The Threshold of Joy

One of my favorite take-aways from the many months I spent in the throes of real trauma was experiencing a forceful reorientation of my senses. When it’s pitch black outside and you’re scratching at rock bottom, your eyes become sensitized to any glimmer of light. This takes the form of having a new appreciation for things as basic as… hot water. A warm bed. An exquisite slice of cheese. The kind of belly laugh with a friend that brings you to tears. Etc. For those of us who are “slow of heart,” it takes a full stripping down in order to recognize the goodness in our lives. 

I’m reminded of this with the “stay at home” order in the face of a universal pandemic. I’ve grown sloppy in my appreciation and neglected the journal I keep specifically for recording notes of gratitude. Well, in order to not go insane and to keep any pent-up anxiety at bay, I’ve been forcing myself to reframe— to take things down a notch: “Ellie: You don’t need a whole weekend of solitude in order to feel restored. Savor the 5-10 minutes alone on your front porch. You don’t need fresh meat served at every dinner; you know your way around lentils if needs be. (Thank God you have a tiny extra fridge/freezer!) Oh, and Ellie? You don’t need to run away to Ruby Beach to feel free and alive. You can walk around the block and note the robins plucking at worms and the trees starting to bud their spring blossoms. Reorient, woman. Get back to the basics.”  We are still free and still healthy. The golden foundation! I have an abundance of tea and coffee in my pantry. Precious stones! A chance to organize a cupboard. Fine linen! And there are moments of connection and bonding (intermingled with typical squabbling and restlessness, of course) between my children and me that wouldn’t have otherwise happened if we were all running to and fro, per usual. Pearls of great price! This time right now… ?! This staying at home is not a cross I want to squander. Truly it’s one I kiss and bless— its lessons are many and the perspective offered, invaluable. 

I never want to be someone who has a high baseline for happiness. I want to maintain joy at a very low, attainable threshold, like a toddler who is enraptured by ants scurrying on the sidewalk. I can’t remember the last time I was bored (thank God my curiosity and appetite for learning has kept me from feeling idle); but I do recognize that I have a tendency to develop very particular preferences that are tempting to call “needs.” And I reject this. Not too long ago, I would’ve paid good money to be able to have an hour alone each week; I was starved for time to be restored in the busy mothering life. Now, I yawn that I “need” a full 3 days of silence?! Nonsense. That’s a luxury that I’ve grown accustomed to. (I mean… a wonderful luxury, don’t get me wrong, but not a true need in order to feel whole.) I can make do on less. And this sort of paring down can happen in nearly every domain of my life; I don’t need my beloved forest of moss-covered, grandfather trees to be “happy”: I can pay attention to the succulent above my sink. And so on…

To live the fullest life one can, it’s important to be able to delight in simple things. And a season of social and practical deprivation offers an extraordinary opportunity to reset our thresholds. 

 

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