some help with this work, click here for Phillip’s worksheet about Themes of Joy.

And you?

How clear are you about what brings you joy these days?

Are you in a period of gentle waiting, or are you ready to commit to a More Joy Practice of some sort?

If you’d like some coaching around this or some other topic, I have a few open slots for new individual clients.  The three-step registration is here. 

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