The Alchemy of Purposeful Memoir: Seeking Joy

It often seems that we spend more time thinking about our sorrows than about our joys. Joy is like a quicksilver flash that alights on us briefly and then moves on, leaving us back in the shadows of dull, ordinary existence. In the difficult times we’re living through, full of political turmoil, environmental catastrophe and a kind of general malaise, it can be hard to find much to feel joyful about. 

And yet every day the sun comes up, the birds sing, the flowers bloom, babies are born, life goes on—and even flourishes in unexpected places, like the brilliant gold of a dandelion flower coming up in a crack of a concrete sidewalk. Just like those dandelions, every living being on Earth has an irresistible pull to rise in the morning and greet the new day. And our first impulse, before the weight of the world and our individual circumstances settles down on us again, is to feel, with gratitude, the joy of being alive. 

I am by nature a melancholy person. Maybe it comes from being an empath—it’s very hard for me to tune out all the suffering going on in the world around me, and focus in on the positive. Constant exposure to media amplifies the struggle, since “if it bleeds it leads,” with the result that good news is rarely reported. And yet every day, in my social media feeds, people share photos of their beloved families, a favorite vacation spot, a beautiful flower blooming in their backyard or neighborhood park. Beauty, love and the pleasures of the sensuous world bring us joy every day, if we would only pay more attention. 

My strongest experiences of joy have come from a deep sense of connection, even communion, with the living world around me.

  • Sitting in a circle around a campfire with my family, all harmonizing on a familiar song as my dad strums the guitar.
  • Gazing up at a brilliant red cardinal singing its love songs high in a birch tree, silhouetted against an electric blue sky on a dazzling morning in March.
  • Tossing in the rough embrace of cold Atlantic waves, ducking under to feel the curling wave-tongue lick down my shoulders and back, then rising up into the sunshine again, tingling with oceanic energy.
  • Tapping into the deep currents of emotion that flow between me and someone I love, a connection that needs no words and doesn’t even require the physical presence of the person, as just by thinking of them I can hold them close in my heart.

Through the alchemical power of memory, I can conjure up and relive all the joy I have ever experienced. And even more, I can find ways to transform my sorrows into—if not outright joy—then at least the more peaceful glow of acceptance.

In this session, I invite you to call in the spirit of Joy—past, present and future—and welcome that bright exuberance to stay awhile. Although we can’t pin down joy, through the practice of purposeful memoir we can appreciate and savor our happy moments, and encourage Joy to light up our lives more often.