It’s been a little heavy around here lately. Healing needs the heavy, the slogging around in the messy feelings and the hard stories. Heavy is good. Sometimes. But real joy comes from finding that delicate balance between the heavy… and the light.
A few months ago, I talked with someone who had gone to one of Patch Adams’ workshops. Patch Adams is an extraordinary guy, apparently. I’ve always loved the movie, but I thought he was simply a funny, kind doctor. It turns out he’s revolutionized the way we think about joy and healing and happiness, and not just in the medical field.
At this workshop, he talked about how joy comes from the delightfully (and sometimes strangely) unexpected. We’re motoring along in our normal, hum-drum, very predictable lives – thinking about our drive home and what we’re making for dinner – when BAM! A stranger gives us a bouquet of flowers or we get swept up in a flash mob dancing to “Call Me Maybe” or we check our mailbox and find two opera tickets tucked in an out-of-the-blue note from a friend.
In that moment, we get jolted from run-of-the-mill into extraordinary. Before we have a chance to realize what’s happened, our brain gets a shock of possibility(!) amidst our often-limiting expectations of how life “should be.”That shock, that sudden letdown of our guard, is how the joy gets in.
Patch Adams didn’t just have the people at the workshop talk about the unexpected, though. He had them go out and live it. As part of the workshop, he asked them to go hug ten strangers. He asked them to dance in the middle of the park and hang upside down from trees and say hello to passersby. He asked them to be the unexpected jolt that shocks people’s dull expectations right out the window.
I am really sad I missed this workshop. (Also, a little relieved).
For whatever reason, I woke up thinking of this conversation about my friend’s experience with Patch Adams today. Perhaps it was because I’d felt the pendulum swing too far toward the heavy, and I knew I needed to come back. I believe in talking about the hard stuff. We do ourselves a great disservice, I think, with a Pollyanna attitude that shoves pain under the rug. But sometimes, too much hard stuff gets the last word. The gloom latches its strong little fingers on our perspective, blocking out the light and refusing to let go.
The best way to throw off that gloom? A dose of the unexpected.
SARK has a great joy-finding exercise about “naming” each one of your days (Miracle Day, Outdoors Day, Broadway Musical Day). In that spirit, I named today The Day of the Unexpected. I am aware that this is slightly ironic. (This is a little like the time I went to a visioning workshop and neatly wrote out my “plan to be more spontaneous this year.”) Much as my Type A brain mourns this, I cannot plan for strangers to pop out of the bushes to give me flowers.
But I can bring the bright rays of surprise into an overcast world of expectations and limitations. I can also lift myself out of the safe trenches and ditches of my day-to-day life, putting myself in the wide open field of newness where the lightning of the unexpected is much more likely to strike.
I am not exactly Evel Knievel with my risk-taking here. Neither am I Patch Adams. I am CJ, taking the well-worn patterns of my daily life and infusing them with the joy of the unexpected.
So, this morning, instead of trudging to the treadmill at the gym, I went to a spinning class. Good God, I’m still not quite sure what happened. I think spinning classes must move so quickly because if you had time to realize what you were actually doing, you’d flee. But I loved the loud music and the enthusiastic instructor who cheered for us and the surge of endorphins (and/or fight or flight adrenaline). I also loved the fact that I could turn up my resistance wheel a hair’s breath while my neighbors cranked up to hard-core levels, and no one would know the difference! No comparison…what a liberating idea for new people (or experienced people, for that matter)! This was certainly not the case during my first (and only) step aerobics class.
I’d been complaining for weeks that the sheer amount of paperwork for my current work project was overtaking my desk, so I went home and spread out on the dining room floor. This isn’t exactly living on the edge here. But changing my perspective – literally – brought a spark of energy to a frustrating project I’m slogging through. Meanwhile, I sent out a call to friends for music suggestions, and I put on the first response I got: Dawes. Perhaps I am about three years late here, but so be it: wow. This song makes me want to dance on rooftops:
Over the course of the day, I sent a handful of “thinking of you” messages to friends I hadn’t seen in months or years. I received one of these notes last week, and the unexpected greeting had buoyed me through the day. While I don’t know if I’ll hear back from some, the joy of surprise quickly bounced back to me from others. I’m actually in town next week, one message read. I would love to see you. The lightning of the unexpected struck.
Later in the afternoon, while on my way to the grocery store, I made an unplanned stop at Barnes & Noble. Body image has been on my mind since writing about it last week, and when a friend and I stopped in a bookstore this weekend, I was appalled at the onslaught of fad-diet and exercise books that practically screamed self-hatred. On a whim, I scribbled notes of encouragement and self-love on index cards and slipped them inside the covers of the most offensive books. A small drop in the ocean, but I love imagining that the next woman who picks up The Skinny Bitch might see that love and acceptance first instead of shame. While there, I also picked up a copy of my favorite childhood book, Ella Enchanted, to send to my sweet cousin for her birthday. (Full disclosure: This will be unexpected because her birthday was a month ago…).
Before I left, I stopped in the cookbook section, flipped open The Pioneer Woman Cooks to a random page, and decided to make whatever I found there: quiche. How fitting: I am terrified of quiche. I love to cook, and I’ve never come within arm’s length of a quiche. My excuses piled up. It involves two of my cooking nemeses: pie crust and eggs. My whole family was coming over for dinner. But I took it as a sign from the culinary gods and scribbled down the recipe. The pie crust was a little rough, and I fretted over how to tell if the quiche was done. At the end of the day, though, it was a triumph. I was thrilled; my mother was floored; my brother ate a piece the size of his face. In the midst of brokenness, it was a tiny beam of joy.
Yes, my moments of unexpectedness were relatively small and ordinary, but they were small and ordinary miracles. Miracles that, one by one, broke open my closed-off expectations about life’s possibility and swung my pendulum back from the heavy and into the light.