January 2014 - Practicing Joy
For a few months now, our family has been trying to follow a "practice of the month." In November we practiced Gratitude, and in December we practiced Giving. I got the idea from a group at our church last year that was focusing on practicing compassion, and I wanted to try it as a way of integrating those practices and values that are important to me into our daily life.
I bought a glass vase and a bunch of colored glass beads. When we remember to do it, which is often only a couple of times a week, we talk about our "practice" around the table. When we think of an example of the practice, either something we did or saw someone else do, we name it and put a bead in the jar. At the end of the month, if the jar is full, we get to go do something fun. It's led to some good conversations, and sometimes it's been helpful to get us out of the rut of complaining and snipping at each other.
So January was the month to practice Joy. I chose Joy because, let's face it, January can be cold, dark, long, and dreary. The kids did not adjust well to going back to school after the Christmas break. Bryan's mood tends to go down in the season of short days. I'm not crazy about the cold or the air pollution. So I was somewhat skeptical about our ability to put Joy into practice. In general, I'm not a big fan of "positive thinking" as a self-help ploy...even if it works, it frequently feels false to me. But I do think that joy is a choice - and an important one to make often - and so I gritted my teeth and committed to exercise my joy muscle this month.
Surprisingly, it's actually worked pretty well. Part of my approach was to try to incorporate more play into the daily grind. I'm not naturally very playful as an adult, unfortunately for my kids, and I wasn't even very playful as a child. So I tried the Jerry Seinfeld idea of doing "opposite day" - if I didn't feel playful, I played. If my kids were annoying me, I made myself respond playfully and tried to turn things into a game or a joke. "Act as if." "Fake it to make it." I didn't do it consistently, but when I did, it helped.
The other place I found joy this month - believe it or not - has been the laundry. First, when you really stop to think about it, our way of doing laundry should always evoke gratitude. When's the last time you washed all your clothes by hand, or scrubbed them against a washboard, or a rock in a river as the majority of humans have done for a great long time? In the spirit of being mindful, I took to noticing the multisensory experience brought to me by my laundry. Compared to the clothes most humans have worn through most of history, don't we have amazingly soft, comfortable fabrics? beautiful designs? rich colors?
My sister-in-law Grace gave me the gift once of telling me how she did her laundry. When folding my brother's clothes, she focused on her love for my brother. She remembered the time before she met him when she prayed to meet someone to love. OK, I admit, this is overly sentimental and totally hokey! But today when I folded the laundry, I held a few clean, warm, soft shirts to my face and breathed in gratitude for the husband and children in my life.
And finally, when I clean out the lint screen these days, I get an extra hit of joy. Why would dryer lint give me joy? Because my 9-year-old daughter has taken to collecting it. Every time I give her a big lint ball she breaks into a smile and makes a happy "ooh!".
January is almost over, and I'm not sad about that. But thanks to this month's Joy practice, I can honestly say it's been one of my better Januarys in recent memory.