How To Cultivate Joy When the World Feels Like It Is Going To Hell In A Handbasket
Every era has had its challenges and momentums that have instilled a sense of overwhelm to world dangers and tragedies that caused humanity to question life, temporarily lose hope and get tossed into a sea of fear and despair. Getting through to the other side and feeling joy for anything seems like an impossible possibility in those moments. Yet still, our ancestors chose hope and pulled through to keep life moving forward. The simple pleasures in life become very important. The expression “Hell in a handbasket” came about during the gold rush of 1949. Men were lowered by hand in baskets down the mining shafts to set dynamite. If there was a problem or they did not get out swiftly enough, there was little hope for survival. This was referred to as ‘going to Hell in a handbasket.
Our era has its challenges too and is no different, except by the fact that we are even more over inundated with information, much of which can be controversial, contradictory and outright terrifying at times. We see the ugliness of humanity everyday in so many startling and tragic ways than ever before. It is overwhelming and simply too much for our nervous system to process. We are unable to escape all this information overload unless we intentionally choose to, which isn’t easy because now we are so dependent on our gadgets and addicted to the constant stimulation, that it seems impossible to imagine disconnecting, even just for a little while. We don’t know how to be still and present in the moment. We are in desperate need for moments of pause in our life to integrate, rebuild and reboot ourselves.
Sense of comfort
Another differing factor in our era is that we have been so comfortable for so long that we have no idea how to navigate hardship and the challenges we all are currently facing. I read recently that over 6 million Americans are on anti-depressants. 6 million! That in itself is a tragedy. We have to ask why is this happening in our era and not in past ones? What is missing in our life that we seem to have no other resource to help us but pills? Just imagine if this had happened in the great depression, we wouldn’t have made it out and through. In spite of how hard it was, people kept active, they still laughed, played games, music and appreciated life in the moments they could. If they hadn’t the weight of the world would have gotten the best of them.
Back then, farmers wisdom of nature used to be well known and understood. People understood that challenges will come and that it takes action and fortitude to get through. They knew they could get through with nature as their example of shifting times and tides. The ebbs and flows of life were understood as a part of life, not working against life. Nature educated them on adversity and resilience. Nature still teaches us this today, but no one is really listening anymore. The thing is, is that, it is within nature that lies all the wisdom and inspiration we need to cultivate insight and understandings that can give us hope of a better future and guide us through these turbulent times.
As Einstein once said, “Go deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” Why would he, one of the greatest scientific minds ever, say something like that? Most people don’t give nature a second thought beyond pretty sunsets, escaping to the beach and the utilitarian needs she provides us with for food and home.
Wisdom in nature
Einstein was indicating, quite clearly, that nature itself is a reflection of the whole universal wisdom of all creation and life, of which we are a part of. As I understand it, we are nature, made of the same elements and subject to its laws. Living in ignorance to that fact creates an inordinate amount of suffering, because we feel separate and apart from life rather than a part of life. I have fortunately always had a sense of love and intelligence in nature. Nature has been a deep source of joy and inspiration for me all my life, especially in times when I was deeply challenged with moments of depression and despair. Nature has been my constant guide and teacher. The truest I have ever encountered. Few human teachers comes close, though fortunately I have encountered a few that did.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine the other day. She shared a piece of wisdom from a teacher that has inspired me in the past, and with whom she had studied with for 32 years. The teachers name was Gurdjief, he was from Eastern Europe. She shared how he taught that there are three ways that we ingest food that gives us energy. The first two are physical food and air. The third one he called impressions. He offers the insight that the impressions in our environment are also a very essential form of nutrition for us. This made total sense to me, as I have recently been writing my second book about the power of nature to nurture and heal us. In my book, I share the reflection that it is no wonder we feel so lost and alone because we have no sense of vital connection to nature to feed us in our daily lives.
Instead of the abundance of organic shapes, sounds and movements of nature, we are surrounded by, and encounter only squares, noise and cement everywhere in our modern world, and tinny sounds from our phones and computers. These impressions are like junk food, they fill our senses but not our soul. It is even more difficult to connect to meaning and joy in our era for all those reasons, yet we need this sense of connection most of all in order to be able to navigate safely through the trials and turbulent times that we are encountering, both globally and personally. We need to connect to a source of vital energy that uplifts and nourishes us to generate joy and gratitude.
