- Mental Health
Joy in the Everyday
If someone had told me a couple of years ago that a daily power walking routine would become one of the highlights of my day, I’d have thought they were either high or trying to sell me something. Whenever my husband would suggest incorporating walking into my fitness regimen, I would respond with a mild, yet decisive little whine, “I don’t waaant to go by myself.” Then, I would opt for the elliptical or some other piece of equipment at the gym.
Spoiled by our daily ritual of taking a seaside stroll – together – I initially resisted embracing this solitary journey, void of the rich conversation and connection to which I had become accustomed. Where my husband failed to convince me, however, a temporary injury at the gym succeeded. It appeared that walking would be the safest lower body workout for toning the bod and promoting cardiovascular health, at least for a while. Necessity prompted the shift in my perception and I mustered up a commitment to this new fitness regimen. I would don my walking shoes, slap my pink MP3 player to my cami and tighten up the ol’ "junk in the trunk" with a little help from Pitbull and Billy Idol. I decided it wouldn't be too bad of a way to start the day, as long as I did not think about the exercising part. It turns out that was easier than I had thought.
From Routine to Ritual
Early on in my walking adventure, I noticed that something had inspired a little more bounce in my step and I knew it wasn’t just the amped up pace of “Don’t Stop the Party” (although, that alone is enough to do it). It happened when I noticed how vibrant and colorful the flowers were. It happened when I saw adults playing on the swing set on the beach. It happened when a stranger high-fived me as he rode by on his bike. It happened again when I witnessed a class of preschoolers racing across the sand.
This is only a small sampling of the smorgasbord of smile-inducing moments that captured my attention as I powered along to my music. It seemed that everywhere I looked, life presented yet another moment for my appreciation. As my walks continued, so did the moments, and the smile on my face began to blossom into my entire being. It soon became evident that a theme was beginning to reveal itself. The more of these moments I appreciated, the more of them I saw. The more of them I saw, the more I expected to see. And the more I expected to see, the more I looked forward to seeing. In a short time, my routine of power walking had transformed into a ritual of joy sightings, and I had come to anticipate these walks with a sense of wonder and gratitude.
From Happenstance to Habit
Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that perhaps the part of me that is getting the greatest amount of exercise during this walking is not physical. It is as though these daily walks are attuning my mind and heightening my awareness to all things signifying beauty, kindness, joy and celebration. It does not matter whether I am enjoying a power walk along the beach or driving to the grocery store. Like a muscle that is being strengthened and conditioned, my mind is becoming accustomed to witnessing joyful moments. As each joyful moment passes, it leaves behind an invitation, beckoning me to return and commune with these sacred celebrations all throughout my day.
It is not that I did not have these joyful experiences before the power walking, but it does feel like they have become more of a habit than a happenstance. They have imbued a certain rhythm in my life, a familiar Zen-like flow, whose absence is noted more readily, and rediscovered more quickly.
Setting a Rhythm
The consistency of these joyful moments has prompted me to tune in more often to what captures my attention throughout my whole day. This includes noticing the feelings that accompany this attention. I notice that it feels tense to tell a story about an aggressive driver who cut into the line, but warm to focus on the generous driver who made room for him. Whichever perspective I decide to adopt seems to influence not only how I feel in the moment, but also what types of things I notice next. It is as though one thing leads to another, and before I know it, there are only crazy drivers on the road and it’s “just another one of those days.” Or, “It is such a great day today, and everyone I encounter is so helpful and accommodating!”
It is so easy to unconsciously establish a rhythm for our lives as we react to whatever unfolds moment-by-moment and day-by-day. What is really striking me throughout this power walking journey is how much easier it feels when I decide to deliberately establish, or reset, this rhythm. My walks are showing me that simply holding in mind a joyful thought long enough to feel the shift into the emotion of that joyful thought is often enough to set my rhythm, whether I am on my walk or elsewhere.
While I discovered that the beach was a great place for me to start noticing joy, I recognize that it is not the only place where joy is. Some of us will notice it while doing our favorite hobby, or when gathering with loved ones, or maybe when playing with a pet, or in spending time in silence, prayer or meditation. I am discovering that wherever I find joy, it uplifts me to make a practice of meeting it where it is, as often as I can. Each time I do so, I reinforce my rhythm. At the same time, I develop new images, memories and experiences I can load into my “arsenal of joy” to draw upon in those more rhythmically challenging times.
A Daily Awakening
As my walking ritual of noticing joy expands into other daily activities, I feel myself influencing how my days unfold with more ease than ever before. With each day that passes, I feel a peaceful stillness expanding in my heart. It fills me with a lightness of being and inspires that enhanced bounce in my step, regardless of what is playing on my MP3 player. I love the feeling of empowerment that comes from knowing I can propel the joy forward, prolong my experience of it and even create more of it, by deliberately looking for it in my otherwise everyday experiences.
While the temporary injury that set my power walking routine in motion has vanished, the gifts of this daily ritual persist. I am not the slightest bit tempted to trade it in for the elliptical at the gym. It may have started as a simple fitness regimen, but it continues as a deep awakening of joy that far surpasses my original cardiovascular goals, strengthening and enriching my heart in ways beyond measure. Contrary to the early days, I now embrace these solo walking adventures, eager to discover what joy lies before me. I am grateful for the opportunity to set my rhythm and empowered by the unexpected conditioning of not only my body, but perhaps even more important, my mind and spirit.
© 2013 Jennifer Hope Chmelka