When I was a child, I remember playing the game called Barrel of Monkeys. The idea of the game was simple; use one monkey to hook the arms of another. Repeat until the barrel of monkeys is empty. As the game progressed, it became increasingly more difficult to grab the arms of another monkey, because the chain of monkeys grew longer with each pass.
While I’m a bit nostalgic at the thought of Barrel of Monkeys, I thought of the game while unpacking a recent revelation in my life.
In the Egyptian afterlife, you were granted access to heaven depending on how you answered two simple questions:
1.) Have you found joy?
2.) Did you bring joy to others?
The first question can be simple to answer – for some. I’ve found many people can easily scroll through their mental rolodex of moments to find a few joyful ones that stick out. However, it’s more difficult to engage in conversation with somebody who finds joy in every day, or every moment.
In my life, I’ve found my definition of joy has evolved dramatically. I used to think of it as momentary blips of bliss and laughter that would soon disappear. Evaluating joy this way feels a bit like loving a song for a single note being played – rather than soaking in the whole tune.
Back in November, I heard a still voice tell me “Make beautiful things and help others”. At a time where I needed to redefine my life’s operating system, this little voice gave me the best answer I needed to carry me through the following months.
This filter has helped me navigate how I spend moments, while breaking the mold of my 20’s that felt ‘good’ time was quantifiable by earning a buck, or having fancy things in a loft apartment.
Now living in Bali, I see the opportunities to help others all around me – while creating beautiful things. Gifting paintings, for example, has been a double-edged sword of joy; there’s joy in the creation of the piece, followed by a flood of joy when the new recipient sees the piece, given freely.
This has been a bittersweet lesson to learn, because it’s taught me there will always be people who appreciate the gift(s) you have to offer the world – while the ones you’d like to support you (friends/family) don’t always provide it.
A few months after following the guidance to ‘make beautiful things and help others’ I asked the universe (God, Spirit, Brahman, Allah…) what the next phase of this guidance would be.
”Find joy in every moment.”
So, I carried on the journey. This time, looking for the small moments of beauty in the world, instead of living through my screens/headphones. Boy, was I surprised; it is EVERYWHERE.
When I open my windows in the morning and hear birds singing, a little joy enters my heart.
As I see children playing in the street with broken toys and booming laughter, I’m reminded joy doesn’t always package itself in designer toys, or electronics.
When I sit in the sand on the beach and allow the waves to toss me around like a flimsy piece of paper, joy erupts – reminding me that I’m one drop in the ocean, and the entire ocean in a single drop.
Joy isn’t always sweet and full of giggles. Sometimes it cloaks itself in bittersweet moments; such as the moment where I received a package from my Mother. Holding the envelope, my heart broke to think she literally couldn’t be any further away from me. However, the realization that no amount of money could buy a hug from her at that moment was a solid reminder that the love we shared, inseparable by miles (or light years) is worth far more than any stock option, precious metal, or expansive property in Malibu.
Joy. Sometimes it disguises itself in our tears, to remind us that even there it can be found.
Going back to the barrel of monkeys, I’m discovering that seeing the world through a lens of joy has helped other ‘fruits of the spirit’ (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) emerge in other parts of my life.
What brings you joy? What brought you joy today? When you stop to reflect on these moments, the gratitude that comes often has the power to break through your anxieties, fears, and hurts that sometimes go deeper than our ability to express.
Today, I choose joy.
Tomorrow is looking pretty good, too…