In circle and over social media, we’ve explored how Joy is a revolutionary tool - to focus on happiness and fulfillment beyond the materialistic, the superficial, the push for production, is an act of subversion and social justice. Happier, well, and rested people will be more compassionate, kind, and creative - which is exactly what this world needs.
But, What is Joy???? Sit in circle or bring that question to community and you’ll receive as many answers as the people you ask. How do you define and cultivate Joy? (A blog about my experience is in the works).
In contemplating the meaning of Joy, I happened upon this book by bell hooks - All About Love, which explores our cultural understanding and experience of love and the politics and social work of love. Hooks utilizes M.Scott Peck’s definition of love - “‘the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth…...Love is as love does. Love is an act of will - namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.’” (emphasis mine). From this definition, hooks explores the flawed love learned in family of origin as duty and obligation, substantive love as soul connection and service, love as a celebration of life and death and divinity, and love as a tool of transformation and self-actualization plus communion with other and creation of community. Love is not weak or anemic but vibrant, rigorous, and change-agent.
This vibrant love was not new to me. About a year ago, a friend of mine described me as having a certain “ka-chunk” (thanks, Beck, for seeing me) - what she was describing was the deep rumblings of Love and righteous rage, polarities but equitable in purpose, and a dynamic I navigated personally and collectively as someone drawn to social-level work and creativity. That tug and dynamism and big love were the energies I felt when working in those spheres. Having lived in Atlanta for almost 14 years, a city with a rich history in social change, advocacy, and provocative, creative Love, I also knew love by the way Martin Luther King Jr articulated it - as powerhouse and source and as worker, hell-bent on dismantling oppression. “Love is the greatest disruption” (-The Plywood People, Atlanta), and as such, love is compassion rather than its diluted counterpart, empathy. There is a saying: if you see someone pinned by a rock, empathy senses how that person must feel, as does compassion, but compassion works to remove the rock.
Hooks’ book hashes out tools of love (ex.listening, devotion, constancy, solitude + belonging) while re-examining our cultural narrative of love, our cognitive dissonance around lovelessness, the dominion-based systems that would change if we really knew love (I see you, Patriarchy), and as spiritual practice of soul revolution.
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another” (-Thomas Merton).
If love is action, what emotion is behind it? What feeling was I seeking and cultivating through Love? It was through hooks’ book and application to our recent circle themes that I recognized Joy……. Love is Joy made manifest. At the root of all Joys is Love - of someone, some thing, or self. There it was. Joy is Love........excuse me, imma be here a minute……..*deep sigh*
I wrote a blog piece on love over a year ago (here). That was hard for me - re-reading old writing and wanting to both scrap the piece to redo it completely and keep it as momento of where I was at the time. I kept it, knowing that it is imperfect and incomplete, but the idea is there - Substantive, big, connecting love - yes, nothing but the manifestation of Joy.
Questions for the reader:
- How does your understanding of love and joy relate?
- Can you sense the vulnerability within these states - love and joy? How so?
“We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy…..Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yes, as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that enables rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken” (-Desmond Tutu).
- How did your family of origin teach love? Is love synonymous with obligation and duty? Or soul growth, heart-wholeness, and joy? What would you change?
“To open our hearts more fully to love’s power and grace we must dare to acknowledge how little we know of love in both theory and practice” (bell hooks)
- How does love relate to work and service, at the individual and social level? Does that relationship make Love more or less appealing?
“When we see love as the will to nurture one’s own or another’s spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same. There is no special love exclusively reserved for romantic partners. Genuine love is the foundation of our engagement with ourselves, with family, with friends, with partners, with everyone we choose to love.” (bell hooks)
References and Recommended Resources:
Chödrön, P. The Courage to Love the World
Chödrön, P. Embracing the Unknown
Halifax, J. Standing at the Edge
Hooks, b. - she has several books about love that I highly recommend, including All About Love, Communion, and The Will to Change
Lama, D & Tutu, D. The Book of Joy
O’Donohue, J. Anam Ċara
Wiman, C, ed. Joy: 100 poems
See also works by Ross Gay - The Tenderness Project, his interview on On Being
Written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT), RYT, reiki master, shamanic practitioner. All written material by Allison is copyright protected. This piece is an extended version of a review posted to social media on 11/23/19.
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