For the past several years, I have been selecting one word at the beginning of the year to act as a beacon, a north star of intention as I move through the year.
This year, I have found myself a bit shy when it comes to declaring my intention, though I feel it strongly, bubbling forth from the depths of my soul.
And somehow, so damn terrifying.
And that word is JOY.
The last several years have undoubtedly felt, and been, serious. From personally dealing with medical situations with both of my parents and then sliding into a two-year pandemic, though we have been very blessed, I feel the weight and wear and tear of these times. Elevated stress hormones. Body tightness and digestive symptoms. The constant negotiation of perceived risk. The chronic low-level anxiety.
While I by no means believe I am alone in this, I can only speak from my own experience.
So when this intention, this deep-seated desire for JOY arose from the darkness, at first I didn’t want to acknowledge it.
It felt frivolous.
And over the past weeks, as I have tried on other words in the hopes that something which feels a little safer and smaller will resonate (it hasn’t), I have had to confront the ways that joy and pain have become tethered to one another somewhere in my psyche. How a sneaky belief lives in the deep dark dungeon that says that immense joy actually causes and leads to pain. This voice whispers to me that it is safer to shut down and not feel joy fully because then I can also never experience the pain of losing it.
The first time I encountered this idea that joy is the most vulnerable of emotions was reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown years ago. In those moments when we are pierced by love and joy, we inherently feel our own vulnerability and those of our loved ones most intensely. This is when our clever minds like to take us out of the moment, push life to a more comfortable arm’s distance, and make the pleasure feel more bearable by conjuring up the worst possible scenario in our imagination. She called this phenomenon “foreboding joy”.
This is a way that we try to protect our hearts, to preemptively disappoint ourselves, but it comes at a steep price. We don’t ever get to fully feel and experience the beauty of life as we are living it.
I know all this, theoretically. But claiming JOY as my word of 2022 has brought it up more viscerally. I have run into my own resistance, the walls that I have built, the places where I have hardened in the name of survival. When I run up against these places within myself, I have tried to sneak joy past them, unnoticed. Instead of declaring its arrival and my desire for it loudly and boldly, I whisper its name, hoping I won’t wake the pain that I have told myself lives on the other side.
But I want these inner calcifications to soften. To slowly open myself more and more to the joy that is present in this moment. To call it in. To feel it fully, as the medicine that it truly is.
Because as I sink deeper into myself I know that joy doesn’t call forth pain, and that it is actually a sacred antidote to the unavoidable suffering that is part of a life fully lived here on earth.
And what I want most of all is to experience and live this life, fully and deeply, while I have the chance.
So with tenderness and some lingering trepidation, consider this my declaration of JOY as my word for 2022.