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Reaching For Joy

By Rev. Carol Bodeau

Dear friends,

Here we are in 2021, and the word I am hearing from a lot of folks this days is “tired.”

Many of us are tired. Tired of political drama. Tired of COVID. Tired of winter. Tired of all the emotional or social or familial or logistical drama that has arisen in recent months. Almost every single person I have spoken to in a pastoral or counseling context in the last few weeks has said to me, “Why am I so tired? I seem to be sleeping sooooo much!”

I think many of us had the assumption that, once the inauguration was over, things would start to feel lighter, easier, and more uplifting. And in many ways they do. But it seems to me that we have a little bit of fatigue, the kind that only really shows itself when we feel safe enough to relax and let our adrenaline levels drop.

Let us not take for granted how exhausting 2020 was, how much it cost us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And let’s acknowledge how exhausting the continuing pandemic is. How much energy it takes to speak to our loved ones through a computer screen, and how little we are getting ‘refueled’ as yet another month passes without hugs and social visits and intimate connections that include touch and food. This is tiring stuff, folks. Our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and our spirits have been depleted, and the marathon is not yet over.

So how do we keep our metaphorical gas tanks full? For me, it’s all about reaching for joy in the simplest of pleasures. Yesterday, I went through the complicated process of making a pan of homemade lasagna. Sauteing vegetables, cooking noodles, hand-grating different cheeses, preparing homemade tomato sauce, carefully layering it all and then hand-grating the cheese on the top. In times when we feel constricted, it’s easy to constrict even more.. What’s the point of cooking for just me? (My partner isn’t eating grains right now, so the whole pan is just for me.) Why go to all that trouble? It’s so easy to just get into a rut, and stay there.

But by consciously and intentionally creating moments of joy and richness, we may be able to feel full despite the empty spaces in our lives. One person I spoke to recently was feeling extra depressed and anxious, not at all what they expected after the relief of the election process being over. I suggested doing things that give the nervous system new and pleasant input: a few moments outside, even if it’s cold; making a project of cooking something elaborate and special; sitting by a fire; spending time in a different room than your usual space. Doing things that bring new stimulus, new kinesthetic experience, new sensory input into our lives may be a key to helping us stay happy as winter and the pandemic drag on.

There’s a lot of talk about whether or not there will be a new ‘stimulus’ package for the economy, but while we wait for our politicians to figure that out, we can give ourselves our own ‘stimulus’ package—a renewal of sensory joys to refuel us after the draining last year, and energize us for the coming months.

So I invite you to think of one or two ways you can bring some new light into the darker days of winter, and new motion into the stillness of social-distanced living. Sometimes, we have to reach out for joy, pluck it from the yard outside our window, dig it out from the back of the kitchen cupboard, or retrieve it from the top shelf of the craft closet. And we can rest, of course. Alternating times of deep rest and recuperation, with joyful bursts of creative energy, is how I’m hoping to get through this challenging time. I’d love to hear how you’re doing it, so drop me a note if you’d like to share your ideas of how to reach for joy.

Wishing you both peace and creative inspiration,

Rev. Carol

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