There is a guiding principle that I try to follow in my life. I don’t always remember but when I do my life is not only a much richer, more beautiful experience, but I am setting the tone for my life, for each day, I am creating an atmosphere where miracles can occur, I am “turning my frown upside down,” (which in incredibly important if you are bi polar tending toward the depressive side of things), and I experience enormous joy. I call this Following The Vein Of Gold.
This is something that I will be working on with my students in The Spontaneous Art & Life Project, it will be in their next eBook (They receive one every other week, for fun, for joy, for breaking open to new places and spaces inside themselves, for finding JOY!), and it will also be an ongoing leitmotif in our work together in The Project and The Women’s Circle.
Some people might think of it in terms of Joseph Campbell’s “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” I think of it also in terms of his other quote, “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” but those two quotes, while touching on the heart of things, will not necessarily take you there. I have needed a more practical approach to things, something I could touch, at least in my mind, a map to find my way.
For me, even on my hardest days, I can search for and find the smallest things that will open up that vein of gold inside of me, the crack through which I can see at least a glimmer of something that lifts my heart, even just a little, and I pick up that thread and go with it. For me, it is a self care practice, and I am vigilant about self care, I have to be to stay balanced and well enough to live my life. Not everyone is bi polar, but we all need to learn to find and follow that vein of gold. And that first little crack is the most precious thing, it is the way in.
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, it is Leonard Cohen…
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
On one very bleak day, when I could not lift myself up to save my soul, I looked across the room and saw a ball of bright yellow yarn in a basket with many different colors of yarn. I hoisted myself up out of the chair with great effort, walked across the room, stood there kind of dawdling for a minute, and then picked up the yarn. Immediately I felt an easing in my heart. The yarn was a very soft, thick cotton yarn. I picked up my size 13 knitting needles so as to knit a loose, easy fabric, and I sat back down and started knitting. I was doing what I call “Knitting Without A Destination.” It’s one of those times when you just need to knit, not for any purpose, simply because the very act of knitting is one of the most soothing things in the world. You don’t have to ever even finish anything, in fact you can knit the whole ball, unravel it and wind it back up, and put it back in the basket. This is knitting therapy at it’s finest because anyone can do it. Take the dread fear of having to follow a pattern or actually make something away and people can go to town knitting. You can drop stitches and make all kinds of boo boos and it doesn’t matter. In the end some of my favorite scarves have come out of these cattywompus, absent minded forays into knitting. I also have a tiny loom that I can weave on small enough to carry in a purse with a weaving needle and ball of yarn or two, small balls, and if you work with color therapy you can throw balls in your KWAD (Knitting Without A Destination) basket or bag for your purse that have just the colors that can shift a mood. Bright yellow to lift your spirit, orange for ENERGY, blue or green for soothing, and so on. I am very tactile and I am a fiber artist so these things work for me, as does working with pastels in specific colors (You could play with play-doh, buy yourself a beautiful bouquet of yellow flowers (Daisies are one of my favorite flowers to buy for myself because they are cheap and cheerful) and of course in spring when flowers start to bloom I always have flowers from the garden all over the house. This is exactly why I planted 500 daffodils the first year at Dragonfly Cottage. (I buy bulbs in bulk, wholesale, and you can create a whole lot of color inexpensively in the house and in the garden planting masses of cheap bulbs!)
Then there is music. Use whatever type of music works for you but choose bright pieces of music that lifts your spirits. Of course everyone loves Pharrell’s “Happy” and if you have no idea what I’m talking about you need to stop right here, right now, this very second, and go listen to it. Save it to your tool bar. Play as needed. Have a basket of c.d.’s or something on your computer (I use and love Spotify.) or phone or tablet that you can access immediately with your favorite, joy-inducing music. I have a tradition. Most Sunday’s as I am getting the day going I put Vivaldi’s “Gloria” on auto repeat and let it play loudly throughout the cottage while I am feeding and caring for the animals, making my latte, and starting my day. By the time I am ready to sit down to enjoy my coffee I am almost floating.
If you are in a real slump put one of these pieces on no matter how badly you don’t want to. Now sit in your chair determined to be glum but at the same time committing to move your big toe in time with the music. See how long you can hold onto glum. Each time you move over into joy give yourself a gold star (or a thousand of them!). Keep doing this every day or anytime you are sad or just any old time as often as possible. Pavlov’s dogs and all that. Learn to switch your JOY-SWITCH on automatically (or nearly) and you are going to be able to get through most bad days and hard times. At least a little. Build from there.
This morning I woke up and I mean it was just BEAUTIFUL outside. It has been way too warm for my taste lately, up into the 80’s and muggy here on the coast of North Carolina. Today it was in the low 70’s, breezy, gorgeous blue sky and puffy white clouds and I just leaned against the door frame as the pugs noodled around past and around me to get outside. I started singing Mr. Rogers’ “It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” and by the time we had gotten back inside and I had started singing “The Sound of Music.” I was a musical theater major in college and I have kind of a big voice. I had opened all the windows to let in all the fresh air I could, and I mean I was into it. As I was dishing up everylittlepuggeries breakfast, and then feeding Miss Scarlet, my grey parrot, I was practically dancing around the house in a state of ecstasy. I stopped at the kitchen sink enjoying the sun and the breeze and as I hit the last note 3 neighbors in the yard next door all started clapping and yelling, “BRAVO” and saying “That was GREAT!” I thanked them and then kind of slunk, embarrassed, into the living room with my latte, pink cheeked, and then I burst out laughing. I sing all the time everywhere. I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes when we make joy for ourselves we get a little on somebody else. This is a very good thing.
I will spare you most of the rest of my shenanigans but I will admit — Lordy, I have no shame — that by the time I got to “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” I had changed the lyric (even though my name is pronounced My-Tree) to My-Tree-A. He he he. I was having a ball. I sang my way through a great many of the songs from the movie and then I put the album on on Spotify. I tell you I am just giddy happy today.
I talk a lot about mindfulness, and being present to your life, as important practices for life, and they are, but sometimes I think they can end up feeling too serious. I would like to teach, now, JOY as a practice. Happiness as a way of life. And even if nobody wants to play along, I am going to seek and follow that vein of gold for all I’m worth.
Will you join me? C’mon, let’s follow the yellow brick road together!