But how? We can’t just ignore the horrific news we see and hear is happening in the world. We also can’t ignore our problems either. Right?
How to find joy
Generating joy is not about a platitude to ignore and avoid the darkness and challenges in life. It is about a strategy to meet life as it is and simultaneously still create moments of joy to helps us and each other grow through the pain, confusion and hopelessness that preys upon us. Joy is not a superfluous, nor a superficial feeling. It is essential to our survival. We need to feel connected to life. We need to feel the beauty of being alive in order to cultivate joy when we need it most. For me joy is a divine element that brings transformation. Like the Phoenix from the flames.
Joy resurrects and strengthens love in our heart and soul so we can rise above our troubles, to gain a broader view, enabling us better to navigate hard times.
It’s not easy, but it is possible.
My offering to you are these thoughts and contemplations, that you might take time to reflect on this incredible universe and your place in it. You are already a miracle walking this earth. You are not alone or insignificant. You matter. How you live, think and take care of yourself matters. You have an impact on every person you meet and every environment that you encounter. Most importantly you have an impact on yourself and your body chemistry through the thoughts you feed.
When you tune into a memory that brings you joy you release serotonin and oxytocin, this lifts your spirits and makes you feel good and happy to be alive. When you focus on stressful or hurt feelings, you release adrenaline and cortisol, which makes you feel worse and causes you to spin and drown in the fears and negativity it amplifies. Body chemistry and the reactions it elicits doesn’t lie. Thoughts are the fourth food in my mind. We do not question our thinking and how it effects us enough. The problem is, most of our thoughts are generated by the subconscious mind that is full of imprints, stories and beliefs that discolour our view of life and how we react to situations in our life. It is said that 94% of our conscious choices are influenced by our subconscious mind, which is full of unresolved traumas and emotions. To break the subconscious cycles of reactions that harm us, we need to learn to master and direct our thinking so that even when we are challenged, we can still nourish what is good and beautiful in ourselves and in life. Doing this, is what gives us the hope and fuel we need so that we can effectively navigate through the dark moments better.
I know this works because I have done this. I teach my clients who have experienced deep trauma to do this, and it has transformed their lives. It really works, but we have to make the choice and put the effort to affect the change we want and need in our life, to feel better, to cultivate joy.
A few ideas and practices I offer you to explore to cultivate joy in your life:
In the morning when you awake, give your eyes and brain time to wake up with natural light and sounds, rather than immediately turning on your phone. I give myself at least a half hour. I really notice the difference in how my day unfolds when I intentionally do this versus when I don’t. My day feels smoother when I do, more fragmented and chaotic when I don’t.
In that half hour take time to breathe in for five seconds and then out for five seconds. Bring in to your awareness a regenerative feeling or memory that makes you feel good inside. This nourishes your nervous system bringing you into a more rested inner space. Most people breathe in and out in just two seconds. This shallow breathing activates our limbic brain creating stress for our body. Breathe is the ultimate medicine in my experience. The body can only set itself right when we breath properly.
Surround yourself with beauty in your home, plants, colors, images that invoke awe and inspiration. Scents that soothe your senses that you can draw your senses to in moments of emotional upset and challenges.
Eat more fruits and vegetables. Our body needs live food to be healthy, not just processed, pre-packaged meals. Take pleasure in the amazingness, the tastes and textures of the food our mother earth creates for us.
Spend as much time in nature as you can. Observe her cycles and rhythms. See how the resilience in nature is also in you, to recreate yourself out of challenges and adversity, to thrive beyond what you can imagine.
Even if you do even only one of these practices daily, you will see your joy and appreciation for that which is good and beautiful in life grow. From there, gratitude blooms in your heart and soul, establishing a new inner momentum that is fulfilling and meaningful. When we live from that place within, we encounter the magic and mystery of life with an open and eager heart. Happiness has always been an inside job, and always will be. You can do this. You can be the positive force in your own life.
I hope this sharing has nourished and inspired you. I wish you meaningful moments with yourself, in nature and a heart filled with joy and awe of this miraculous gift of life!