I enjoyed some simple pleasures last week. Getting outside and walking in bluebell-clad woodland, a fascinating talk by a medical herbalist at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary and a tasty lunch shared afterwards with a friend.
A creative writing exercise commonly asks for a piece that incorporates the description of how something affects all our senses. Thus my opening sentences could achieve this – the sight of the trees and flowers, the light fragrance of the bluebells, the sound of the breeze in the trees and the taste of the soup I enjoyed for lunch (celeriac, cumin and coconut – lovely!)
But what is missing is how to convey the sense of well-being that has its roots in our innermost soul, at the very heart of us. This is the nebulous sense of joy that does not come from external stimuli, or our daily circumstances, but is an inbuilt emotion that we can draw upon if we are lucky enough to be able to recognise, identify and embrace it. My joy on the visit to the sanctuary came not just via the enjoyment and relaxation of the surroundings, but also from seeing my friend Alison’s pleased reaction to her first visit there.
The bluebells in the woodland are like a reflection of the blue sky above, so pleasing to the senses that they cannot help but bring a sense of joy. Learning about them too, is a happy and interesting experience. Knowledge in itself often brings joyful exclamation; “I never knew that!” you say, as you learn something new … like the facts about the native English bluebell versus the Spanish garden escaper:
“True English bluebells have stems that droop, whilst the Spanish are straight. In the English bluebell the petal tips are curly and just visible are the stamens with white, creamy pollen, rather than the Spanish blue or pale green innards”.
I wonder what it is about this magical seeming flower that sends us into joyful ecstasies? They are certainly a challenge to the camera lens, their particular shade of blue/mauve being a difficult colour to capture. If they are in sunlight, they bleach out and look a pale depiction of their colourful selves.
Too little light, and they are a dull facsimile of their perfect best.
But get it right, achieve that balance of the light-just-right and the colour true and there you have it. A joyful experience indeed!
A return to joy from the depths of grieving is a hard won and long struggle that remains a work in progress. I am lucky to possess a degree of innate resilience, but this on its own would not have been sufficient to bring joy back into my life.
The return of joy after loss takes makes me think of approaching a building project, brick by brick. It starts small, with the foundation level being the first instance when you recognise an awareness of positive emotion affecting how you feel.
You feel happy.
You don’t feel guilty about feeling happy.
You hold on to the feeling, drinking in the emotion that surrounds you and fold it into your heart.
You have one of those light-bulb moments. This can be built on!
Gradually the bricks mould into something more substantial. Events which please, be they small or significant, begin to form something solid on which to lean, a structure that becomes denser and supportive so that you not only feel joy, you have the confidence and assurance to begin to give out that joy to others.
The conviction that life is getting better and growing happier again, despite what you have lost, is a source of ever strengthening joy. It is supported by the love of those around you. As you give out the light of your joy, so it is reflected back to you.
Joy is often bittersweet because you need to have known pain to recognise the beauty that lies within the joy which comes later. Each of us knows this in very disparate ways. For myself, I think that joy comes most from the knowledge that I am loved. I believe that in my insignificance as just another human being on the planet, somewhere in the massive universe, I actually matter.
And that faith brings its own form of un-diminishable joy; it is the joy that makes me want to keep on living, keep on learning and keep on exploring life’s great adventure. It’s an extension, an elaboration and a significantly deep addition to the first-glance pleasure of seeing a carpet of bluebells softly flowing across the forest floor.
And experiencing such moments with friends is part of the glue that holds pleasure, joy – and indeed life – together.